They’re living their lives on the run – public protector on Magaqa whistleblowers

All the three accused Sbonelo Myeza, 39, Mbulelo Mbofana, 34, and Mxolisi Ncalene appears at the Umzimkhulu Magistrate's Court. Each faced one count of murder and two of attempted murder of councillor Sindiso Magaqa. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng / African News Agency (ANA)

All the three accused Sbonelo Myeza, 39, Mbulelo Mbofana, 34, and Mxolisi Ncalene appears at the Umzimkhulu Magistrate's Court. Each faced one count of murder and two of attempted murder of councillor Sindiso Magaqa. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng / African News Agency (ANA)

Police Minister Bheki Cele is taking Mkhwebane’s report, which found that he had failed to give the two men protection, under review.

The men who made public that tender fraud at a KwaZulu-Natal municipality could have played a role in the murder of former ANCYL secretary-general Sindiso Magaqa remain without protection while a legal wrangle plays out about their fate.

Thabiso Zulu, an African National Congress (ANC) member, anti-corruption activist and friend of Magaqa, and Les Stuta, an official at Harry Gwala Municipality, were responsible for blowing the whistle on the alleged reasons behind the assassination of Magaqa, a PR councillor at uMzimkhulu Local Municipality at the time of his death, in 2017.

“As things stand, Mr. Stuta and Mr. Zulu continue to live their lives on the run, watching over their shoulders at every turn,” acting spokesperson for the public protector’s office, Oupa Segalwe, told African News Agency (ANA).

Zulu, who has had to pay for a private bodyguard out of his own pocket, said he believed he experienced another threat last week when he found evidence that someone had been waiting in his yard while he was out.

“I am defeated, I don’t know who to turn to,” Zulu told ANA.

“It is my strongest belief that I was saved by not coming back at night but early the next morning.”

Magaqa was shot, along with colleagues Nontsikelelo Mafa and Jabu Msiya, in the uMzimkhulu area in July 2017, but only died in September 2017 due to “complications from multiple gunshot wounds”, according to police.

Mafa and Msiya both survived and were placed under protection.

Zulu and Stuta told mourners at Magaqa’s widely broadcast funeral in September 2017, that he was assassinated after uncovering tender corruption related to the construction of a memorial hall at uMzimkhulu.

Since Zulu and Stuta first made public the allegations of corruption, they have had to contend with multiple death threats. After approaching the police for assistance and being pushed from pillar to post, Zulu eventually approached Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane for help.

Mkhwebane investigated the men’s case and, in her report, found that the “failure” by Police Minister Bheki Cele and the police to provide security for Zulu and Stuta, “exposed them to the risk of being assassinated”.

The conduct by the minister and the police constituted improper conduct “… and undue delay, gross negligence and maladministration” said the report. Mkhwebane’s remedial actions included that both men be given state-funded protection and that President Cyril Ramaphosa reprimand Cele.

Cele decided to take the report on review, which Mkhwebane is opposing.

“The minister (Cele) filed papers in court for a review of the report. The Public Protector is opposing the matter and papers to that effect are yet to be filed,” said Segalwe.

Segalwe also said Ramaphosa had joined proceedings as an intervening party in the same application and had requested that the justice department and National Prosecuting Authority be joined as respondents.

The public protector’s remedial action had not been implemented neither had its implementation [been] interdicted, said Segalwe.

“It is unfortunate that the fact that their lives are in peril is seemingly not seen as a big deal by the minister, whose portfolio is essentially about the safety and security of the people of South Africa,” said Segalwe.

“These are cases where we should be seeing the activism of the likes of [Council for the advancement of the South African Constitution] Casac, Freedom Under Law, [Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse] Outa and the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation but we are not holding our breath.”

Sibonelo Myeza, Mbulelo Mpofana and Mxolisi Ncalane have been arrested for being part of a conspiracy to kill Magaqa and remain in custody after having bail denied. Their case will be joined with alleged triggerman, Sibusiso Malusi Ncengwa, for trial.

Initially, Harry Gwala district mayor Mluleki Ndobe and municipal manager, Zwelibanzi Sikhosana were also arrested, but charges against them were provisionally withdrawn.

African News Agency (ANA)

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