The Bapo Ba Mogale Traditional Council on Thursday (19 October) refused to readmit two elected councillors whose two-year suspension was recently ruled “irrational and procedurally unfair”.
When Abbey Mafate and Tshepo Maakane arrived for today’s council meeting, they were served with letters placing them on “special leave” for two months, pending unspecified disciplinary charges.
A letter signed by Emius Mogale, Rangwane (uncle) to ailing Kgosi Bob Edward Mogale, said the two would be advised within two months about their future in the Council.
“It seems as if the Traditional Council is determined to keep us away from attending Council meetings,” Mafate told LARC researchers.
“We suspect that there are important Council decisions which need to be taken very soon and we are being seen as people who will disturb the process,” he added.
The latest move to bar two leading critics from the Council came less than two weeks after then Public Protector Thuli Madonsela revealed in a meeting with the community that all the money earned from mining on their land was unaccounted for.
She said R617 million had been spent without proper controls – about R80 million of it on a palace for Kgosi Bob Edward Mogale – and only R700 000 remained.
Mafate and Maakane were elected to the Traditional Council in January 2014 in terms of the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, which allows the senior traditional leader to appoint 60pct of members, but requires that the remaining 40pct is elected.
Both were suspended before mid-year on vague charges that amounted to what other councilors regarded as excessive transparency about the affairs of the Bapo people.
Both men had been critical during campaigning of the secrecy surrounding negotiations with Lonmin plc to swop a 40-year-old right to royalties from mining on their land for equity in the failing company.
The North West High Court reversed their suspension on 22 September and ordered that they should immediately be readmitted to the Council with full pay.
The deal with Lonmin was concluded in November 2014 with the bulk of the transaction detailed in secret documents that have yet to be made available to ordinary members of the Bapo community.
The deal included R564 million in Lonmin shares, which collapsed to less than 10pct of that value within months, five annual cash payments of R20 million to the Bapo leadership, and a promise of R200 million in procurement opportunities for people from the area.
Mafate and Maakane were amongst villagers who launched an application in 2015 to review the transaction, mainly on the grounds that the community was not properly consulted in terms of statutory law or in terms of the living customary law of the Bapo Ba Mogale. The matter has yet to be heard in court.
Both men have been targeted in a series of threats and attacks by a group of young men and women known as “The Ambassadors” and believed to be loyal to Lehlohonolo Nthontho, CEO of the BAPO empowerment vehicle Bapo Ba Mogale Investments.
Most recently, five Bapo activists opposed to Nthontho’s unaccountable control of community assets were treated in hospital after an attack by some of The Ambassadors on Saturday 24 September.
One of the victims, Kgomotso Morare, had 13 stiches in his head after being struck repeatedly with a panga after being dragged from his car.
The leader of The Ambassadors, Hilton “Dibaba” Mokubung, was briefly arrested after Morare named him as his attacker in a sworn affidavit recording the events.
Today, however, Mokubung was seated amongst members of the Traditional Council when Mafate and Maakane arrived to take up their positions.
Though not a member of the Council, he was allowed to speak in support the move to bar the two men. “Do not make us angry,” he warned when Maakane argued that the Council had no power to place him on special leave or to block his access to council meetings.
Maakane said he and Mafate left the council chamber after a series of veiled threats, but vowed to challenge the latest effort to bar him from meetings.
“Kindly be advised that you are hereby placed on special leave with full pay pending consideration of charges being preferred against you and requisite disciplinary hearing by the office of the NW provincial legislature as required by the North West Traditional Leadership and Governance Act of 2005,” the two were told in letters handed to them as they left.
“You will accordingly be notified of the consideration within a period not exceeding two months.”
Maakane said the two men would consult a lawyer about ways to prevent the council from taking decisions without them.
“It seems likely that they want us out of the way while they conclude some matter that they don’t want us to know about,” he said.