South Africa

Media gagging: Eastern Cape editor arrested after exposing alleged municipal corruption

By Rebecca Davis 3 December 2013

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has raised concerns over what they call “an attempt to harass and intimidate” the editor of a small community newspaper in the Eastern Cape who blew the whistle on allegedly irregular expenditure by a senior manager in Matatiele municipality. Editor of The Informer, Andile Nomabhunga, was arrested by police and has been charged with trespassing, together with a DA councillor, some days after they visited the home of the manager to investigate the allegations. The DA claims the saga has echoes of Nkandla on a tiny (tiny) scale. By REBECCA DAVIS.

The Matatiele Local Municipality is situated in the Alfred Nzo District of the Eastern Cape. It is a predominantly rural area; the name ‘Matatiele’, the municipal website explains, means “the ducks have flown”. The municipality’s mission statement announces that its aim is “to create an awareness on nature conservations, to promote and support agricultural activities, to promote and market local tourism organizations and small medium and micro enterprises.”

Of late, however, Matatiele municipality has apparently developed a new focus: the fostering of local musical talent. A big music festival is being launched in December this year, featuring prominent artists such as Ringo and Stimela. The festival is slated to run annually for three years, aiming to establish Matatiele as “the ideal tourist destination place to visit in the summer holidays, inland Eastern Cape Province”.

As part of the lead-up, the municipality has been running a “Matathiele Music Talent Search” in recent months, with the top 20 to perform at December’s music festival and release a compilation CD. The talent search was the idea of a musical group called the Jaziel Brothers, made up of Luthando and Ntobeko Ngcizela, who are now based in Johannesburg but originally hail from the municipality. The Jaziel Brothers have been called “two of the most talented musicians in the history of South African music”, and have spoken in interviews of wanting to mentor the youth of the Eastern Cape.

The budget for this undoubtedly worthy endeavour was initially set at R450,000, but a project report for the talent search states that this was later stepped up to R650,000 “due to the increased number of acts/beneficiaries of the project”. This budget increase was approved by all municipal committees. The project report states that the recording of the participants’ CD will take place in Johannesburg, and sets out costings for band recording fees in Johannesburg, the use of a sound engineer in Johannesburg and the use of mobile recording equipment in the city.

So far, so good. But at some point the plans changed. According to the Daily Dispatch, special programmes unit manager Nontsikelelo Madubaduba allegedly told the special projects standing committee that instead of taking place in Johannesburg, the CD recording would happen in Matatiele. There’s some dispute about this; a member of the standing committee told the Daily Dispatch that they were not, in fact, informed of the change of plans.

Andile Nomabhunga then heard claims that Madubaduba had used the municipal funds to build a recording studio in her own home. Nomabhunga, together with local DA councillor Kenny Biggs, decided to visit her property to check it out and take pictures for a story Nomabhunga wanted to write on the matter.

Indeed the studio was there and the Jaziel Brothers were on site,” Nomabhunga told the Daily Dispatch. “They allowed me to take pictures and Mrs Madubaduba was there as well.”

Nomabhunga duly published his story on the matter. Six days after the publication, Nomabhunga and Biggs were arrested by police, charged with trespassing. SANEF reports that the charge had been laid by Madubaduba’s husband, who is a lawyer. The two are scheduled to appear in the Matatiele Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.

They couldn’t discuss the matter before their court appearance, but DA Constituency Leader Annette Steyn told the Daily Maverick on Monday: “My gut feeling is that [Madubaduba] has laid the charge so that we don’t investigate this further”. (The Daily Maverick was unable to make contact with Madubaduba.)

Both Nomabhunga and Biggs were doing their job in investigating to make sure that public funds were not being misused, Steyn said, and she thought it unlikely that the trespassing charge would stand up in court – especially if, as alleged, the two were allowed into the house by its inhabitants.

Steyn said that if public funds had indeed been used to improve the manager’s private home, the issue had echoes of Nkandla. “It doesn’t matter if it’s R200,000 or R200-million,” she said.

Matatiele municipal manager Tshepang Nakieng told the Daily Dispatch that he was “not aware of any studio that was paid for by the municipality”, because he had “yet to receive a report on the talent search”.

Sanef, meanwhile, has flagged the matter because of what they see as a troubling attempt to gag a newspaper editor attempting to expose wrongdoing.

Sanef is concerned that the police are acting on a complaint which has no substance and appears to be an attempt to harass and intimidate Nomabhunga for publishing the story which clearly contained important information in the public interest,” the group said in a statement on Monday.

Sanef strongly protests at what it construes as an attempt to interfere with the freedom of expression rights of the paper.” DM

Read more:

  • Councillor uses ratepayers’ funds for home music studio, then has DA and press arrested for trespassing, in the Daily Dispatch.

Photo: The Inforcer.

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