Mahikeng Office of the State Attorney whistle-blower fears for her life
A lawyer who volunteered to help a corruption investigation says she was victimised, transferred and eventually fired by the Office of the State Attorney. She also received death threats.
An attorney who was employed by the Department of Justice is living on the run after receiving death threats for allegedly cooperating with a Special Investigating Unit (SIU) probe into corruption in the Office of the State Attorney.
Lesego Sebekedi, who was employed as the senior assistant state attorney in Mahikeng in North West, has opened a case with the police. This was after she was allegedly threatened by unknown persons in a series of phone calls.
Sebekedi, who alleges she became a victim of a sustained witch-hunt after her overtures to the SIU, has since been dismissed.
The Office of the State Attorney provides legal services to national and provincial government departments.
In 2018 and 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa issued two proclamations authorising an investigation into allegations of corruption and maladministration in the office.
The proclamations mandated the SIU to investigate allegations of serious maladministration, improper or unlawful conduct by some employees or officials, and unlawful appropriation or expenditure of public funds or property.
Michael Masutha, who was then Minister of Justice and has since been replaced by Ronald Lamola, revealed after the signing of the proclamations that, during meetings with various stakeholders, “concerns were raised regarding alleged malpractices, lack of professionalism, and suspicion of abuse of office towards unlawful ends”.
Sebekedi said SIU officials had visited the office in Mahikeng in November 2018 as part of the investigation into corruption, which allegedly included senior officials.
She said the investigators were introduced to the entire staff except to her. She then contacted one of the SIU officials, who had previously worked in the office, and offered to help. She explained “where to start” the investigation.
She said that her reaching out to the SIU had led to protracted victimisation.
“To my surprise, a day later I was met with a letter wherein I had to state my reasons why I should not be transferred,” she said.
She was transferred to the Department of Justice’s regional office in Mahikeng on 25 January 2019.
In papers filed in the Labour Court in Johannesburg, where she is challenging her dismissal, she said that after her transfer she was not provided with an office, a job description or tools of work.
She said she had raised the matter with her union and the Department of Justice in a series of letters and emails. However, the issues were not resolved.
On 22 February 2021, she was dismissed for being absent from work without authorisation from 18 January to 18 February 2021.
She is challenging her dismissal in the Labour Court and through the General Public Service Sector Bargaining Council, where the matter has been heard several times.
The Department of Justice is defending the matter. The case centres on whether proper procedures were followed in her dismissal and on the authenticity of the charges brought against her.
“In a nutshell the only inference which can be drawn herein is that the applicant [Sebekedi] was an outcast, neglected, abandoned, and her rights to fair labour practices were severely contravened by the employer,” the court ruled in a previous hearing.
Sebekedi said her life had since become a living hell. In May 2021 she opened a case with the police after receiving the threatening phone calls.
She said her father, who has since died from suspected stress, received a call around 4am one morning in 2021.
She said the callers “threatened to kill me because I was the only attorney giving them a tough time or problem in Mahikeng. They threatened to kill me and thereafter [all] the members of my family will follow.”
After this, there was a series of break-ins at her parents’ home, which she suspects were linked to her case.
“I am currently at a hiding place,” she said.
North West police spokesperson Colonel Adele Myburgh said the case Sebekedi had opened at Kanana police station was under investigation and that no arrests had been made.
“The docket is currently at the Senior State Prosecutor for a decision/guidance,” she said.
Meanwhile, Sebekedi has been blacklisted on the government’s human resources system and as a result, cannot find any work.
“My family is living in a state of poverty, as I was the sole breadwinner. We survive through the help of friends, relatives and colleagues,” Sebekedi said.
She was diagnosed with depression and admitted to a mental institution for a month in 2019. “What worsened the situation is the passing of my dad three months ago, as it is clear that this whole debacle affected him to a great extent,” she said.
The SIU has not yet responded to a request for an update on the investigation. Sebekedi’s matter was heard by the bargaining council in the past week and postponed to February 2024. Mukurukuru Media/DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.