19 February 2019

South Africa: 'Rogue Elements Are Behind My Fall,' Says Ex-Vhembe Mayor At Centre of VBS Scandal

Former ANC Limpopo deputy chairperson and ex-Vhembe mayor Florence Radzilani, who has been placed at the centre of the VBS Mutual Bank saga, claims that she is the victim of rogue forces.

In a recent interview with News24, Radzilani remained adamant that she had nothing to do with the looting of the bank.

The R1.2bn that municipalities, including hers, deposited into VBS is missing, with Treasury labelling it "South Africa's biggest bank heist".

According to Radzilani, she had overwhelming support to become the province's first female premier after the upcoming general elections in May. But this plan was "dealt with politically" by "rogue elements", she said. She did not want to elaborate on who these elements were.

"I am the face of the VBS saga, and newspapers publish my face whenever they talk about VBS even if they make no mention of me in the article. My name has been tarnished," said Radzilani.

Radzilani resigned as executive mayor of the Vhembe District Municipality after Limpopo Premier Stan Mathabatha ordered that all executives whose municipalities deposited money into the mutual bank step down.

Radzilani's municipality lost at least R300m in the VBS debacle.

"I knew nothing about the investments into VBS when I came into office and, in fact, the provincial government was aware of the VBS/municipalities relationship from what I gather," said Radzilani.

News24 has seen statements from the Vhembe District Municipality which reveal that provincial Treasury officials seconded by the government to work at the municipality had been investing with the bank since 2016. This goes against the Municipal Finance Management Act.

The provincial government had seconded Nare Ngoepe to act in the municipal manager position, while John Raphela was made acting chief financial officer in the municipality, which was under administration.

In their letters of appointment, seen by News24, and which were sent to the municipality and signed by then cooperative governance MEC Makoma Makhurupetje, the officials were tasked with turning the finances of the municipality around, and should have reported monthly and quarterly to Treasury.

However, in November last year, Mathabatha told the media that Ngoepe and Raphela should have reported to the executive mayor, arguing she would have known about the illegal investments.

For almost a year, Ngoepe and Raphela handled investments at the municipality.

During their tenure at the municipality, the duo signed nine investment deals with VBS, the most valuable being R200m on November 14, 2016.

The lowest investment was R50m, on February 28, 2017.

In transactions between May 2016 and June 2017, the municipality had invested almost R1.5bn with VBS, at different interest rates.

The former mayor argues she is not responsible for what the duo did.

"How can I as a politician be held responsible for the deposits if those who went to school and studied accounting and finances and were familiar with the Municipal Finance Management Act went ahead to perform illegal transactions?" she asked.

"I am now unemployed, but those officials we found in office investing with a mutual bank remain in the employ of the state. I have no income, not from the position I held as deputy chairperson of the ANC, nor as mayor of Vhembe."

"Is that fair?" Radzilani asked.

Radzilani claims advocate Terry Motau intended to tarnish her reputation and integrity with his report.

Motau authored Treasury's forensic report which named Radzilani as an influential political person who played a role in the looting of the bank.

The report cites Radzilani as having asked for a "Christmas" gift from VBS executives and complained that she wanted more money as opposed to the alleged R300 000 she had received.

"Terry Motau deliberately wanted to destroy everything I've built," Radzilani said.

Motau refused to be drawn on the claims made by Radzilani and said that he had previously made his "position very clear that I will not be commenting any more on the VBS matter while I also understand that some of the complaints are before the courts, so I will let the judiciary deal with the matter", said Motau.

Bid to clear name

The former ANC Limpopo deputy chairperson told News24 that a commission of inquiry into the matter would help her clear her name.

She criticised Motau and his team for not consulting her before compiling the report, saying they had "opted to tarnish my name without affording me the opportunity to answer for myself".

Radzilani said had she known that depositing money into a mutual bank was irregular, she would have acted.

"When I was made aware of a circular from Treasury pointing out that investments with mutual banks were irregular, I instructed the municipal manager to retrieve the money but failed to get a cent back at the time."

Responding to questions about whether he knew of the alleged political plot against Radzilani, Mathabatha said that he only heard a "rumour" around the matter.

"I don't have information about Radzilani being dealt with for political gain, but I cannot dismiss that I have heard rumours about her wish to become premier," Mathabatha said.

The premier said "phase two" of the investigation into the VBS matter was at an advanced stage.

Ramaphosa promises arrests

The ANC did not waste any time when the Motau report was published and immediately had its integrity commission investigate Radzilani and her provincial treasurer, Danny Msiza.

The commission recommended that the pair "step aside" until their names had been cleared.

"The ANC is my home and I will not take them to court, but will hope that they will hear my appeal, which I have filed in December, to have the integrity commission's decision reviewed," said Radzilani.

Both Msiza and Radzilani have filed papers in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, asking it to set aside the parts of Motau's report that mention them or link them to fraud and corruption and the looting of the bank.

The matter is yet to be placed on the roll.

President Cyril Ramaphosa assured scores of party supporters during a manifesto launch event at the Thohoyandou Stadium on Saturday that the arrests of those implicated in the VBS saga were looming.

The defunct bank was formed as Venda Building Society in 1982 in the very area Ramaphosa was visiting.

News24

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