Amid mounting pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa to pardon AbaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, Justice Minister Michael Masutha appointed a former justice department spokesperson and advocate to assess the king's prospects for a pardon.
On Thursday, the Presidency confirmed Ramaphosa received Masutha's recommendation to pardon Dalindyebo. Ramaphosa will now apply his mind to the request.
However, News24 has uncovered that advocate Mthunzi Mhaga assisted Dalindyebo to complete application forms for the pardon in the weeks leading up to his official appointment and billed the state attorney for these services.
News24 obtained detailed invoices and documents relating to Mhaga's appointment.
They show that Mhaga started work in December 2018, a month before Masutha's chief of staff Kagiso Moleme sent a letter to the East London state attorney, dated January 21, 2019, requesting that Mhaga be briefed.
This was due to his "familiarity with the matter and knowledge of the traditional legal systems," Moleme wrote.
Mhaga, who is now in private practice, worked at the justice department for 17 years. He was paid at least R191 596 to deliver a legal opinion to Masutha concerning the application.
"Mhaga is a private lawyer, he doesn't work for the Office of the State Attorney, nor does he assist King Dalindyebo," Masutha's spokesperson Max Mpunzana said on Thursday.
He maintained that the process of Mhaga's appointment was above board.
On Wednesday, Mhaga referred queries to the justice ministry.
The invoices and detailed billing show that Mhaga assisted Dalindyebo to apply for the pardon and further show that he held extensive consultations with not only the king, but lobbyists for his release and his victims.
Dalindyebo was imprisoned for assault, kidnapping, arson, and attempting to defeat the ends of justice. He was sentenced to 12 years after a successful Supreme Court of Appeal application shaved three years off his sentence in 2015.
The invoices show Mhaga's first "action item" was a consultation with the state attorney's office in East London on December 20, 2018.
- On January 10, 2019, Mhaga "tends to the completion of the presidential pardon application form, with the king's spokesperson and the entire Amabhele lobby group in East London".
- On January 14, 2019, Mhaga's invoices show he was "drafting testimonial of another Eastern Cape Xhosa chief, Chief Phokwana, and discussing the same with king's spokesperson and attaching it to the application form".
Dalindyebo's spokesperson, Prince Mthunzi Ngonyama, confirmed to News24 the pardon application was submitted in mid-to-late February.
It is clear from the invoices that Mhaga's work began in December 2018 and he had submitted invoices by early January. He was paid in mid-February.
"The services of advocate Mhaga were acquired solely for the benefit of the minister in processing the application for pardon," Ngonyama said.
"The main reason the minister sought the advice of outside counsel is that this is the first case the minister has had to advise the president on an application for pardon, in respect of an offender who is currently serving a sentence.
"There is currently no precedent on how to handle it."
Mpunzana said Mhaga was paid "way below" R200 000.
"The complexity of the matter and fact that it is unprecedented should inform the time spent researching for the legal opinion. The Office of the State attorney followed a fee agreement reached with counsel. The state attorney has not raised any issue about the fees but if there is dissatisfaction, the legal bill may be taxed in terms with the applicable procedure."
Ramaphosa is under immense pressure to release Dalindyebo from prison or face "widespread mobilisation".
Dalindyebo's spokesperson, Prince Ngonyama, told News24 that a meeting was held between him and the monarchy in the Eastern Cape earlier this week. It was decided that they would give Ramaphosa an ultimatum: release Dalindyebo or face a campaign to encourage protests and a boycott of the national elections on May 8, across the country.
"If [the president] cannot move on this matter within seven days, they will have to mobilise their supporters, their people in the Eastern Cape and other kings who have shown interest in other provinces," said Ngonyama.
"Their people should also boycott elections or not participate in the elections. If they do participate, they need to choose other parties, not the ruling party," he added.
Dalindyebo still maintains his innocence.
"In the case surrounding the king, people reported issues of being harassed by others and issues of rape, which angered the community and they wanted the king to intervene," said Ngonyama.
"Those people could have taken the matter to the police, but they say the king is the one who can resolve the matter. Whether he acted beyond his jurisdiction, his intention was to try stabilise and bring a sense of security in the area."
Earlier this month, the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa sought a meeting with the ANC over a number of issues, including asking for the release of Dalindyebo.