Mpumalanga legislature’s “misplaced” luxury vehicle has been secretly returned to the premises of the law making institution.
While legislature spokesperson, Zamagambu Memela-Gamede, failed to confirm or deny that the controversial vehicle has been returned Ziwaphi has independently verified that it has been returned to the legislature premises after an absence of more than 41 days. (See picture of the vehicle taken at the legislature parking).
According to the legislature, the vehicle, a 2014 SUV Mercedes Benz ML 500, had been at the panel beaters after an accident which happened in August 2015 and only returned to the legislature a year later, on 12 August 2016.
Following a tip off by a whistleblower inside the legislature, Ziwaphi discovered that the vehicle, which was bought in 2014 for legislature Speaker, Thandi Shongwe, was not returned to the legislature premises, but was kept at Shongwe’s residence.
Legislature spokesperson has denied this allegation.
When Ziwaphi sent a media enquiry on the 20 September 2016, on the whereabouts of the vehicle, it was secretly taken to government’s Building No 4, which houses the department of community safety, security and liaison on 21 September 2016.
On 22 September 2016, the legislature responded to the media enquiry, claiming that the vehicle, since its return from the panel beaters, had been parked at Building 4.
“The vehicle was at the panel beaters as it has been received on the 12 of August 2016 by the Legislature and is currently parked at the underground/Basement Parking at Building No. 4, Riverside Government Complex,” said Memela-Gamede in response to questions at the time.
A source from the department of community safety, security and liaison, confirmed that the vehicle, with the same registration number as that of the legislature Speaker was parked in building 4.
The only difference is that he disclosed that the vehicle was only parked a day after Ziwaphi had sent the enquiry to the legislature.
“(I confirm that) the vehicle with registration number HLN 854 MP is in the parking in Building 4, but it arrived on Wednesday (21 September 2016),” said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Memela-Gamede declined to explain why the vehicle was only taken to Building 4 after the Ziwaphi enquiry.
“This question is not relevant and has been responded to on numerous occasions,” she said, even though she had never been asked the question and had never responded to it as she had claimed.
In follow-up media enquiries, Memela-Gamede said the reason for not parking the vehicle at the legislature building was because of “limited” parking space.
“(The vehicle was parked at Building 4) because of the limited available parking space at the legislature,” said Memela- Gamede.
A legislature insider, however, refuted Memela-Gamede’s statement.
“If there were no parking space, which in itself is a lie, the legislature would sacrifice vehicles of officials, not a vehicle of a member of the legislature, let alone the vehicle of the Speaker,” said the insider.
An independent investigation by Ziwaphi confirmed the insider’s version and even uncovered that the legislature Speaker, Thandi Shongwe herself has parking space for two vehicles, but she uses only one while the other is always vacant.
When the information reached Ziwaphi that the vehicle had been secretly returned to the legislature building, new questions were sent to the legislature requesting them to confirm if indeed the vehicle had been returned and to explain when and how the parking had suddenly became available.
Memela-Gamede failed to respond to the questions which were sent to her on 31 October 2016.
In September 2016, a Ziwaphi exposé revealed that the legislature bought two luxury SUV vehicles for Shongwe within a space of fourteen months, and that the specifications of the second vehicle, bought in 2015, were made to be similar to those of the vehicle bought in 2014, in order to hide the fact that the legislature speaker had bought a new vehicle.
The legislature has denied the allegations, and engaged on an apartheidstyle disinformation campaign against Ziwaphi.
In one instance, a fake Facebook account was opened by a senior official in the office of the speaker.
When Ziwaphi sent an enquiry about the official, her post was immediately removed.
Legislature secretary, Linda Mwale, also threatened the publisher of Ziwaphi with a lawsuit, to which Ziwaphi’s attorneys have responded.