Joburg MMC has ‘endangered the lives of Seri staff’, says justice department

MMC of Economic Development Nkululeko Mbundu.

MMC of Economic Development Nkululeko Mbundu.
Gallo Images/Sharon Seretlo
  • The Department of Justice says ActionSA councillor and MMC for economic development in the City of Johannesburg has endangered the lives of Seri staff members. 
  • The department adds councillor Nkululeko Mbundu has “incited threats of violence against Seri, including, among others, the burning down of Seri’s offices”. 
  • ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba, however, has jumped to Mbundu’s defence.

Councillor Nkululeko Mbundu, the MMC for economic development in the City of Johannesburg, has come under fire for inciting threats of violence against the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri).

In a statement, the Department of Justice and Correctional Services said it had noted with concern the “flagrant and complete disdain” with which Mbundu had treated the non-profit human rights organisation.

Seri had been involved in litigation for many years to protect the rights of informal traders, the department said.

And recently, the organisation represented the SA Informal Traders Forum (SAITF) in an urgent application in the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg to reverse the illegal eviction of 600 informal traders from the De Villiers trading precinct, situated in De Villiers, Plein, Twist, Joubert, Eloff and King George streets.

The court ruled in favour of the SAITF, allowing the traders to return to their stalls. According to Seri, the City had consented to the order.

READ | City of Joburg threatens to evict relatives illegally occupying pensioners’ units

However, Mbundu from ActionSA criticised Seri in a series of tweets for assisting informal traders in the City.

According to Seri, Mbundu said the SAITF was “pretty much all foreign nationals … with a front by South Africans”.

He added the De Villiers trading precinct would be “invaded” as a result of the order and the SAITF and Seri constituted “a syndicate with big vested interests”, it said.

Seri added Mbundu’s tweets had incited threats of violence against its staff with certain groups and individuals acting on his tweets by circulating pictures of the organisation’s staff and their cellphone numbers.

“They have threatened to burn down Seri’s offices, to kill the lawyers who represented SAITF and to harm other Seri staff. Seri staff has also received threatening phone calls,” it said.

The department described Mbundu’s actions as a “blatant violation” of a court order, adding he showed a “total disregard for court decisions”.

“The MMC’s tweets have incited threats of violence against Seri, including, among others, the burning down of Seri’s offices, killing the lawyers who represented the informal traders and harm other Seri staff. As a result, Seri has had to temporarily close its offices.”

The department said the Information Regulator should probe these actions.

“It is important to stress that the right to legal representation is fundamental. Every person has the right to have their case heard before a court of law. Legal practitioners represent their clients and the rights of their clients. They cannot and should not ever be harassed and intimated for doing their jobs,” said Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery.

READ | Victory for illegal Bompas Road occupants as Gauteng court rules eviction unlawful

ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba jumped to Mbundu’s defence on Wednesday.

He said Mbundu shared a Seri press statement on Twitter to communicate the City’s position on the matter.

“He was in fact doing so to challenge falsehoods communicated by Seri relating to a legal case against the City of Johannesburg. The press statement, produced and placed onto social media by Seri, included the names and contact numbers of their personnel on the press statement,” Mashaba added.

“ActionSA does not support any person being threatened or intimidated for the exercise of their constitutionally enshrined freedoms. That being said, it was in fact Seri that put their contact details out on social media and it was Seri that conducted this interview, these two events and any connection between them do not arise from Mbundu or ActionSA.”

He said:

The work of fixing South Africa will not always be popular. It will often attract criticism both warranted and unwarranted. However, ActionSA will continue to do what is right because it is actions that will fix South Africa and not words.

While Mbundu’s spokespeople had yet to provide comment, he tweeted: “Thank you President @HermanMashaba @Action4SA & all patriotic SAn’s for the support. We will double down on our efforts to ensure the economy of @CityofJoburgZA rebounds from the 5yr net negative growth rate. Legal Informal Trade is critical in uplifting our people from poverty.”

In a statement, the GOOD party said it was time for Johannesburg Mayor Mpho Phalatse to remove Mbundu.

The party added the councillor had proven “he has no place in public office with outrageous and irresponsible comments on Twitter”.

“Any form of hate speech or inflammatory comments that have the potential to incite violence in the form of xenophobia or racism should not be tolerated and should not be taken lightly.

“It is further important to note that this is the same MMC that is under investigation for allegedly breaching the Municipal Finance Management Act linked to the Johannesburg Property Company. Despite this, he has remained in office during this process and has now once again proved that he should not be in this position.

“As GOOD, we condemn these outrageous tweets and believe the MMC should be replaced in the multiparty coalition,” the party said.

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