By: Sello Theletsane
JOHANNESBURG- Former West Rand District Municipality municipal manager Thupi Mokgatla and his two co-accused were this week acquitted Johannesburg Specialised Commercial Court following a five-year legal battle.
Mokgatla, and three former West Rand District municipal officials, Evans Tsoaedi, Mokgatle Ratlhogo, and Saa Ngidi, who later turned state witness, were arrested by the commercial crimes unit in March 2015 on allegations of contravening the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) and wasteful expenditure. This followed the municipality’s decision to award R6m tender to a Randburg-based company, Round Strategies. The contract was for neighbourhood development projects in the townships.
However, on Tuesday (5 May), the court found all three not guilty of all charges against them.
Mokgatla said the case, which lasted five years, had drained him and his co-accused financially and emotionally. “I’m happy this matter is over but the damage the case had on our lives is massive. Mokgatla, who has had an illustrious career spanning more than two decades in local government, said he could not even secure a job while he had a cloud hanging over his head.
He was adamant that the awarding of the contract which led to his and co-accused legal troubles was above board, arguing that the project had full council approval. “I’ve always known that the day would come when the truth will be revealed. Tuesday 5 May was that day.” While Mokgatla was on cloud nine, the same cannot be said about one of his co-accused Evans Tsoaedi who died earlier this year. It is believed he succumbed to the pressure and stress the trial put him through.
Contrary to media reports which claimed Mokgatla and his co-accused were charged with fraud, they were accused of wasteful expenditure. Zola Majavu, who represented the three men said he was happy the court accepted his argument that there was no basis for the charges as the budget for the project was approved by council.
“If council never knew about the project, they wouldn’t have approved it. The council approved the budget for the project which even received a vote number” Majavu said he was happy his clients did not walk free on a technicality but were acquitted after a marathon trial which saw a total of nine witnesses taking the stand, including experts from the National Treasury.
“What is sad about the case which dragged for five years is the negative impact it had on my clients’ lives. They even ran out of funds to cover their legal bill, but I stood with them throughout because I believed in their case. Their acquittal vindicated them. It’s sad that there are people who go out to play politics while destroying other people’s lives” said Majavu.