• An ariel view of the Robben Island. Image: Supplied.

By Thato Mahlangu

Allegations of corruption and poor governance levelled against management of the Robben Island Museum (RIM) board have been dismissed by its acting chairperson Khensani Maluleke.

According to Maluleke and chairperson of the Ex-Robben Island Political Prisoners Association (EPPA) Stan Motimele, claims made by EPPA secretary-general Mpho Masemola were inaccurate.

Both Maluleke and Motimele said this at a meeting held on 5 December 2019. The meeting was also attended by the association’s executive team.

But Masemola claims that these allegations – which encompass maladministration, malfeasance, nepotism, poor governance, and irregular expenditure – are true and are in fact contained in an ‘explosive’ investigative report, titled the Morar forensic investigation report, which is yet to be released by the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture.

He said the association was opposed to the department’s involvement in the investigation in the first place, stating that the investigation into the allegations and the conclusion of the report should be conducted by a different legal counsel, which will not be appointed by the department. 

“The procurement of only the minimum three quotes for independent legal counsel to take the investigation report further is questionable. Why only the bare minimum? Who were invited to quote? Given challenges of allegations of corruption, [we submit] that the DSAC procurement of independent legal counsel to take the investigation further should be stopped.”

RIM spokesperson Morongoa Ramaboa said the museum is not in a position to advise, oppose or suggest what legal route this investigation should be following.

“The matter was reported to the minister of sports, arts and culture by the whistle-blower, Mr Mpho Masemola/EPPA and the minister immediately instituted an investigation.”

Allegations of corruption refuted

“All the things I am talking about are in the investigation report which has proven the existence of the above mentioned matters. I am not at liberty to release the report until all legal proceedings are implemented. Actually, it is the minister who must release the finding of the report,” Masemola said.

On 9 December 2019, Maluleke and Motimele released a joint statement where they both refuted these claims which, they said, were raised publicly through various media platforms by Masemola.

“The EPPA’s chairperson, Mr Stan Motimele conveyed an apology on behalf of the EPPA to the Council for the current inaccurate statements made and the negative impact it has had on the Institution, the Council and staff of RIM,” they stated.

Motimele and Makubele said there were talks taking place between the board and the association where some of the issues raised by members of the association would be addressed.

“The RIM Council (board) and the EPPA are well on their way to address the concerns raised by the EPPA through the Ex-Political Prisoner Advisory Committee (EPPAC) established by RIM in 2017 as a sub-committee of the RIM council. The purpose of this advisory committee is to offer guidance on research, interpretation, presentation and conservation of the Island.”

EPPA was formed by the late freedom stalwarts Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela, who were both prisoners on Robben Island.

The association serves as a union for former political prisoners who endured imprisonment in apartheid’s jails for their efforts in the struggle to create a new democratic South Africa. Among its members, living and departed, are Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Robert Sobukwe, Andrew Mlangeni, Thandi Modise, Dorothy Nyembe, Amina Desai and many others.

The millions and the boat

Masemola alleged that officials from Treasury had warned the museum’s management not to purchase a boat, the Madiba 1 (named after Mandela), that would cost the museum million of rands.

But RIM management bought the boat for R100-million and paid the brokers R23-million for it to be transported from Singapore. The boat could have been procured locally, Masemola said, adding that four years ago the same boat was on sale for R4.5-million. Furthermore, it’s not a new boat.

“The fact that workers can’t receive their salaries in time indicates maladministration and malfeasance [which was] raised by EPPA before the investigation, and the procurement of the current boat is in violation of the treasury policy,” he said.

“[Management] must first look at the South African companies that [can make] the same boat. However, the CEO and his [deputy] decided to violate the treasury policy and went on an irregular expenditure,” Masemola revealed.

He said he was worried that proper procurement channels were not followed before the awarding of the tender.

But Ramaboa said a request for proposal was advertised and the service provider was appointed through that process.

Corruption Watch asked Masemola for evidence of his claims but he refused to provide such, stating that the report would prove the allegations.

Masemola also claimed that the boat has no insurance, again without providing evidence.

“Should anything happen on the boat, none of the guests are insured and the museum managers are allowing such conduct to manifest just because of greed.”

Price fixing at play?

Masemola said the association suspects that prices for tours (around the prison) and trips (using the boat) are being inflated to siphon monies into personal accounts.

“Madiba 1 was paid R18 000 per trip and jumped to R25 000 after the previous owner was removed under very suspicious circumstances.”

He decried legal action taken against EPPA by the RIM management.

“This (civil action) clearly shows the desperation and arrogance of RIM CEO and management that by issuing summonses to EPPA which was founded by the late Nelson Mandela and Sisulu, they are taking the legacy of Mandela and Sisulu to court,” Masemola said. “Actually what they are saying is that the EPPA cannot defend the legacy of Nelson Mandela and their heritage.”

Masemola said the association has also noted a number of illegal tenders given to companies that don’t qualify for the work.

Changes at RIM

In a statement sent to Corruption Watch, the minister of sports, arts and culture, Nathi Mthethwa, did not respond to Masemola’s allegations, but he said the board’s chairperson had resigned.

“[The] department understood the chairperson’s actions of leaving the meeting before time as the culmination of her expressed desire to resign as she had previously informed the minister,” said the minister’s spokesperson Asanda Magaqa.

Magaqa said former justice and correctional services minister Advocate Michael Masutha was elected as the board’s new chairperson, while Louisa Mabe will replace Dr Gregory Houston, who is a chief research specialist at the Human Sciences Research Council.

Magaqa also said the department reiterates its intentions to continue seeking legal advice, and it is now in the process of implementing the findings in the Morar forensic investigation report.

“Noteworthy is that none of the new [board] members appointed on 1 July 2019 is implicated in the report. As such, the Department has requested the Council (board) and other relevant persons to pursue all the matters (which include irregularities and breaches of governance) contained in the aforesaid report to their final conclusion,” she said.