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Assault case haunts Public Protector whistle-blower

2020-02-24 21:30

“He approached me and pick up the chair that I was sitted at. I stood up, he then throw the chair. He picked me up and hit me against the door which was glass door [sic].”

This statement is contained in a sworn affidavit made by Nchaupe Seabi, the 78-year-old pensioner who is suing the office of the Public Protector for R350 000 after the court found that he was assaulted by Sphelo Samuel, the parliamentary whistle-blower against Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

In the affidavit, made on Friday in response to Samuel’s parliamentary submission, Seabi recalled the incident at the office of the Public Protector in Polokwane in December 2011.

“I fell down and felt pain on my right sight. I stood up feeling extreme pain,” his statement continues.

But both Samuel and Seabi eventually laid charges of assault against each other with the police.

On October 6 2017, the regional court in Polokwane found Samuel, an official in the Public Protector’s office currently based in Bloemfontein in the Free State, guilty of common assault.

He paid the R1 000 court fine to avoid a prison sentence of two months.

Samuel did not disclose this payment in his affidavit under oath to the Speaker of Parliament, Thandi Modise, dated February 11 2020, nor in a follow-up interview with the SABC on Monday.

In the case of an appeal, he would not have been expected to comply with the court order until the verdict was confirmed by a higher court.

Samuel (55) stated in his affidavit that he felt the incident was “minor”, and that he wanted to put it behind him and “move on”.

The elderly Seabi, however, felt so strongly about the incident that he even drove to the National Prosecuting Authority’s offices in Pretoria and persuaded the deputy public prosecutor to hear his case before court. It eventually came before Magistrate MM Mamabolo in November 2016.

Almost a year later, in 2017, the court found Samuel guilty of common assault.

The court sentenced him to a “R2 000 fine or two months’ imprisonment, half of which (R1 000) is suspended for a period of five years on condition that the accused is not convicted again during the period of suspension”.

On the same day, October 6 2017, Samuel paid the court fine of R1 000 as per the judgment – which suggested that the matter had legally been brought to finality.

He told City Press on Saturday the fine was imposed as an alternative to imprisonment for a month, hence he paid it.

“This was done without prejudice to my rights as I had 14 days after that date to apply for leave to appeal, which I did.

“It was in no way an admission of guilt, and it did not remove my right to challenge the verdict at any time thereafter. I was remanded to the holding cells immediately after the verdict, and paying the fine was the only avenue open to me to secure my release at the time,” he said.

His failure to mention the payment to Parliament was “not deliberate”.

The criminal conviction sparked the current face-off between Samuel and Mkhwebane, whose office laid disciplinary charges against Samuel towards the end of last year on allegations of misconduct.

Last week Monday – a day before he submitted his affidavit to Parliament – Samuel was due to appear in court in Polokwane to defend Seabi’s lawsuit, but was unable to “due to health reasons”.

He also said that he had not been able to attend the pre-trial meeting “as I suffered major depression towards the end of 2019”. He said that he returned to work on January 2 and, “on receiving treatment for depression, I also decided to appeal the criminal conviction against me”.

Samuel said it was “the earliest I could pay attention to the matter, hence my application for condonation for the late filing of the documents”.

“My version is that Mr Seabi attacked me in my office, while I was on duty, and I have been left to fend for myself, in both the criminal and civil cases, without any assistance from the office since [Mkhwebane] assumed office.”

Seabi’s version of events

On December 11 2011, he had an appointment with an official at the office of the Public Protector in Polokwane, but was told that his file had been handed over to Samuel, who instead preferred to see Seabi on another date.

“I insisted to see him as I know his office. I went to his office and I found him talking on the phone. I greeted him and set down as he was busy on the phone. After he dropped he told me that he is busy and didn’t have time to assist me. I asked him to brief me on my case as I am at the office [sic].”

He said Samuel accused him of being disrespectful because “I came into his office without him allowing me to do so”.

“He then told me to get out of his office. I told him that I will not leave until he assist me with my case [sic].”

The two argued until Samuel was “standing and approaching” Seabi, telling him to “get out of his office”.

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March 29 2020