KwaZulu-Natal Cogta MEC Bongiwe Sithole-Moloi has ordered a department-led investigation into allegations that a tourism contract was awarded to Jean-Pierre Prinsloo - the former fiancé of the Democratic Alliance's (DA's) uMngeni Mayor Christopher Pappas.
However, Prinsloo, Pappas and the DA have denied the allegations.
The DA's KwaZulu-Natal chairperson, Dean Macpherson, told News24 that the allegations were "nothing but high school gossip".
Former DA KwaZulu-Natal leader, Sizwe Mchunu, filed a complaint with the Public Protector's office, alleging that when Pappas resigned as a DA MPL, Prinsloo, then an eThekwini municipality councillor, left his job to be closer to Pappas.
Prinsloo denied the allegations of nepotism, saying that uMngeni Tourism "stands as the only council-recognised community tourism organisation.
In a statement, he said, "The allegations highlighted the fact that there were organisations that received less funding than uMngeni Tourism and that this is somehow an indication of malpractice. It is not. While there are two additional organisations contributing to regional tourism under the umbrella of uMngeni Tourism, it's important to note that they receive comparatively less funding due to their more limited geographic coverage."
He added: "These organisations are, nonetheless, integral parts of the uMngeni Tourism board and reap direct benefits from the activities and effective operation of uMngeni Tourism."
He told News24 that his relationship with Pappas ended months ago and that the allegations were politically motivated and meant to damage his NPO's reputation.
Prinsloo said he was elected as the uMngeni Tourism's chairperson in two annual general meetings in 2020 and 2022, which a full uMngeni council endorsed.
He set out information which he said refuted the allegations.
The information includes the following:
- His role was "voluntary", using his experience to drive tourism initiatives; and his resignation came in July 2023, in line with the NPO's constitution; and
- The grant of R100 000 during the 2022/2023 financial year was "judiciously allocated to priority areas of both uMngeni Tourism and the uMngeni Municipality, such as revising our marketing and communications strategy and bolstering our online presence, among others".
In a statement issued at midnight, Sithole-Moloi said: "In accordance with our constitutional mandate, we have instructed relevant officials to conduct a thorough investigation into the matter. This investigation will enable us to address the issue promptly and effectively. Once the investigation is concluded, the department will take appropriate actions based on its findings."
Macpherson told News24 the Cogta department should rather focus its resources on collapsing municipalities across the province.
"That is where their time would be better spent," Macpherson said.
"They have never investigated anything in eThekwini and they have not investigated the collapse of Msunduzi and now they are going to entertain themselves with high school gossip where there is not a single shred of evidence that's been provided," Macpherson added.
"That just tells you everything you need to know about Cogta and it's incredible that they would even entertain something like this where not one shred of evidence has been produced."
In an interview on Ukhozi FM this week, Pappas denied his involvement in the decision to appoint Prinsloo's NPO as a recipient for funding.
"How can a company that only registered this year get tenders that did not even exist in 2021? That does not make any sense. Also, why is all of this coming out now, but these people claimed they've known about these allegations for a while," he told the radio station.
News24 contacted Pappas for comment, which will be added once received.
Provincial African National Congress (ANC) spokesperson Mafika Mndebele said Pappas, like any other elected public representative, must be held accountable.
"The public outrage is an indication that finally, the people of uMngeni Local Municipality have realised that the Zulu accent was just wool pulled over their eyes."
Mndebele said the ANC supported Mchunu's complaint to the Public Protector and welcomed the Sithole-Moloi-sanctioned investigation.
Who is Prinsloo?
According to the DA, Prinsloo is from Springs in Gauteng and has been active in DA politics since 2014.
Before serving as an eThekwini councillor, mainly in the Bluff area, Prinsloo worked at the DA's KwaZulu-Natal head office.