The African National Congress (ANC) in Mpumalanga says it's unable to take action against one of its members who is accused of the kidnapping and murder of Hillary Gardee, saying that its hands are tied.
Explaining the party's dilemma to News24, ANC Mpumalanga spokesperson Ngelosi Ndhlovu said that in terms of the party's step-aside rule, a member who is criminally charged ought to be allowed to voluntarily step aside. The party can suspend a member who fails to do so.
"In this situation, [Philemon] Lukhele is in custody, and only once he gets out, should he be granted bail, then can he indicate to the party whether he voluntarily steps aside or not.
"We cannot terminate his membership for now because he is in custody, and he must step aside, as we have already [said] in our statement and as per the step-aside resolution. If he does not do that because we have a problem that he is in custody, we might be left with no choice but to request the region under which he is a member to write to him and inform him to step aside," Ndhlovu added.
She also said the ANC in Mpumalanga was in the process of writing to the branch of which Lukhele is a member to implore it to stop the accused from participating in party activities going forward.
"What we are going to do is that we are going to write to the branch and indicate to the branch that the branch must not assign him any duties until he has been cleared of these serious charges," the provincial spokesperson said.
Ndhlovu was also quick to clarify that Lukhele was "just an ordinary member and not a regional executive committee or a provincial executive committee member", but the party's step-aside rule still applies to him.
Lucky Mbuyane, the spokesperson for the ANC chief whip's office in the Mpumalanga legislature, where Lukhele worked as a research officer, told News24 that the accused had been suspended and that an investigation had ensued in the office.
Mabuyane said the suspension was without pay, but added that it was an employer-employee matter and had nothing to do with Lukhele's ANC membership.
Economic Freedom Fighters national spokesperson Sinawo Tambo, who has also been the Gardee family spokesperson, said it came as no surprise that the ANC failed to disassociate itself with the accused.
"It is not surprising to us that the ANC has failed to act swiftly against the murder, rape, and kidnapping accused, Philemon Lukhele. It's characteristic of them to fail to act on criminality because criminality is entrenched in the party's DNA and it is sustained and survived through corruption and other acts of criminality through the years. So we are not surprised that they have failed to act in terms of removing Lukhele's membership," Tambo said.
There were concerns that Lukhele's continued employment in the chief whip's office after would mean that he would have access to taxpayers' money for his defence.