The suspended sentence handed to a municipal official convicted of crimes relating to the R2 billion VBS scandal undermines the severity of the fraud and looting that took place at the bank, said a municipal union.
The South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) in Limpopo says it strongly condemns the “lenient” sentencing handed to former Thulamela Local Municipality municipal manager Hlengani Maluleke.
It says the sentence further insults the bank’s victims, who lost millions in savings when the bank collapsed in 2018, and the whistleblowers who were assassinated for speaking out.
Maluleke was found guilty of unlawfully investing R30 million in VBS Mutual Bank. However, he managed to avoid serving time in prison as he reached a plea and sentence agreement with the state, resulting in a suspended five-year sentence.
SAMWU provincial secretary Patrick Aphane said the repercussions of the VBS heist have had far-reaching consequences, affecting not only the Thulamela Local Municipality in the Vhembe district but also the wider community it serves. Maluleke’s involvement in the VBS heist, as a municipal manager entrusted with safeguarding public funds, is a betrayal of the highest order, according to Aphane.
He said the light sentence handed to Maluleke fails to acknowledge the gravity of his crimes and their profound impact on the lives of those affected.
“While we recognise this as a step towards justice for the predominantly black and economically disadvantaged victims who collectively lost millions of rands, we condemn the leniency of the sentence in light of the gravity of the crime,” said Aphane.
“The union’s position is that maximum applicable sentences should be imposed on those who are found guilty of violating the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA). The issuance of such lenient sentences does not encourage consistent compliance with the MFMA; in fact, it may encourage further violations,” Aphane said.
The VBS heist was a complex web of corruption and fraudulent activities, orchestrated by individuals who exploited their positions of power for personal gain. Thousands of VBS clients, mainly poor residents of Venda, in the far north of Limpopo, lost millions in personal savings and community stokvel investments when the bank collapsed under the weight of fraud and looting by officials and politicians.
At least 13, including former Limpopo ANC treasurer Danny Msiza and several former bank executives, have been charged criminally concerning the VBS scandal. In October 2012, Former VBS Chief Financial Officer Philip Truter was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the bank’s looting after he entered a plea bargain with the state. Seven of the 10 years are direct imprisonment, while three have been suspended.
Most people who demanded action against politicians and municipal officials who illegally invested in the bank were hunted and gunned down.
In 2019, two SAMWU members, Ronald Mani and Timson Musetho, were killed for blowing the whistle on the VBS Mutual Bank scandal in the Vhembe area.
In 2018, Fetakgomo Tubatse Local Municipality ward councillor Thabang Maupa was ambushed in Burgersfort and killed with his wife. He was vocal about the VBS l at the time of his death. Two men have since been convicted of the two murders and handed life sentences.
Aphane said VBS victims deserve justice, and the sentencing of those responsible should reflect the severity of their actions.
“Although it represents progress in holding individuals accountable for their actions, we believe that the sentence fails to adequately reflect the seriousness of the offense committed. More importantly, it does not act as a strong deterrent for other municipal officials who might contemplate similar violations,” Aphane added.