The Truman show and tell
Dogged yet again by controversy, the Beaufort West mayor is by turns pensive, defensive and counteraccusatory in his response to being fingered for attempts to solicit electioneering money from Ceta
It was his late father Edward Prince, a Central Karoo railway worker, who instilled in young, barefoot Truman the principle of honour. “My dad was a man of his word. ‘Your word is your honour,’ he would say. I was raised with that principle,” Prince told City Press. This week Prince, the mayor of Beaufort West, defended his honour earnestly following a tenderpreneur corruption bombshell and accusations that he uses his municipality to collect electioneering money for the ANC.
The furore started on Tuesday, when a letter Prince signed on December 3 last year was published on Twitter by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille.
The letter, addressed to Raymond Cele, chairman of the board of the Construction Education and Training Authority, states: “We are an ANC-led municipality. We are, therefore, in need of a financial injection for our 2016 local government election campaign, and therefore will also want to see construction companies sympathetic and having a relationship with the ANC to benefit...” Oageng Mocumi, Gabonthone Rampa and Hanisca Kotze have never met Chris Johnson, but this week he paid their tuition fees for the year.
Johnson read about the students’ plight in a report in City Press last week, which was also published in sister newspaper Rapport.
Johnson, the owner of the Three Rivers Lodge in Vereeniging, donated a total of R150 000 to pay the tuition fees for the three students for the year. He is also the founder of Adopt-a-Student, an organisation that provides support, both financial and personal, to needy students.
“When I read the article last Sunday, I saw these were three students who were not going to give up until they found a solution to their problem,” Johnson said. “These are three students whose families have exhausted all the resources at their disposal to help them study.”
Johnson put his four sons through university and said he understands what parents go through to let their children study. “It’s not only tuition fees, it’s books and clothes and other necessities as well. If I had to put my children through university today, it would be a disaster.” Mocumi, who scored distinctions in eight of his 11 first-year modules of
At a press conference on Wednesday, following the ANC national executive committee’s three-day lekgotla held in Tshwane, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe told journalists the matter would be probed. The day before, comic puppet Chester Missing tweeted what many were thinking: “ANC mayor brazenly giving business to ANC supporters. So why does he still have a job?”
Speaking to City Press on Friday, Prince denied any wrongdoing, insisting the letter formed part of a broader strategy to transform Beaufort West’s economy, which he said was still dominated by a white minority.
“If I am going to be punished for talking about economic transformation, then I don’t know,” he said on the phone, adding the letter had been “interpreted wrongfully” and “taken out of context”. He said the issue of wrongful interpretation was discussed at an ANC regional executive committee meeting in Beaufort West at 3pm yesterday.
“Look, I need to take responsibility for the letter, but there are other issues if you read between the lines. That letter was definitely leaked,” he said. his BCom degree, owes the university R57 000. Rampa is studying transport economics and obtained 10 distinctions. He owes R33 000.
Rapport reported that Kotze, a bachelor of education student at North-West University, obtained two distinctions without being able to afford a single textbook.
Upon hearing the news that Johnson would pay his debt, an elated Rampa said: “Thank God for the Good Samaritan. I am so thankful. A week ago, I didn’t know that something like this could happen, the situation was so hopeless.
“The thought of spending the entire academic year at home was unsettling. I spend sleepless nights trying to figure out how to come out of this fix, only to find that God was listening to my prayers.”
Rampa said his single mother, a teacher at Mamonwana Primary School in Madidi, would not have been able to afford his tuition fees because she was still looking after his younger siblings. Mocumi was equally relieved. “I am happy, I am very happy. I can’t wait for the payment to come through. I really want to study and finish my degree so that I can amount to something in life.”
Kotze said: “It’s a great weight from my shoulders. The fact that they gave the money, and I don’t have to pay it back, helps a lot.”
Mocumi is not completely out of the woods yet and still worries about accommodation and food for the year. His father, who earns R9 000 a month, cannot afford to pay these expenses for him. His mother is unemployed.
“I am stressed. I am worried about everything. And I am hoping that somebody else will come through for me.”
“If I had said, ‘Give the tender to the ANC’ outright, that would have been corruption. But there is a process that needs to be followed and I acknowledge that.”
During the interview, Prince remained pensive and philosophical, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Prince (40) was one of nine children born to Edward and housewife Winnie Prince in Rustdene township, a cluster of small, pastel homes dotted between koppies and thorn trees on Beaufort West’s parched fringes.
“I am a child of the ghettos,” he said. “I understand the pain and the sadness of the people.”
Prince’s parents could not afford shoes, so he matriculated barefoot at Bastiaanse Secondary, a traditionally coloured school in the N1 truck-stop town halfway between Bloemfontein and Cape Town.
After stints collecting train tickets and working as a teacher, Prince embarked on a political career which soon turned tumultuous – nevertheless, culminating in him landing the ANC mayoral seat in Beaufort West in 2011, which he has occupied ever since.
But Prince is probably best known for an even bigger controversy, which took place in 2005. He was dismissed as Beaufort West’s municipal manager and expelled from the ANC on charges of sexual misconduct, arising from a Special Assignment television exposé of him flirting with, and trying to solicit sex from, teenage girls in the town.
He appealed the dismissal and was reinstated at the municipality in 2007.
In 2010, a traffic official pulled over his BMW with the personalised registration plate “1 OBAMA WP” following a public tip-off of reckless driving. He later appeared at the Laingsburg Magistrates’ Court for drink-driving.
Nowadays, Prince lives in the posh Beaufort West suburb of Hospitaalheuwel with his fiancée, Thershia Stemmet – who is employed as his personal assistant at the municipality. They have two young daughters. Prince also has children from a previous marriage. Fellow local politician David Maans, who grew up with Prince, points to the mayor’s “passion for people” as the reason for his staying power and mentions how Truman helped pay for his younger siblings to study.
Education is important to Truman. Last year, he completed a master’s degree in public administration at the University of the Western Cape, using Beaufort West as a case study.
“The only way to run away from poverty in South Africa is to get educated,” he says. “My dad taught me no matter the circumstances you were raised in, you can become what you want.”
For Prince it is a case of “the more you know, the more you want to know” and he may enrol for another university degree soon, he said.
How does he feel about his immediate political future? “I have no fear,” he said. “I have God on my side. God knows.”