Why so quiet,Mr Mlaba?

The Sunday Independent - - LEADER -

WHEN Obed Mlaba ran the city for a record 16 years from 1996, his term of of­fice as mayor was a mixed bag.

Al­though pop­u­lar in many quar­ters, as a public fig­ure he was not ev­ery­one’s cup of tea and was some­times per­ceived as ar­ro­gant and even di­vi­sive.

He also courted al­le­ga­tions in­volv­ing cor­rup­tion when he be­came the fo­cus of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by foren­sic au­di­tors Manase, who ac­cused him of “ir­reg­u­larly and un­law­fully in­flu­enc­ing” a multi­bil­lion-rand land­fill tender.

The con­tract was never awarded and he was never charged.

Nev­er­the­less, the man en­joyed a fair mea­sure of suc­cess by push­ing for business and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. It was largely this suc­cess in business that pro­pelled him to be ap­pointed South Africa’s high com­mis­sioner to the United King­dom – one of the high­est diplo­matic po­si­tions one can hold.

A mere three years later, however, it seems it has all gone pear-shaped after news re­ports that he has been asked to pack up his top hat, white tie and tails and re­turn to South Africa in dis­grace – two years be­fore his term ex­pires.

One news­pa­per re­port says Mlaba was called home after an ex­posé that he had failed his se­cu­rity clear­ance and was run­ning the high com­mis­sion “like a spaza shop”.

It went so far as to say Mlaba had been abus­ing his po­si­tion to en­rich him­self, us­ing his of­fice to clinch business deals and seek do­na­tions for his foun­da­tion back home.

Adding fuel to the fire is the South African Business Abroad – a Lon­don­based col­lec­tive look­ing to res­ur­rect in­vestor con­fi­dence in SA – whose founder Xolani Xala says the former mayor should be locked in jail.

Mlaba is keeping mum. So are his em­ploy­ers, the De­part­ment of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions, whose stock an­swer to me­dia queries is: please don’t ask us to dis­cuss em­ploy­erem­ployee re­la­tions in public.

This is not just a mat­ter be­tween em­ployer and em­ployee. We have a right to ask ques­tions about this is­sue. Mlaba was in the UK not to rep­re­sent him­self, but his country.

Given our che­quered rep­u­ta­tion in diplo­matic re­la­tions and the fact that our diplo­mats were ad­judged among the worst be­haved in the world not so many years ago, we de­serve an ex­pla­na­tion.

If Mlaba has a story to tell, let’s hear it. Keeping mum is just so undiplo­matic.

den­nis.pather@telkomsa.net

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