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Council speaker nabbed for fraudulent claim

When the council speaker of Walter Sisulu municipality in northern Eastern Cape called a council meeting last Thursday, he had no idea that the elite crime fighting unit, the Hawks, would pounce on him and throw him behind bars.

Kholekile Lange was presiding over a special council meeting when the Hawks stormed the council chambers and arrested him. This was part of a number of investigations conducted by the newly formed Hawks task team set up to eradicate fraud in Eastern Cape municipalities.

Lange faces fraud charges relating to the submission of fraudulent travel claims. He was arrested following months of investigations into allegations that he was claiming money from the municipality for using his own car to do official council duties, even though he does not own a car.

Hawks national spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said Lange was using a car registration that is not registered under his name to make travel claims from the municipality.

Government employees, especially in management positions including council members, are entitled to claim money from the government if they use their own vehicles to do official work.

Lange spent Thursday night at the Aliwal North police station and appeared in court on Friday where he was granted R5000 bail. The case was postponed to March 21, pending further investigation.

Opposition parties in the 22 member council have called the incident an embarrassment, with the official opposition party, the DA, calling for Lange to step down.

The party has also vowed to submit a motion of no confidence against the speaker.

Speaking to Sowetan sister paper Daily Dispatch yesterday DA proportional representative (PR) councillor Matthee Nel said: "The office of the speaker is meant to act objectively, fairly and with great integrity when it comes to council matters. We cannot have a speaker who is in a jail cell, when he should be working to solve the delivery breakdown in Walter Sisulu."

Nel said the DA would forward a motion of no confidence against the speaker formally at the end of March, when the council sits for a full ordinary council meeting.

Nel, who was present during the drama at the chambers, said the Hawks started by calling municipal manager Thembinkosi Mawonga for a short meeting outside the chambers before ordering the speaker out.

"We were very surprised; everyone in the chambers was shocked, the council meeting was interrupted. Mawonga was seen talking to the Hawks after councillor Lange was escorted to a vehicle and driven to Aliwal North police station, where he spent the night."

In a statement to the Daily Dispatch after the court appearance Nel said: "ANC councillors, the mayor, as well as the municipal manager were in support of their dishonourable speaker at today's court appearance."

The EFF has called for the establishment of a council committee to look into the allegations against the speaker.

EFF councillor Vuyisile Schoeman said: "If the allegations against the speaker are true, then we would submit a motion of no confidence against him calling for him to step down. We have confidence in the law and we will let it run its course."

At the chaotic council meeting the council passed a resolution of 4% salary increase for councillors after the ANC and the DA voted in favour of the increment.

EFF has rejected the increase arguing that it would compromise service delivery as the council was not financially viable.

The cash-strapped municipality is struggling to pay Eskom a staggering electricity debt of R112-million.

ANC spokesman Mlibo Qoboshiyane and party secretary Oscar Mabuyane could not be reached for comment.

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