Mpumalanga ANC bigwig Ngrayi Ngwenya, who is allegedly notorious for his violent streak, is facing charges of allegedly threatening and intimidating health officials who were inspecting fake foods in foreign-owned shops.
The ANC Ehlanzeni regional chairperson leases buildings to foreign shop owners at Schoemansdal village near Malelane.
Ngwenya, who is the only ANC regional leader in Mpumalanga not deployed to any government position, allegedly makes a living from renting out buildings.
Last week the shops were targets of Ehlanzeni district municipality's health officials after Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi commissioned an investigation on August 28 following complaints about fake foods being sold, allegedly by foreign nationals.
Although there have been no reports of sicknesses resulting from eating the fake or expired foods bought from spaza shops, photographs and videos indicated there were a number of fake foodstuffs on the market.
These foodstuffs, which contain colourants or are expired, included: eggs, beef, mutton, plastic rice and fish, soft drinks, bottled water, syrup being sold as honey, margarine, baked beans sold in fish tins and bread.
When health inspectors, accompanied by home affairs officials and police, swooped on Ngwenya's buildings, the tenants phoned him. Ngwenya allegedly arrived with a group wearing ANC T-shirts.
Ngwenya and his group allegedly accused the inspectors of being biased and demanded they should also go to a Boxer supermarket across the road. The inspectors complied with the demand. Ironically, Ehlanzeni district municipality's ANC deployees account to Ngwenya's region for their performance in government.
According to a report compiled by Ehlanzeni district's municipal health services senior manager, Esther Mahlalela, Ngwenya and his group intimidated and threatened the health officials and forced immigration officials to succumb to their demands to release undocumented foreigners who were found in the shops.
"Due to the actions of Mr Ngrayi Ngwenya and his group, the officials of Ehlanzeni district are no longer feeling safe to conduct their legally mandated functions," said Mahlalela.
Mpumalanga police spokesperson Sergeant Gerald Sedibe confirmed a case of intimidation was opened at the Schoemansdal police station following the incident.
"No one has been arrested as we are busy with an investigation. It is alleged health inspectors were intimidated while doing their work," Sedibe said.
Ngwenya did not respond to questions texted to his cellphone. He also did not answer calls.
According to the National Health Act, a health officer can enter any premises at any reasonable time to conduct an inspection and has powers to do so without a warrant.
Ehlanzeni district municipality spokesperson Lucky Ngomane said: "We've suspended our health services in Nkomazi since the incident."
Ngomane said the district had received another complaint that sewage from Ngwenya's rented rooms in Schoemansdal was spilling into the Nkomati River. That matter is still to be investigated, he said.
Ngwenya is known in the ANC as being excellent in mobilising community members, but also as an incendiary when facing opposition. In government circles he is infamous for allegedly bullying politicians into taking certain decisions.
It is alleged he could have intimidated the Nkomazi local municipality into withdrawing from taking part in the food safety operation.
Mahlalela's report seems to corroborate this allegation. It said: "Nkomazi local municipality refused to take part in the joint operation. They withdrew all their resources, such as refuse trucks to collect condemned items, and human resources to close down people operating without business licences and zoning certificates."
However, Nkomazi local municipality spokesperson Cyril Ripinga denied the municipality withheld its support. "We've been having our own programmes, such as water shortages that have led to service delivery protests, so we could not be part of that operation at short notice."
Many cases of violence
Ngwenya has been accused of many violent actions over the years, particularly in relation to ANC branch meetings, and for reckless statements:
• In 2014 the Barberton Magistrates' Court fined Ngwenya R1 000 and gave him a three-year suspended sentence after finding him guilty of assaulting Economic Freedom Fighters Mpumalanga chairperson Collen Sedibe in 2013. Sedibe was an ANC member at the time the assault took place during a party gathering in Malelane;
• In June this year Ngwenya allegedly assaulted ANC branch member Steps Makamo at a party meeting in KaMhlushwa. Police are still investigating;
• In 2011 former acting ANC Youth League chairperson Gerson Nevari laid criminal charges against Ngwenya for allegedly assaulting him and disrupting the league's meetings in Nkomazi. Nevari later dropped the charges; and
• A video circulated on social media in June this year of Ngwenya telling Mpumalanga Premier Refilwe Mtshweni that vacant posts in Shongwe and Tonga hospitals should be reserved for ANC volunteers.