It's not personal: Fikile Mbalula on Somizi charge

10 April 2020 - 11:31 By Nomahlubi Jordaan
Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula outside the Sandton Police station where he laid a charge of violation of lockdown regulation due to disinformation against Somizi Mhlongo.
Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula outside the Sandton Police station where he laid a charge of violation of lockdown regulation due to disinformation against Somizi Mhlongo.
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo/Sunday Times

“We live in times when things cannot be joked about,” transport minister Fikile Mbalula said on Friday as he opened a charge against entertainer Somizi Mhlongo at the Sandton police station in Johannesburg.

Hours before President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that SA's Covid-19 lockdown would be extended until the end of April, Mhlongo had asserted in an Instagram video that Mbalula had given him a heads-up on the extension. He subsequently apologised to Mbalula for his “joke,” saying: “I'm just like you, I did not know about it, I was just guessing.”

Mbalula said Mhlongo's claim came at a time when the country is faced with a “serious” pandemic.

The charge Mbalula said he would lay against Mhlongo, related to the breaking of the regulations of the disaster management in terms of information dissemination and misinformation.

Mbalula said while he forgave Mhlongo, whom he openly admitted was his friend, he could not just let the “joke” slide.

“I have to come to the police station to report this matter because as a cabinet minister, we were sworn in secrecy.

“There must be no doubt on my bona fides in relation to information that could be disclosed to me ... I'm enjoined by the constitution to protect the state's secrets,” Mbalula told journalists outside the police station.

“The police station is the right place under the regulations because I did not break the law. I was at my place obeying the rule of law. I can't account for what happened. If it is a joke, it is indeed a bad joke.”

Mbalula said he could not allow his name to be dropped into conversations as if it was true that he had leaked vital information.

“Things cannot be joked about willy nilly ...

"It's not personal. I've got a good relationship [with Somizi], he's my friend, but the fact of the matter of that ... we must not mix business with pleasure,” Mbalula said.

“I wish to make it clear I'm taking steps to address the particular matter. I will open a case and explain this particular video and leave it to the law to take its course.”

Mbalula said he had told the president about the incident and would also write to the cabinet secretariat for them to file his report.

“This is no time for jokes. We are faced with a serious pandemic and anything could be construed for anything and that will bring lawlessness.

“I'm an important [member] of the president’s command council and I'm dealing with an important matter, that is transport, and I take it seriously.

“I'm very disappointed about the turn of events but it is not something that is insurmountable that cannot be attended to. The law will do the right thing and investigate and look at what actually happened,” Mbalula said.

He said the video could have done damage to the country as it was posted hours before the announcement of the extension.

“That piece of information was leaked and it reached me 15 minutes before the president's address. It could have caused disruption.”

Mbalula warned people against sending misinformation at the time when the country is dealing with Covid-19.

“We are fighting a virus and we are on top of it. The state of disaster we are in is not fake. Let's stop these jokes and let's obey the rules.”

He said Mhlongo should focus his social responsibility duty, “but act with circumspection when it comes to the law”.

“He could have said anybody. It's in his nature. He even predicted Miss Universe. I don't know whether the guy is a sangoma.

“He is a lovely character, he's bubbly, but we live at times when things can't be joked about.”

Mbalula's message for the Easter weekend is: “Stay at home. Don't take chances by driving anywhere else. This time is to pray and pray hard at our homes. Law enforcement will be there to make sure no-one breaks the law.”