21 July 2024 | 12:53 AM

Premier’s son linked to fire

Key Takeaways

Questions have arisen about Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane’s response to an incident involving her son, a stolen car and a fire-damaged house.

The Mail & Guardian has learned that Mokonyane’s 23-year-old son, Retlabusa, was involved in an explosion that burned down part of a house in Kagiso, west of Johannesburg, on Saturday morning.

Sources who witnessed the explosion say Retlabusa was at the scene of the blaze with his friend, Karabo Tshinangwe, who lives in the damaged house.

The witnesses claim that the cause of the fire was a Toyota Corolla that exploded while parked in the garage of the house. Locals said the car was stolen.

The M&G has also learned that Mokonyane visited the owner of the house, Tshinangwe’s mother, Ouma, the following day, Sunday.

A source close to the family said that at this meeting Mokonyane offered to rebuild the house provided that the Tshinangwes did not alert either the police or their insurance company either to her son’s involvement or to the stolen car.

Mokonyane confirmed that she visited the owner of the house, saying she did so “to give moral support and not for any other purpose”.

She refused to answer further questions.

An M&G inspection of the house this week showed that parts of the roof were caved in and the garage was covered in ashes.

In the ruined garage was a four-plate electric stove that appeared to have caught fire.

The house’s windows were shattered and the kitchen and the bathroom walls had been blackened by smoke.

The Tshinangwes are now staying with a family member.

Another source, who asked to remain anonymous, said Retlabusa and his friends offered to sell him the Toyota.

He said he turned down the offer because the asking price was too high. “Thank God I didn’t get involved in that shit,” he said.

Kagiso police’s communications officer, Warrant Officer Solomon Sibiya, said there was “fishy business going on with the car” and police have found evidence of a grinder being used.

“It seems that someone had been fiddling with the car,” Sibiya said.

The police’s investigation of the car’s remains continues.

Sibiya said that the station received a call from a panicky Tshinangwe, who later told them in a statement that he had been asleep when the house caught fire and was woken by the smoke.

‘Big naughty boy’

He also told police that the car belonged to him and was worth about R6 000. “We are trying to get to the bottom of the matter,” said Sibiya.

He also said that eyewitnesses had spoken to police about Retlabusa’s involvement. Police were treating the matter as arson, although no arrests have been made.

Mokonyane’s son was a “big naughty boy”, Sibiya said.

When the M&G made a second visit to Kagiso, locals who witnessed the blaze said that before police arrived they saw Tshinangwe and his friends frantically trying to remove things from the burning car.

This would not be the first time that Retlabusa’s mother has allegedly intervened on her son’s behalf.

A year ago he was arrested for the theft of a bakkie, leading to a car chase involving him and the police, Sibiya told the M&G.

Soon after his arrest the premier arrived at the police station and ordered that her son be released, he said.

Mokonyane’s spokesperson, Thabo Masebe, said this was not true. “Premiers do not order the police to release people, regardless of their relationship. The police must do their job,” he said.

In May last year the Star reported on another incident. Retlabusa was arrested in Kagiso for attempting to steal a Nissan bakkie but was released from the Krugersdorp police station after police could find no evidence implicating him.

Ouma Tshinangwe said she was too traumatised to talk to the M&G about her meeting with the premier.

She was unsure whether there was a car in the garage when she left for work that morning, she said: “I have no proof that there was a car in there or not or whether it was stolen.”

On Wednesday night an irate Karabo Tshinangwe called the M&G and said: “Leave my mother alone. Why don’t you talk to Retlabusa’s mother [Mokonyane]? She said she would sort everything out and he is the one who caused all this trouble.”

The M&G attempted for two days to contact Retlabusa Mokonyane, but he could not be reached.

This article was co-produced by amaBhungane, investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit initiative to enhance capacity for investigative journalism in the public interest. www.amabhungane.co.za.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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