The family of missing whistleblower Nomawethu Kunene has pleaded for her safe return.
Kunene’s 34-year-old niece Andisiwe Nyembesi said she last spoke to her aunt – a 42-year-old director at West Rand-based NGO A Re Ageng Social Services – on February 26.
“We were okay and she didn’t mention that she was going anywhere. She didn’t show that anything was wrong,” said the Carletonville woman.
“In a way, my aunt’s life was in danger because there was conflict between her organisation A Re Ageng Social Services, where she was the deputy director, and the Department of Social Development.”
Nyembesi said the matter involved Kunene blowing the whistle on corruption that allegedly involved money laundering at the department.
The two spoke at around 15:50 on the Monday.
“When I tried to call her on Tuesday morning, the phone was off and the WhatsApps were not being read.”
It was around 08:00 when Nyembesi called her aunt to ask her something.
“I called her colleagues and they told me that she did not report to work that day. They said they went to her house in Randfontein and the car was there, but she was not there.
“When we asked the neighbours about her whereabouts, one said she had seen my aunt at around 19:00 on Monday night and another said they heard a bang at around 22:00 on Monday.”
‘We are still hopeful that she will come home’
Neighbours also claimed to have heard a vehicle reversing out, but that it was not Kunene.
On Tuesday night, Nyembesi reported her aunt missing at the Randfontein police station.
Nyembesi alleges the department had tried to use the NGO as a “conduit” to “launder money”.
“They were trying to launder money, but A Re Ageng Social Services refused to be used as a conduit in the matter. They then reported that the department was doing something fraudulent.”
Nyembesi said her aunt was arrested in December, allegedly on trumped up charges.
The family was still hopeful that Kunene would be returned home safely.
“We are feeling scared because we do not know who took her. We are stressed and wish she could come back. We are still hopeful that she will come home.”
Nyembesi said they hadn’t heard much from the police since the family opened a missing person’s case.
“She was a whistleblower and gender activist. This case is important because it tells us that, if the truth was considered important, then people would have protected her.
“Her disappearance shows that we are a very corrupt country,” she said.
According to a Huffington Post report, Kunene’s organisation had been embroiled in a long-running legal case involving alleged money laundering, corruption and the blatant abuse of power by senior officials of the social development department.
Mysterious R10m deposit
These allegations reportedly relate to the irregular manner in which the Gauteng social development department used an A Re Ageng Social Services facility as an unwitting conduit to transfer millions into the Life Esidimeni account.
It is alleged that, in October 2016, when R10m mysteriously landed in an A Re Ageng Social Services account, the organisation refused to transfer the money on to Life Esidimeni.
The national Department of Social Development referred all queries to the provincial department.
The Gauteng Department of Social Development said it was shocked to hear about Kunene’s mysterious disappearance.
“The GDSD welcomes the fact that the missing persons case has been opened, and has called for calm,” said spokesperson Mbangwa Xaba.
The department committed itself to assisting with efforts to find Kunene, and MEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza asked the police for a full report on the status of the investigation.
“MEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza has, as per her initiative that police investigate A Re Ageng matter, asked for a full report on the status of investigations, including the case of Kunene’s disappearance.
“The GDSD joins the Kunene family in praying for her well being and safe return. We wish to make available to them psycho-social support from government, should they require it,” said Xaba.
The Gauteng police were not immediately available for comment.