Gauteng Social Development head departs amid corruption allegations

Matilda Gasela headed several forensic audits despite facing allegations herself

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Gauteng Department of Social Development head Matilda Gasela was appointed despite facing corruption allegations and now leaves the department facing fresh allegations. Archive photo: Ihsaan Haffejee

  • The contract of Matilda Gasela, Head of Department at the Gauteng Department of Social Development, has come to an end.
  • Gasela was transferred from the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform, despite an SIU investigation recommending her for criminal prosecution.
  • Gasela is facing new allegations of tender irregularity amounting to R250-million while she was at Gauteng social development.
  • While at the department, Gasela headed several forensic audits.

Matilda Gasela, head of the Gauteng Department of Social Development, has left office under a cloud of corruption allegations dating back to her tenure as head of the Gauteng Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.

Gasela was transferred from that department to head the province’s Department of Social Development in July 2023, despite facing allegations of fraud and a damning investigation by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

Gauteng MEC of Social Development Mbali Hlophe is also the MEC for Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development. The appointments of heads of departments are made by the Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi.

Lesufi told the provincial legislature on 16 April, in response to a question from the Democratic Alliance’s Refiloe Nt’sekhe, that he has seen the SIU report and that Gasela faces a disciplinary process.

“We are studying that report,” he said.

Nt’sekhe told Lesufi that she intended to refer the matter to the Public Services Commission. “You might be late,” Lesufi replied, “because the contract of this individual [Gasela] is coming to an end at the end of April 2024.”

Lesufi committed to sharing the SIU report with Nt’sekhe. But Nt’sekhe told GroundUp that this had not happened. Lesufi did not respond to GroundUp’s questions by the time of publication. It will be added if received.

TimesLIVE reported in February 2023 that the SIU had recommended that Gasela be criminally prosecuted. The 2022 SIU report found that Gasela “may be guilty of fraud” and had contravened the Public Finance Management Act in a contract awarded to Enviro Mobi, TimesLive said.

Before joining the agriculture department, Gasela was head of Human Settlements in Gauteng, where she was the subject of a forensic investigation into an irregular R85.5-million contract. The investigation recommended disciplinary action be taken against her, according to TimesLive.

Gasela’s contract with the agriculture department was supposed to end in December 2022, but Lesufi’s spokesperson at the time, Vuyo Mhaga, told TimesLive that the contract was extended by six months to allow the premier to establish a panel to allow Gasela to answer the allegations.

But Gasela was subsequently transferred to social development, a department facing multiple crises. She was appointed department head.

Gasela has also been the subject of fresh allegations during her time at social development over tender irregularities related to its food parcels and dignity packs programmes. Gauteng’s finance MEC Jacob Mamabolo confirmed to eNCA that tenders amounting to R250-million are under investigation, for which Gasela will have to account.

GroundUp has not yet been able to independently verify the allegations, but several sources in the department confirmed to GroundUp that they were “accurate”.

Ongoing forensic audits of the department’s non-profit organisation funding have resulted in the suspension of 13 senior officials, but very few details about the reasons for the suspensions have been revealed.

One of the auditors appointed to investigate grants to non-profit organisations is Vernon Naidoo, a former senior partner of Grant Thornton who left that company after being accused of sexual harassment.

GroundUp has seen a leaked letter signed by Gasela sent to senior managers in September 2023, announcing that Naidoo’s company FSG Africa has been appointed to “conduct the Forensic Audit on NPOs”. Gasela did not respond to our questions about Naidoo’s appointment. We reached out to Naidoo for comment, who denied having knowledge of the allegations.

An independent audit firm has also been appointed by the Department of Social Development to investigate the department’s school uniforms programme.

A source in the department last week told GroundUp that Gasela created a climate of fear inside the department.

“It’s reached the stage where people are very scared to take any decisions without her approval. She controls every programme,” the source said.

“Matilda signs off on everything. Decisions are made without proper input from staff and you are just informed what to do.”

GroundUp has a leaked internal memo, signed by Gasela in December 2023, in which officials are instructed to refer contractual agreements to her as the head of department. This was previously delegated to senior officials.

In recent months, funding cuts to the social development budget for funding non-profit organisations have been compounded by delays in the grant adjudication processes, causing several organisations providing services to children, women and people with disabilities to shut down.

The department’s 2024/25 budget for non-profit organisations is R223-million less than it was in 2023/24. In 2023, the department spent R2.1-billion in subsidies to non-profit organisations.

Multi-million-rand adjudication panels set up to assess organisations’ funding applications are still shrouded in mystery. In the past, organisations would know the outcome of their funding applications before the financial year ended. But this year, many organisations still do not know whether they will be funded, even though the new financial year began on 1 April.

The department’s Nasi iSpani mass youth employment programme, one of Lesufi’s flagship projects, has also faced setbacks. News24 reported recently that 300 young people employed by the department had not yet been paid since starting work in February.

Gasela did not respond to questions from GroundUp but confirmed that her contract ended on 30 April.

The Gauteng Department of Social Development did not respond to GroundUp’s questions and referred us to the Premier’s office.

The Premier’s spokesperson had not responded at the time of publication.

TOPICS:  Corruption Social Development mismanagement

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Dear Editor

How can the ANC claim it will fix youth unemployment and offer services to the most vulnerable when they allow such corruption and incompetence to continue unchecked and unaccounted for? How can someone who has a clear and public record of corruption and mismanagement go unchecked to head up not one, not two, but THREE government departments without being prosecuted? What kind of precedent does that set? How can we hold these people to account beyond election years? Because it’s clear South Africans are so tired and apathetic about these corruption scandals, and the money meant to be spent on services to improve our communities is going down the drain.

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