Obed Mlaba is allegedly using his position as South Africa’s High Commissioner to the UK to secure business deals for his personal projects. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu/Independent Media
Durban - When Obed Mlaba ran the city for a record 16 years from 1996, his term of office as mayor was a mixed bag.

Although popular in many quarters, as a public figure he was not everyone’s cup of tea and was sometimes perceived as arrogant and even divisive.

He also courted allegations involving corruption when he became the focus of an investigation by forensic auditors Manase, who accused him of “irregularly and unlawfully influencing” a multibillion-rand land-fill tender.

The contract was never awarded and he was never charged.

Nevertheless, the man enjoyed a fair measure of success by pushing for business and economic development. It was largely this success in business that propelled him to be appointed South Africa’s high commissioner to the United Kingdom - one of the highest diplomatic positions one can hold.

A mere three years later, however, it seems it has all gone pear-shaped after news reports that he has been asked to pack up his top hat, white tie and tails and return to South Africa in disgrace - two years before his term expires.

One newspaper report says Mlaba was called home after an exposé that he had failed his security clearance and was running the high commission “like a spaza shop”.

It went so far as to say Mlaba had been abusing his position to enrich himself, using his office to clinch business deals and seek donations for his foundation back home.

Adding fuel to the fire is the South African Business Abroad - a London-based collective looking to resurrect investor confidence in SA - whose founder Xolani Xala says the former mayor should be locked in jail.

Mlaba is keeping mum. So are his employers, the Department of International Relations, whose stock answer to media queries is: please don’t ask us to discuss employer-employee relations in public.

This is not just a matter between employer and employee. We have a right to ask questions about this issue. Mlaba was in the UK not to represent himself, but his country.

Given our chequered reputation in diplomatic relations and the fact that our diplomats were adjudged among the worst behaved in the world not so many years ago, we deserve an explanation.

If Mlaba has a story to tell, let’s hear it. Keeping mum is just so undiplomatic.

* Pather's Tongue In Cheek column appears in Independent Media titles every Sunday.

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