Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency(ANA)

* This story has been updated

Durban - KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala has been dragged into the controversial issue of graft accused Nokuthula Khanyile, the head of department in the province’s Department of Social Development after notifying his Cabinet that he intends to extend her contract by three months.

Khanyile is under investigation by the Hawks after disgruntled staff wrote a letter to the unit, outlining alleged corruption by her and under her watch in the department.

On Thursday, non-profit organisations who are allegedly not happy with Khanyile's way of handling their proposals and fundings staged a picket at the Pietermaritzburg headquarters of the department, demanding that she leaves immediately. They disrupted work in the office complex.

Departmental spokesperson, Mhlaba Memela, refuted an earlier report by IOL that the picketers were their employees, saying their employees were forcefully and illegally removed in their offices by a group of individuals who stormed the government building. 

"These hooligans claimed to be from unfunded Non-Profit Organizations from UMgungundlovu District. The Head of Department provided an audience to the representatives of the group that stormed the offices demanding to see the MEC for Social Development. During this engagement, the representatives made it clear that they will not talk to the Head of Department. They said that they wanted to raise their grievances directly with the MEC for Social Development," Memela said. 

In a note marked “secret” and intended for provincial Cabinet members, Zikalala justified the decision of extending Khanyile's contract by saying she should be retained in order to help in an ongoing forensic investigation within the department.

However, staff members who later leaked the letter to Independent Media on Wednesday night said “Khanyile is an untouchable proxy” of some politicians in the province. They alleged that the extension is meant to keep her within the department for some time while the uproar around her is managed and she may be retained for another five years.

In the letter signed on October 28, 2019, Zikalala tells his cabinet he intends, once they have agreed as a cabinet collective, to extend Khanyile’s contract to run from November 1, 2019 to February 29, 2020.

“Ms Khanyile’s contract is extended in order to allow her to contribute and in order to attend to the findings of the Forensic Investigation that is currently being conducted in the Department of Social Development,” Zikalala said in the letter which he co-signed with the province’s director-general, Dr Nonhlanhla Mkhize.

Zikalala further said that Khanyile would retain her current salary and benefits and that there was no need to vet her again after she was vetted when taking the position in November 2014. 

The spokesperson of the Premier’s Office, Bongani Tembe, confirmed that the letter was indeed authentic but did not give more information.

Political Bureau