Travelgate fraudster says crime was 'trivial'

By Bongani Mthembu Time of article published Mar 9, 2006

Share this article:

A confessed fraudster, Ruth Bhengu, has described those who continue to label her a "disgraced Travelgate fraudster" as racists, saying what she did was trivial compared to what was done by people such as the late South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje.

Bhengu, who resigned from parliament after pleading guilty to involvement in the widely publicised Travelgate scandal, was number one on the African National Congress' proportional representation list in the Ugu District Municipality on the South Coast and is likely to be chosen as mayor next week.

Bhengu and fellow ANC member Pamela Mnandi from Pietermaritzburg were among five MPs who pleaded guilty to defrauding parliament last year and received fines. All resigned after they were found guilty.

A further 25 MPs are facing charges of colluding with travel agencies in abusing travel vouchers to defraud parliament of more than R20-million and will appear in the Cape High Court.

Speaking to the Daily News this week, Bhengu said Cronje, who had been involved in cricket match-fixing, had continued to be treated like a hero by the majority of white South Africans until he died.

"Despite all the things Cronje did, he further received a hero's funeral when he passed away. I don't know what they want me to do. I accepted my mistake and apologised to the South Africans that I made a mistake," she said.

Bhengu, 52, added that the Inkatha Freedom Party's Phillip Powell had brought to KwaZulu-Natal five trucks loaded with dangerous arms but no-one was calling him a warlord.

She said apartheid government police officer Brian Mitchell - who killed 11 people attending a night vigil at Trustfeed, Camperdown in 1988 - was not being called a warlord or a killer.

Mitchell received amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the 1990s and later became a reconciliation priest.

"If the people who continue to call me a fraudster despite the fact that I have apologised and served my dues do not say the same thing to the people I have mentioned, it means that they are racists.

"How many times should I apologise and how different is my apology to the ones made by Cronje, Mitchell and Powell?" she asked.

Among senior politicians who called for the ANC to exclude Bhengu from the election lists was Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon.

A furious Bhengu said when those implicated in the Travelgate scandal were sentenced, the magistrate had made it clear that they could continue to hold public office, but they had decided to resign voluntarily.

"The Constitution of this country makes it clear that a person who is given a sentence with an option of a fine can continue to hold public office," she said.

Responding to opposition parties' assertions that the ANC had dumped her on the South Coast, Bhengu said it was not her party's head office that had "deployed her".

"I was chosen at the branch level and the normal party procedure that applied to everyone was followed.

"I want to make it clear that I am not a liability to my party, but an asset. I have not been dumped in Ugu.

"I was born on the South Coast and I will continue to serve people in the area," she said.

Bhengu said the fact that the ANC had won the municipality showed that people had confidence in the party's candidates, including in her.

Share this article: