Now mayor's husband accused of assault

Published Mar 25, 2009


By Mogomotsi Magome

Tshwane mayor Dr Gwen Ramokgopa's bodyguards and family on Tuesday harassed reporters and photographers at the Hatfield Community Court and barred them from entering a courtroom where her daughter was appearing for alleged drug possession.

While Ramokgopa appeared calm, her entourage and her husband were aggressive and roughed up photographers and a cameraman. Ramokgopa's husband, Allen Lephoko, grabbed The Times photographer, Daniel Born, by the collar. Born has laid an assault charge against him.

This came after the couple's daughter, Lerato Lephoko, 18, was sneaked in and out of court through the cells, not using the normal entrance used by other accused persons at the court.

The alleged assault of Born followed an earlier incident of intimidation of the media by another bodyguard, who attempted to prevent Beeld newspaper photographer Leon Botha from taking photographs.

The man also attacked an SABC news cameraman, Meshack Mmekwa, accusing him of "not being man enough and playing into white people's prejudices''.

He was later heard saying Mmekwa would be dealt with after the elections as he would lose his job at the SABC.

The same man was later heard telling reporters they should practise "progressive journalism", instead of harassing "a minor".

Ramokgopa's bodyguards prevented reporters from entering the courtroom. They stood at the courtroom door, claiming reporters were not allowed in even though no such order had been made by the magistrate.

Pretoria Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair on Tuesday said no order had been made by the court preventing the media from entering court during Lephoko's appearance.

After confirming with magistrate Christopher Chokoe, who was presiding in the Hatfield Court, Nair said there was no legal reason why reporters were barred from entering the court.

Democratic Alliance chief whip in the Tshwane Metro Council, Natasha Michaels, said she was shocked to learn that Ramokgopa's guards were protecting her when she was not performing her official duties.

"Her bodyguards are paid for by the taxpayers for the sole protection of the executive mayor while she is performing her official duties as the mayor."

She said it was abuse of privilege as the mayor was attending a court case as a mother.

"I sympathise with what happened with her daughter, as I would with any parent facing the same situation, but it does not justify the abuse of council resources," Michaels said.

Describing his ordeal, Born said Lephoko grabbed him and tried to throw his camera on the ground, "while another person kicked me on my legs so I could fall".

"I cannot believe the police just stood there and watched as I was being assaulted."

Ramokgopa's daughter was arrested with five other pupils at Pro Arte Alphen Park School last Friday after she was allegedly found in possession of dagga during a police search.

She also faces a charge of assault after she allegedly bit a police's officer's finger when he tried to prevent her from making a call on her cellphone.

On Tuesday she was assessed by probation officers and appeared in court, where she was told that she had to complete a diversion programme by June 26.

Her fellow pupils, who appeared in the same court on Monday, have also been admitted to the diversion programme.

The aim of the diversion programme is to divert the accused from the criminal justice system. If the programme is successfully completed and the accused admits guilt, charges may be withdrawn.

Ramokgopa said on Tuesday any parent would be relieved that their child would not have a criminal record, but added that her daughter would have to finish the programme first.

She said her daughter would have to appreciate the seriousness of this matter, adding that she was lucky the pupils had received help sooner than later.

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