The office of the ANC chief whip in the Mpumalanga legislature has suspended its researcher, Philemon Lukhele, for his alleged role in the brutal murder of Hillary Gardee a fortnight ago.
In a statement today, chief whip Fidel Mlambo said they had resolved to suspend Lukhele with immediate effect because of the seriousness of the charges he faced.
Lukhele and two other suspects have been charged with murder, rape, kidnapping and possession of an illegal firearm by police in connection with the murder of the daughter of former EFF secretary-general Godrich Gardee.
Lukhele is a former Wits SRC president and ANC member who also owns student properties in Mbombela.
Lukhele, a senior manager in the office of the chief whip, has been suspended without pay.
“The office of the chief whip has noted that Lukhele appeared in court on Monday with two other accused where he waived his rights to apply for bail.
“Lukhele is charged, among others, with the murder, rape, kidnapping and possession of an illegal firearm, all charges related to the gruesome murder of Ms Gardee,” said chief whip Fidel Mlombo, adding that the office noted the seriousness of the preferred charges against Lukhele.
He said the resolution to suspend Lukhele was in line with the office’s code of conduct. Mlombo said Lukhele was served with the notice to suspend him earlier today.
“The chief whip’s office noted the seriousness of the preferred charges against Lukhele. In line with the code of conduct, a resolution to suspend Lukhele has been taken. He is suspended with immediate effect from conducting any work-related business in the chief whip’s office and the principle of ‘no work, no pay’ shall apply.
“This will continue until the conclusion of the internal investigation on his role and participation in this matter. Lukhele was served with the notice to suspend him this morning and has been ordered not to contact any of the employees in this office,” said Mlombo.
He added: “This office remains resolute ... that it stands for the protection of women, young girls and boys and condemns in the strongest terms any acts of violence perpetrated against the vulnerable, especially women and children and any acts of GBV+F.”
Hillary Gardee went missing at a grocery store in Mbombela last month. Her body was discovered days later in the bush near Sabie.
Lukhele and two other suspects, Sipho Mkhatshwa and Albert Gama, appeared in the Nelspruit Magistrate’s Court earlier this week.
Pretoria News reported last week that some ANC members had tried to absolve Lukhele of involvement in Hillary Gardee’s murder, saying he could not have committed the heinous crime because of his kindness and his standing in society.
In a message that circulated on the ANC WhatsApp groups, they said Lukhele did not fit the profile of a criminal because he was a highly educated political researcher based at the Mpumalanga legislature.