Johannesburg - The office of the Chief Whip in Mpumalanga has officially suspended Hillary Gardee murder accused Philemon Lukhele.
Lukhele’s suspension comes as a result of his arrest in connection with the murder of former EFF Secretary General Godrich Gardee’s daughter, Hillary Gardee.
ANC Chief Whip in Mpumalanga, Vincent Mlombo announced that Lukhele will be suspended without pay. The suspension is in effect as of today.
Mlombo said: “It is true that today I am from the Nelspruit correctional services where I personally handed to Mr Philemon Lukhele, who is an employee in the office of the Chief Whip in Mpumalanga, a suspension letter without pay effective from today at 9 o'clock. This suspension is pending a disciplinary hearing which will be held immediately when he receives bail if he receives bail”.
Contrary to reports on social media, Mlombo reiterated that a decision to dismiss Lukhele has not yet been taken.
“A decision to fire him will be taken after a disciplinary hearing that will take place immediately when he comes back,” he said.
Mlombo described the charges of rape, kidnapping and the possession of an illegal firearm which have been levelled against Lukhele, as falling within the highest level of seriousness of their code of conduct.
He also stressed that even though the charges brought against Lukhele have brought the office of the Chief Whip in Mpumalanga into disrepute, they do not wish to pre-empt the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings.
When asked about how Lukhele received the news of his suspension, Mlombo had this to say “He indicated to me that he understands the action that we have taken and that he holds no grudges against myself and that he understands the seriousness of his charges. But it is his responsibility now to prove himself that he is not guilty”
The exiled eSwatini national is a 39-year-old former SRC leader. He had been employed by the ANC as a senior researcher in the office of the Chief Whip in Mpumalanga.
The office of the ANC Chief Whip in Mpumalanga had earlier in the week released a statement condemning the alleged actions of Lukhele and his two co-accused.
The statement reads: “This office stands for the protection of women, young girls and boys. It condemns in the strongest terms any acts of violence perpetrated against the vulnerable.”
The University Of Mpumalanga has also cut ties with Lukhele and the properties he owned and used as student accommodation.
In a statement, the university stated: “The University takes these developments very seriously and has, in keeping with its Value of Integrity and for the safety and wellbeing of our students, no other option but to cancel the accreditation of the three (3) Insika Guest House student accommodation facilities with immediate effect”.
The properties are all based in Mbombela.
Lukhele, who is a member of Pudemo, the pro-democracy opposition party in eSwatini, has had his membership suspended by Pudemo.
Secretary-General of Pudemo, Wandile Dludlu said: “We can only give space and opportunity to all investigation team and law enforcement agencies which are engaged in this case with the speed it deserves and we are following, we hope the truth will come out and motive of this heinous crime that Pudemo condemns with strongest terms, even (if) it’s coming from our own.”
The three suspects arrested in connection with Hillary’s murder appeared in the Mbombela Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
Sipho Lawrence Mkatshwa, Mduzuzi Gama and Lukhele, are charged with murder, rape, conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping and possession of illegal firearms.
The State requested the accused be denied bail because of the seriousness of the crime.
All three abandoned their bail application. The matter has been postponed until June 9.
Gardee, 28, was buried on Saturday, May 7.
Gardee was reported missing on Friday, April 29. She was reportedly last seen leaving a shopping complex in Mbombela at approximately 5.30 pm.
A group of passers-by who were making their way to work, found her body in a field about 40km outside Mbombela on Tuesday.
An autopsy revealed Gardee was shot in the back of the head and stabbed multiple times.
The motive for her killing is still unknown.