The SA National Roads Agency has been accused of deliberately forging documents to mislead the Pretoria High Court in an attempt to bolster support for the controversial N2 Wild Coast Toll Road.
The sensational claims emerged late yesterday when Sanral spokesman Vusi Mona confirmed that the agency was "investigating the circumstances around fraud allegations relating to statements that Sanral submitted in court".
To complicate matters, attorneys said the original of an allegedly forged signature appeared to have been "uplifted from the court file by unknown persons" and could not be examined by handwriting experts.
This follows a long-running court case in the Pretoria High Court in which several community groups from the Pondoland Wild Coast are seeking to set aside the government's 2010 decision to authorise construction of a toll road between Durban and East London.
Sanral has since filed an interlocutory application to block the legal challenge and claimed their attorneys had no legal authority to represent the communities.
During the exchange of court papers, Sanral filed a number of affidavits from Wild Coast residents expressing support for the toll road - even though at least one of the residents had been a vocal opponent of the toll plan.
One of the affidavits in support of court papers by Sanral chief executive Nazir Alii was purportedly signed by Nomvelwana Mhlengana, a council member of the Amadiba Traditional Authority and assistant to head woman Cynthia Baleni.
In this affidavit, Mhlengana purportedly gives her signed support for the proposed toll road and states that she did not authorise the Cape Town environmental law firm Cullman and Associates to bring a court application to overturn the toll road authorisation.
The affidavit was apparently signed on November 11 last year and stamped the following day at the Mzamba police station by police officer Nomfunelo Matara.
Three other affidavits - all with an identical format and bearing the letterhead of the Mbizana Local Municipality - were purportedly signed by three other residents.
But now Mhlengana has signed an affidavit that she never signed the affidavit of support and only became aware of its existence after Sanral presented it to the court.
"I deny all the allegations made in the affidavit and do not support the N2 Wild Coast project.
"I am very angry that Sanral has filed a forged affidavit in my name which makes it look like I committed perjury because it directly contradicts my previous affidavit... and am known as an outspoken opponent of the proposed toll road. It appears that whoever forged this affidavit intended to damage my reputation and standing in the community," she said in the new affidavit, dated January 23.
She believed the other three affidavits of support, purportedly signed by Msulwa Ndovela, Mfihlewa Mdatya and Gotyelwa Mathumbu, were also forgeries. She said had never heard of these three people, who were said to be members of her community
"I believe Sanral representatives knew that members of the Sigidi community would not sign affi-davits that they had prepared and so instead of attending the meeting they simply prepared forged affidavits with the assistance of members of the SA Police Services."
Fellow Sigidi resident Mzamo Dlaimi says in another affidavit that Sanral employee Mongezi Noah, accompanied by local ANC ward councillor Jackson Dimane, visited Sigidi a few days before the "forged" affidavits were signed, carrying prepared affidavits he wished people to sign. But community members had refused to sign.
Alii did not respond to requests for comment last night and Sanral has not filed responding papers yet. However, responding to media reports earlier in the day, Mona said he wished to clarify that Alii was not under investigation.
Mona said the agency had asked its lawyers to investigate the allegations, although the agency did not believe it had done anything wrong.
In an earlier affidavit from Alii, Sanral claimed that Cullinan and Associates director Cormac Cullinan did not have authority to act for those opposed to the toll road. He also alleged that Cullinan had "not displayed the professional detachment normally expected of attorneys".
According to Alii, Cullinan had a "personal interest" in the out-come of the proceedings and had failed to provide proof that he was acting on behalf of communities.
Cullinan said in a responding affidavit that he took exception to Alli's "serious and unsubstantiated allegations of professional impropriety" against him and his company Cullinan said he had provided overwhelming evidence that communities supported the court challenge on the toll road and noted that Sanral had "virtually unlimited access to funds (from the public purse) to pursue this litigation ... (whereas) the clients we represent have very limited financial resources and can only litigate because Cullinan and Associates is willing to act for substantially reduced fees".
"This interlocutory application (by Sanral), supported as it is with forged affidavits, is a cynical at-tempt to deny these communities their constitutional rights of access to justice, administrative justice and to protect the environment in which they live," Cullinan said.
He said Sanral also deserved to be censured for trying to mislead the court my making statements it knew to be untrue and for "filing forged affidavits".