Johannesburg - The ANC has been dragged into a labour dispute at a government agency managing countrywide connectivity, with a former senior manager alleging he lost his job for not dishing out a contract on the instruction of Luthuli House.
The threat emerged in court papers filed at the Johannesburg Labour Court by Universal Service Access Agency of South Africa (Usaasa) former executive manager of programmes, Mmatlou Morudu.
Morudu alleged the threat was made by the agency’s chairwoman Phumla Radebe months before he was fired.
Radebe told him “not to be sassy when being instructed by Zami Nkosi (the chief executive) as such instructions come from Lathuli House (sic) and should he not follow them he would be shown the door”.
Court papers say Morudu had refused to carry out Nkosi’s instruction to fund Cell C R500 million to upgrade the communications network at eMalahleni Municipality.
The contract is one of several deals at the agency being probed by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) along with Nkosi’s appointment.
The papers state that Morudu refused the instruction because of sections in the Electronic Communications Act stipulating that the agency could only make funds available after a tender process.
“(Morudu) took the view that Nkosi’s instruction was in contravention of this legislation and advised him as such,” state the court papers.
ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said the ANC did not want to be dragged into the case.
“Luthuli House do not manage any state agency. Any reference to the party is very unfortunate. We never gave anybody any instruction. People must fight their own battles without involving us,” he said.
Usaasa spokesman Khulekani Ntshangase dismissed the allegations but said he did not wish to comment as it was before the court.
Morudu filed the statement of claim, based on his unfair dismissal, along with former colleague Yvunne Mashilela, who was executive manager of corporate services.
Morudu and Mashilela were fired in June and November. Both claim their dismissals were automatically unfair and directly related to grievances they laid against Nkosi.
Their papers were filed in court on April 28.
At the heart of their dismissal was the allegation that Nkosi ill-treated and bullied them, state the court papers. The two are asking to be reinstated or for two years’ salary and leave pay collectively amounting to R96 000.
The papers detail how Nkosi allegedly bullied Mashilela into hiring three employees that were either not qualified or not short-listed and then increasing their salaries.
She cites Koekie Mbeki, employed as senior legal manager, who was over-qualified and not part of the recruitment process.
Khulekani Ntshangase was appointed Brand Communications Specialist, despite not having the minimum qualifications required.
Nkosi allegedly told Mashilela Ntshangase had “political flair” despite it not being a requirement for the post.
Makhotso Moiloa was appointed as executive performance manager, a post which did not exist within the agency’s structures, which meant there was no allocated funding for this, said Mashilela in court papers.
Mbeki told The Sunday Independent that she was not aware of the court case. She confirmed applying for the post and that Mashilela was on the interviewing panel but averred that she took a salary cut when she joined.
She alleged that Mashilela was misleading the court and that the veracity of the allegations had not been tested.
Morudu and Mashilela’s labour court battle comes as the Department of Communications plans to seize control of the agency in its bid to win control of the R2 billion subsidy to transform the country from analog to digital TV.
The department is the mother body of the Universal Service Access Agency of South Africa.
If it has its way, the department will take over the handling of tenders to procure set top boxes for the digital terrestrial terrain project as well as two other functions of the agency – rolling out broadband in underserviced areas and connecting public schools.
The agency is currently the subject of a probe by the SIU.
The department communicated its intentions in a meeting on April 22. In the meeting, the department told the agency that procuring the set top boxes would be undertaken by a department independent from Usaasa procurement process confines.
“The agency will be made to be responsible for payment related to procurement of the STBs (set top boxes) using the subsidies in the Universal Service and Access Fund, which are intended for that particular purpose,” said the department.
The Sunday Independent has seen a letter between the department’s director-general Rosey Sekese and Nkosi.
The move by Sekese comes despite her being the subject of a separate SIU probe in the Department of Communication involving a R750 million advertising tender that was irregularly handled.
Nkosi is, however, not endorsing the department’s plans and according to the letter he has told Sekese he requires the records of the meeting where she issued her intentions so that he can inform the board.
Department spokesman Siya Qoza said there were no such plans.
He said the DG had referred the letter from Nkosi to the chief state law adviser and that she was not clear why the letter was in the public domain.
She admitted that there were “some grey areas in the Electronic Communications Act around the roles of the department and the agency, with the evolution of technology.
“The White Paper that will be finalised in the second half of this year will provide clarity on this and will lead to possible legislative amendments, in consultation with Usaasa,” said Sekese in a response through Qoza.
Ntshangase said the minister would have to deal with the matter and until he went to Parliament to change the law the status of the department and agency remained as it was.