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Johannesburg - The minister charged with upholding the rights of South Africa’s women has been accused of verbally abusing and belittling one of her female employees so much that she had to resign.
Bahumi Matebesi claims her former boss, the Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana, not only created a toxic work environment, but also withheld her pension and leave payout after she resigned last year as she wanted her to leave only two months later.
Matebesi, the former chief financial officer in the department, has lodged a complaint of constructive dismissal at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).
Matebesi did not answer or return calls this week.
Matebesi said in her complaint to the CCMA: “I have been unfairly treated in the workplace, verbally abused in front of my juniors to a point where I was forced to resign… Even in my resignation, unfairness still persists in that my leave gratuity and pension benefits have been unduly withheld.”
A letter from the department to Matebesi says her resignation was only going to be accepted in August and not June as an external audit process in the department would have been finalised by then.
Matebesi had replied that she would be available to assist with questions arising from the audit but stood by her resignation date.
The Sunday Independent understands that Matebesi then had a meeting with the department where she was told her pension and leave payouts would be withheld.
In a letter following that meeting, Matebesi told the department it was disregarding the statutes of pension administration:
“The department does not have the right to hold back any payout to the resigning employee… The unfounded reason given – that there is an investigation and the audit process – should not affect my pension payout.”
Matebesi said two investigations had been commissioned by the minister in the previous financial year on the late submission of the annual report – in which Matebesi was not implicated. She accused the minister of wasting public funds by commissioning a third external investigation as she did not trust the first two.
Last week The Sunday Independent reported that Xingwana did not trust the state attorney’s office to conduct an investigation into irregular appointments in her department and personally selected a firm of attorneys to investigate – despite the department’s not having funds. She also allegedly asked the advice of a firm of labour law attorneys on how she could get rid of several employees.
In the application to the labour commission, Matebesi alleges that her dismissal was procedurally unfair as she was never afforded a hearing or disciplinary enquiry – or informed of any allegations.
The Sunday Independent has seen correspondence between Matebesi and the then-acting director general Mzolisi Toni, detailing the relationship breakdown between her and Xingwana.
In one emotional letter, Matebesi accused the minister of shouting at her and openly distrusting her. “I can’t continue working in such a toxic environment, where I have to watch my back and read between the lines.”
She said Xingwana had “insinuated” during executive council meetings that she did not trust or have confidence in Matebesi.
Matebesi alleged that she was not allowed to exercise her powers as a chief financial officer and that her powers and advice were continually undermined.
Matebesi referred to an instance when managers failed to submit travel requisition forms for an after-hours booking, which meant finance could not pay the bill.
“The minister would shout at me in front of all my colleagues… (other) managers were always protected and I was the one who had to take (the blame for) their wrongful acts and answer for them, while they have been appointed to also play a role in the management of financial affairs within their areas of responsibility,” she said.
The ministry replies:
It is not clear to us why The Sunday Independent has decided to give credence to a campaign of lies against the minister. We challenge The Sunday Independent to offer a balanced perspective. The minister will not be deterred in her fight against corruption and to build an efficient, effective and accountable department.
It is strange that people who have serious cases of irregularities to answer to are portrayed by your paper as innocent victims of “purging”. We see this as an attempt to cast aspersions on the integrity of the minister and to divert attention from her commitment to rid the department of irregularities and corruption.
The minister has taken these measures as part of the government’s commitment to promote clean administration.
She will continue to confront corruption wherever it may rear its ugly head in her department without any fear or favour.