‘Suspension of Mthembu illegal’

Suspended head of eThekwini Electricity, Maxwell Mthembu. Picture: Supplied

Suspended head of eThekwini Electricity, Maxwell Mthembu. Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 19, 2024


Durban — The head of eThekwini Electricity, Maxwell Mthembu, has vowed to fight his suspension, which he said was illegal.

Speaking to the Daily News on Monday, SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) eThekwini secretary Xolani Dube questioned the legality of the suspension, saying Mthembu had not been served with a letter in this regard nor signed it to indicate acknowledgement of receipt.

Dube said the suspension was clearly illegal and inspired by an ulterior motive. This was evidenced by the fact that Mthembu was suspended before the 48 hours he had been given to respond to the notice to suspend him had expired. The notice expires expires Tuesday (today), he said.

Just like anyone else, Mthembu had found out about his suspension on social media, he said. He had also heard that, before he could make representations as to why he should not be suspended, city manager Musa Mbhele had already appointed an acting head to replace him.

“This is clearly an illegal suspension. Mthembu was suspended before he was actually suspended. As I speak, he does not have the letter of suspension and, as far as I know, it is a letter of intent to suspend, not the actual suspension. Yet someone has been appointed to act in his position, and he has been blocked from accessing his office. We will challenge this suspension,” said Dube.

Mthembu was on official sick leave on the day he was suspended. In terms of the Labour Relations Act, an employee can be suspended only while at work.

Dube said the city manager also did not have the authority to suspend deputy city manager Sibusiso Makhanya, because the former was the latter’s immediate superior.

Dube confirmed that Mthembu denied all the charges, saying he had complied and served letters on the relevant employees as directed. He also denied telling any councillor the strike was ongoing, saying it was Samwu itself that had said this.

A legal showdown is looming between electricity head Max Mthembu and eThekwini city manager Musa Mbhele over the former’s suspension. Picture: Supplied

Mthembu’s suspension could also pit Mbhele against mayor Mxolisi Kaunda, since it has emerged that the suspension followed a call by Kaunda to Mthembu in which the mayor asked the electricity head to send workers to Inanda to restore the power there. According to information obtained by the Daily News, on Wednesday Kaunda called Mthembu and told him to assign workers to fix electricity faults in Inanda since the strike had ended.

Mthembu was said to have asked Kaunda for a letter confirming the end of the strike, as workers had stopped going to work because they were being intimidated and attacked. However, Kaunda tried to get a Samwu official to confirm the strike had ended. The official was said to have refused to confirm this over the phone, and an arrangement was made for him to meet Mthembu and his staff at the office, where the official told Mthembu that the strike was ongoing.

Mbhele allegedly called Mthembu and rebuked him for taking instructions from Kaunda. He then slapped him with a suspension on Thursday.

Dube confirmed that Kaunda had called Mthembu on Wednesday saying the strike had ended, and that he must therefore assign workers to restore the electricity. He also confirmed that Mbhele had called and rebuked Mthembu for taking instructions from Kaunda instead of him.

In the suspension letter, seen by the Daily News, Mthembu is accused of disobeying the lawful instruction of the city manager to summarily dismiss workers who participated in an illegal strike.

On a second count, Mthembu is accused of allegedly giving misleading and contradictory information to one of the councillors that the strike was still ongoing, which contradicted the City’s media briefing stating the strike had been called off.

In response, municipality spokesperson Gugu Sisilana said: “As a matter of principle, the City does not discuss employer-employee-related matters with a third party.

“Regarding the status of the strike, the municipality has never declared a strike action. As such, the municipality cannot be expected to confirm the end of something it has never initiated.”

Last year, the Daily News reported an apparent plot by Mbhele to oust Mthembu. It is alleged a WhatsApp group was created that included the DA’s Thabani Mthethwa, then ActionSA caucus leader Dr Makhosi Khoza, the IFP’s Mdu Nkosi and ActionSA’s Zwakele Mncwango, in which Mthembu’s running of the electricity unit was discussed.

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