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Acting eThekwini Metro police head challenges ruling setting aside earlier promotion

The acting head in full uniform stands in front of a metro police banner.

Durban metro police service acting head Sbonelo Mchunu. File Picture: Durban metro police service.

Published Oct 2, 2023


Durban - The front runner for the position of head of eThekwini’s metro police, Sbonelo Mchunu, is fighting for his professional life following a ruling by the SA Local Government bargaining council that set aside his appointment as deputy head of the police unit.

Mchunu, the acting head of the metro police, said the ruling “takes everything away from him, unfairly so”.

He has been serving as acting head for almost a year following the retirement of then head Steve Middleton.

The ruling by the SA Local Government bargaining council comes just weeks before the municipality is expected to hold interviews to fill the vacancy.

In terms of the ruling, it stated that the appointment of the second respondent (Mchunu) made on January 1, 2019, be set aside. That all decisions made by Mchunu in his capacity as deputy head remain valid and legally binding until set aside by competent authority in terms of law.

It further ordered that compensation of R40  000 be paid to the applicants who had brought the matter. The applicants were those who had applied for the deputy head post.

In his draft papers set to be filed before the Labour Court to challenge the ruling, Mchunu claims that senior arbitrator Krish Govender, who made the ruling, had erred and failed to consider other remedies to the matter other than “being fixated” on Mchunu’s removal from the post. The acting head aims to challenge the bargaining council ruling on the grounds that the arbitrator in his findings had failed to consider the fact that Mchunu was considered by the interview panel as the best candidate for the post, and had played no role in irregularities that may have occurred during the selection and interview process.

The bargaining council released its findings late last month on a case dating back to 2019 in a matter which had been brought by unsuccessful applicants who had challenged his appointment on numerous grounds, including that there may have been bias during the interview process, that Mchunu was not properly qualified for the post, and that he had not completed key assessments when applying for it.

The issue of bias revolved around the fact that Middleton was part of the interview panel. Some of these unsuccessful applicants had also applied for the post of metro police head and lost out to Middleton. At the time they were interviewed for the deputy head post, they were also challenging Middleton’s appointment as head.

In that challenge, Middleton was represented by Mchunu before the council hearings.

The arbitrator dismissed the grounds that directly challenged Mchunu’s suitability and appointment, but found that there were unfair labour practices with the process. Unfair labour practice included the fact that then head Middleton had taken part in the interview process and that psychometric assessments were not considered together with the results of their interviews.

In his affidavit challenging the findings, Mchunu said: “I bring this application in terms of section 145 of the Labour Relations Act to review and set aside the first respondent’s (Govender’s) arbitration ruling and/or award, to the extent that it finds that my promotion is liable to be set aside on account of alleged material irregularity in the appointment process.

“The arbitrator materially erred in finding that on the facts the mere presence of Middleton in the interview panel (rightly or wrongly) constituted a gross irregularity in the appointment process, so serious as to vitiate or nullify the appointment of the successful candidate (being myself).”

Mchunu said the unsuccessful candidates were aware that Middleton was a member of the panel and did not challenge his presence; in doing so, they waived their right to subsequently complain about the panel’s composition.

“I respectfully submit that the arbitrator erred in concluding that Mr Middleton’s participation in the interview process fatally tainted ‘the essence of the selection process’,” he said.

Mchunu said the ruling unfairly meted out punishment to him despite there being no allegations or evidence that he played any role in any alleged irregularities, and did not take into account that he was appointed because he was the best candidate.

He added that it must be considered that while the nullification remedy in the ruling took nothing away from the complainants (who were unsuccessful) it took everything away from him as the successful candidate.

“By virtue of the promotion which delivered me to the position of deputy director: operations, I am now holding the position of acting head of metro police. This is also another promotion opportunity which I stand to lose if my previous promotion is reversed,” he said.