ANC national chairwoman Baleka Mbete File photo: Damaris Helwig

Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma’s office will have to pay three months’ salary to his former housekeeper after he was fired for allegedly being incompatible with ANC chairwoman and the country’s former deputy president, Baleka Mbete.

Aubrey Mbiza was housekeeping manager in the deputy president’s residence when the Presidency terminated his contract in December, 2008.

Labour Court Judge Anton Steenkamp has ordered the Presidency to pay Mbiza three months’ salary for his substantially unfair dismissal.

Mbiza had worked for Zuma, when he was deputy president, and for his successor Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, but was fired soon after Mbete took over.

Mbiza’s boss, the Presidency’s accommodation and household director Xoliswa Boqwana, had initially terminated his contract for incompetence but later retracted this, saying it was an error and that she meant incompatibility, according to papers filed at the Labour Court.

He was fired in December 2008, shortly after Mbete took over from Mlambo-Ngcuka following mass resignations by cabinet ministers loyal to former president Thabo Mbeki, who was recalled by the ANC months before his term ended.

Mbiza, a member of the Public Servants’ Association, took his dismissal to the General Public Service Sectoral Bargaining Council, which found that he had been dismissed but for a fair reason (incompatibility). The bargaining council also found that the dismissal had been procedurally unfair and ordered the Presidency to pay Mbiza three months’ pay.

Unhappy with the outcome, Mbiza then approached the Labour Court, saying the Presidency had failed to establish a fair reason for the dismissal.

Mbiza challenged the substantive fairness of the alleged incompatibility and asked the Labour Court to review it and have it set aside, which he succeeded in.

He did not want to be reinstated.

The Presidency’s lawyer, William Mokhari, SC, had earlier said that Mbiza’s referral of his dismissal to the bargaining council was “ill-informed, frivolous and vexatious”.

Mokhari also claimed that the allegation that Mbiza was fired was “preposterous” but he later abandoned this argument in court.

The court was told there must be rapport between the principal (deputy president) and the household manager since they work in the personal sphere of the principal.

Boqwana’s evidence was that the deputy president “must be comfortable that the employee could be in their bedroom”.

However, the Labour Court found that there was no evidence of incompatibility because Mbete did not testify.

Judge Steenkamp found that Mbiza was not given an opportunity to establish rapport with Mbete if it was found to be absent.

“The employee’s (Mbiza’s) dignity and freedom to engage in productive work have been impaired by the unfairness of his dismissal,” the judge found.

The Presidency has also been ordered to pay Mbiza’s legal fees.

Mbiza, who was unavailable for comment this week, had been working at the Presidency since December 2004, when Zuma was Mbeki’s deputy.

According to court papers, he was initially hired for six months but afterwards his employment was linked to the term of office of the deputy president.

Mbiza was then employed until two months after the end of Mlambo-Ngcuka’s term.

This week, Mbiza’s lawyer, Ian Weir-Smith, said he had not received any notice of appeal from the Presidency.

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Sunday Tribune