Gauteng / 22 December 2017, 3:29pm / Lindile Sifile
Johannesburg - Dismissed EWN senior news anchor Florence Letoaba is taking Primedia to the arbitration council amid allegations of racism and bullying against her manager which caused her to have a nervous breakdown.
Letoaba was dismissed with immediate effect two weeks ago following a year-long stand-off with EWN editor-in-chief Katy Katopodis, whom she accuses of colluding with fellow employees including head of human resources Khahliso Mochaba to hatch a “constructive dismissal” against her.
Although her accusations were dismissed during disciplinary hearings, the company instead proceeded with charging her with insubordination, failure to maintain harmonious working interpersonal relations at work, harassment and hate speech and having negative attitude towards her work. She was found guilty on all five charges.
William Berry, who chaired the hearings, stated in his findings that Letoaba was given the right to bring witnesses, however, failed to do so.
Berry also found Letoaba was not remorseful.
“Instead her defences ranged from blaming others, alleging victimisation where there was no evidence of this, and surprisingly saying that it was up to the company to determine her dissatisfaction with her employment and her colleagues, and act to resolve this,” said Berry.
The insubordination charge was for refusing to pull down a 702 banner from her personal Twitter page as instructed by the company chief executive Omar Essack.
She also refused to work on New Year’s Day despite being asked to do so.
The rest of the charges relate to an altercation she had with a colleague Leeto Khoza over his religious beliefs.
This escalated to her telling Khoza that he was a typical “nasty and evil” Christian.
However, in her letter of grievance which The Star has seen, Letoaba claimed that Katopodis had created toxic and a “divide-and-conquer culture” against black journalists.
Their white counterparts, on the other hand, enjoyed privileges such as flexible working hours.
The letter contained scathing statements from former colleagues Mpumelelo “Lelo” Mzaca and Narissa Subramoney, who also complained about Katopodis’s alleged bully tactics. Letoaba also claimed that only one of her 10 witnesses were allowed to speak on her behalf in the hearings.
Letoaba has since challenged her expulsion through the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and her lawyer Faizel Mahomed also served Primedia with a notice of his client’s action.
The news anchor, who also works for eNCA, claimed that her problems with Katopodis started in December last year when she was asked to apologise for insulting Khoza.
“My response was to apologise for my part in the spat and to request that all screen shots be made available since only my responses had been put forward as evidence.
“Even after I apologised, I was accused of harassment by Khahliso (Mochaba), that I’m to face a disciplinary,” wrote Letoaba.
This, she claimed, transpired into a “witch-hunt” in which Katopodis and Mochaba attempted to retrench her but failed after she involved her lawyer.
She alleged that Katopodis then changed her shifts at radio stations, 702 and 94.7, which did not allow her to spend time with her son on weekends.
“I’ve gotten physically ill from stress. This is without doubt a form of constructive dismissal.
“Katy has made my work life completely unbearable and our relationship broke down completely and become so hostile that she often avoided me,” claimed Letoaba.
She added that Katopodis was more accommodating to white mothers in the newsroom. “For example, Cindy Poluta only works mornings so she can pick up her kids after school, she has never been ashamed herself to say that her shifts are structured that way for her convenience, Katy allows her that,” said Letoaba, adding that the same was done for Mia Lindeque when she became a mother.
Letoaba, who has a law degree, also claimed her intellect was often undermined in favour her white colleagues’ opinions.
“Katy has become exceptionally vindictive in any dealings with me and I needed intervention. I cannot be expected to tolerate bullying and racism in the workplace,” she claimed.
Mzaca, a former sports presenter at EWN, testified that during the 2010 World Cup he was forced to work wearing a moon boot and with a fractured hand despite having a doctor’s note.
The fracture was as a result of falling at work.
“Despite Katy’s knowledge about my injury, I was never compensated for it. I had an operation.
“The medical aid didn’t cover most of the costs and I had to pay the difference out of my own pocket.
“This led to me falling into deep debt,” bemoaned Mzaca.
Subramoney said her two-year stint as EWN’s KwaZulu-Natal correspondent under Katopodis was so brutal that she even feared her.
She was expected to deliver more than five stories daily. “I was trembling just seeing her name on my phone and (in) tears. It felt like she had a radar,” said Subramoney about one incident when she received a call while covering the Durban July.
Primedia’s human capital and regulatory affairs executive Nomvuyiso Batyi said the company refuted Letoaba’s accusations.
“Primedia Broadcasting strongly denies and rejects the allegations by Flo Letoaba.
“Letoaba was the subject of an internal disciplinary inquiry.
“The allegations against her were extremely serious in nature, thus warranting a formal disciplinary process to take place.
“It was chaired by an external, independent chairperson who found her guilty of all charges,” said Batyi.
“The allegations she made against a fellow staff member were investigated and the outcome was shared with all concerned parties including Letoaba,” added Batyi.