Pretoria - The Minister of Human Settlements, Mmamoloko Kubayi, who was so upset that she had to spend about an hour trapped in a faulty lift that she fired her deputy director-general, has been ordered by court to reinstate her.
The Labour Court in Johannesburg made it clear that the minister’s conduct was unlawful as she had not followed procedure when firing Nelly Letsholonyane.
Acting Judge M Makhura said: “The minister’s conduct was unlawful. Such conduct should not be condoned by courts of law. This court cannot and should not turn a blind to the injustice and lawlessness.”
Not only did the judge give the minister a tongue lashing, he also slapped her and her department with Letsholonyane’s legal costs.
Letsholonyane, 61, who is only a few years away from retiring, turned to the labour court on an urgent basis to get her job back.
The minister posted on a WhatsApp group in March that she was stuck in the lift and that she was informed that the responsible person had already left work.
Letsholonyane immediately contacted the acting director: facilities and security, a Ms Shabangu and told her to contact Melco Elevators, the company responsible for the maintenance of the lifts, to urgently attend to the lift.
A minute later she received a telephone call from the acting director-general, advising her of the incident.
Letsholonyane responded that she had already communicated with Shabangu to attend to the matter.
Four minutes later Letsholonyane contacted the security personnel to attend to the elevator and to assess the incident.
She also immediately contacted the full-time director: facilities and security, a Mr Raseleka, who was on leave, and requested him to assist in contacting Melco Elevators to attend to the lift.
Directly after this she phoned Shabangu to enquire about the progress. Shabangu told her that the technician was on his way.
Letsholonyane was called into the minister’s office early the next morning and issued with a letter of intention to dismiss her for “gross negligence that threatened the lives of the employees”.
The minister requested Letsholonyane to provide her with a written explanation by close of business why she should not be summarily dismissed for putting the lives of the employees and others who worked in the building at risk.
The letter went on to state that the “misconduct emanated from an incident that occurred on March 14 where she and others were trapped in a lift for a period of more than one hour”.
It was said in the letter that Letsholonyane had failed to ensure, as head of branch and the manager responsible, regular maintenance of the building and/or the lifts to avert any risk posed by the elevator. She was also accused of not bothering to find help in time.
Letsholonyane submitted her written explanation in which she denied the alleged misconduct and indicated that the appropriate forum to deal with the allegations would be a disciplinary hearing.
The minister then told her she had three options available: to be dismissed, face a disciplinary hearing with suspension, or take early retirement.
Letsholonyane, under protest, accepted the retirement option, on the condition that the early retirement should commence six months from the date of signature of the settlement agreement.
The minister replied to the letter on the same day in terms of which she placed the applicant on precautionary suspension with immediate effect.
The minister also proposed a meeting with the applicant to engage on her conditional acceptance of the early retirement option.
Shortly after the meeting, while driving home, the applicant received a telephone call from the minister, advising her that she was dismissed and that she should expect the dismissal letter soon.
In turning to court, Letsholonyane said the minister could simply find her guilty and fired her without following the correct procedures.
The judge said the application had nothing to do with the merits of the dismissal and whether the applicant had done anything wrong.
He ordered the applicant’s immediate reinstatement.