Pretoria - Former regional SA Municipal Union Workers Union (Samwu) leaders in Tshwane are at the centre of a controversy involving a clandestine “strategy” to weaken the union’s activities in the metro, allegedly with the help of the municipality.
Samwu national general secretary, Nkhetheni Muthavhi, who previously served as regional union chairperson, was said to have benefited from the alleged strategy to manage the union through his appointment as a municipal director three years ago.
Also, Gauteng Samwu provincial secretary Mpho Tladinyane, who was the regional secretary, faced allegations that he was cosy with a law firm believed to be pocketing lucrative contracts from the municipality.
The shocking allegations against the pair were made by the city’s divisional head for labour relations management, Ronald Oppelt, and Nyiko Mahumani, from Mahumani Incorporated, a law firm contracted to the municipality.
The duo were captured in an audio recording talking about the strategy employed by City to tame the union’s activities.
They claimed that the union previously made demands for the municipality to finance Samwu’s workshops through taxpayers’ money.
Muthavhi yesterday flatly denied the allegations that he was in cahoots with the City to weaken the union’s influence in the metro. Tladinyane was not in a position to comment at the time of publication.
In the recording, Oppelt and Mahumani could be heard talking about how “the City used to be on fire” and that it was “amazing” how the union was contained.
Oppelt could be heard saying: “And now we are not even granting increases. We are applying for an exemption and there is not even one person in the street.”
They then cited that Muthavhi’s appointment as a director was a “masterstroke” in containing the union.
They also mentioned the union’s provincial secretary, Tladinyane, saying he was “close to that law firm”.
According to them, the firm would receive work from the City and then “sort out” Tladinyane.
Muthavhi said the allegations in the recording were far-fetched and reckless. “I take it as a name dropping. It would be a desperate move for somebody to say I am implicated. If they were saying I applied and I didn’t qualify for it, it would have been a different story altogether and at that particular time I was not even in speaking terms with the person raising these things in that audio recording.”
He shot down a suggestion his promotion to a directorship position was a “masterstroke” for those who strategised to weaken the union.
“What is your definition of a masterstroke? Mine is that he is saying it was a coup and it has weakened the union. But the union is big. It is made of at least 12 000 members. Can one person weaken the union? Can one person go out and tell workers not to strike? I don’t I have such powers,” Muthavhi said.
He also rubbished suggestions that the union never opted to strike despite the fact that the city announced its intention to apply for exemption from a collective agreement on wage and salary increment. “I am not the one who made a decision not to grant salary increase; it was council,” he said.
Union deputy regional secretary Valentine Matlala has since expressed concerns regarding allegations of misconduct to Tshwane mayor Cilliers Brink.
In a letter emailed to Brink, dated July 6, Matlala said: “The City is using City funds in managing Samwu as a union in the municipality.”
Among other concerns he raised was that the recording “implicates high-ranking officials in the City who represent the city manager’s office”.
He said the union demanded that Oppelt be put on suspension pending the investigation and that Mahumani Inc’s contract be terminated.
In response to the letter, Brink distanced himself from having an adversarial or political relationship with the unions. He said he had asked the city manager Johann Mettler to probe the matter.
Mettler advised “that a person with direct knowledge of the recording and its context lodge a formal complaint with his office possibly under the Protection Disclosure Act”.
Brink said he was alarmed about “the insinuation that members within the unions in the City may have been promoted in the city in order for them to withdraw grievances”.
“I am also alarmed that lawyers that are being hired by the City are also linked to the unions and are hired to manage the relationships with the unions, particularly Samwu,” he said.
Regarding concerns that the City was using funds to manage the union, Brink said: “In addition to steps which stand to be taken by the city manager, I would recommend as the leadership of Samwu you immediately begin an internal investigation into finding of any instances, events or workshops where you feel this would have happened and immediately send this to the city manager.”
Tladinyane said: “I don’t have a law firm and I have never benefited from any law firm. In fact, it is myself and Nkhetheni who have been fighting these law firms.”