Axed agency chief seeks court relief

2011-03-05 10:10

Few people knew who Nomonde Mapetla was until she was thrust into the spotlight for bringing property doyenne Wendy Machanik down earlier this year after allegations that Machanik had misappropriated R25 million from her estate agency’s trust account.

On Thursday Mapetla filed an ­urgent interdict in the Johannesburg High Court to overturn her dismissal as chief executive of the Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB), the regulator of the country’s 27 000 estate agents who are estimated to generate sales to the tune of R500 billion a year.

Mapetla had been at the helm of the organisation since November 2004.

The EAAB board said it terminated her employment ­contract “due to an irreconcilable breakdown in the working ­relationship between the parties”.

The stand-off between Mapetla (55) and the board erupted last month when she was surprisingly suspended, pending a forensic probe into all operational and ­governance issues at the regulator.

The soap opera raging at the EAAB was also fuelled by ­speculation that Mapetla’s axing might be linked to her ­anti- ­corruption campaign which had the potential to bring down more top property companies.

When rumours of a crackdown on more estate agencies surfaced, Mapetla was reported to be living in fear of her life after she was ­followed by strangers in unmarked cars. Even her dog was brutally ­attacked and its ears were mutilated, ­according to media reports.

She was given 24-hour security protection after the incidents.

Mapetla’s lawyer, Thabo Kwinana, said the actions of the EAAB board, chaired by ­consumer rights activist Thami Bolani, could ruin his client’s ­career. He hinted at suing the ­regulator for damages and loss of income.

“The injustice of this matter is that a hard-working businesswoman, who has built her career over a lifetime, finds herself unemployable through the shenanigans of the so-called board of directors which is nothing but pretenders,” Kwinana told City Press.

According to Kwinana, Mapetla was fighting her dismissal because the EAAB had not stated any reason for reaching its decision, making her axing unlawful and unfair.

The financial daily, Business Report, speculated on Thursday, however, that she was dismissed for talking to the media during her suspension.

Mapetla, who is an economist and the holder of an MBA, built her business career over many years, mainly in the public sector.

She has served as executive manager of the ­National Electricity Regulator; chief executive of ­Enterprise South Africa; head of the office of public enterprises; and business development manager at state-owned electricity supplier Eskom.

She also served on the National Black Economic Empowerment Commission, which played a ­pivotal role in developing ­BEE ­legislation.

In court papers, Mapetla rules out incompetence and inefficiency as the basis for her removal.

“My performance assessments carried out over the years have ­generally been in the average range of 80% to 90%,” the papers read.

The documents also say that Mapetla cleaned up the struggling regulator, which resulted in it ­turning a R7.4-million deficit into a R27-million profit.

“I found a governance crisis which resulted in qualified audits. Since my appointment the first ­respondent (EAAB) has received clean audits for six successive ­financial years,” the papers read.

Kwinana said the failure by the EAAB to clarify its reasons for axing Mapetla was fuelling speculation that it was linked to her “crackdown on industry heavyweights”.

The EAAB issued a statement this week saying it would not comment further on the Mapetla issue since it was now sub judice.

“Since Mrs Mapetla has . . . ­launched an urgent ­application claiming certain relief from the South Gauteng High Court, this matter is now regarded as sub ­judice,” the EAAB said in the ­statement.

Mapetla launched an investigation that led to Wendy Machanik Property, Machanik’s business empire, being provisionally ­liquidated in January, leaving a number of agents stranded. ­

Machanik was also personally restrained from trading and is expected to face criminal charges.

This week, trade and industry minister Rob Davies confirmed in Parliament that three more estate agencies were being probed by the EAAB for allegedly unauthorised use of funds in trust accounts.

The agencies under ­investigation are Seeff Properties, Wakefields Properties and Sunset Trading CC.

The stakes are high and transgressors face long prison sentences, judging by the harsh penalty imposed on Durban-based estate agent M Mseleku for having misappropriated R450 000 from her company’s trust account.

She was sentenced to 10 years in prison for that transgression.

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