Overtime uproar: ‘Witness’ reporter gets death threat over story

2009-12-10 00:00

WITNESS municipal reporter Sanelisiwe Shamase has been threatened over her coverage of massive overtime claims (The Witness, November 12).

Shamase received a chilling call last Sunday morning. The anonymous caller told her, “We know where you live.”

This followed threats during last week when she was harrassed with demands that she reveal her sources.

One caller said he was going to the police to charge her.

When Shamase walked out of an executive committee meeting shortly after writing the story, she was approached by a senior official, whom she knows. He asked her where she got the information and said they were going to take her to court and force her to reveal her sources.

“I hope those people that you wrote about sue you,” he said.

The exposé by Shamase, headlined “Overtime madness”, revealed that one of the mayor’s bodyguards received R84 127,58 in two months, while one of the deputy mayor’s bodyguards pocketed R93 567,44 for the same period.

The story was based on a list of just 36 of the municipality’s mainly security personnel. It showed that overtime claims per individual for July and August ranged from R3 731,56 to R53 980,74.

The amounts excluded basic pay.

An earlier report revealed that the municipality had already spent R25 million of its R33,4 million overtime budget barely three months into the new financial year.

The story was written more than a month ago, and no senior municipal official has disputed the figures or called for a correction. At the end of November, municipal manager Rob Haswell issued a communique to his staff saying there will be an investigation into the leak to The Witness and anyone found guilty will be suitably punished.

Haswell was asked by The Witness whether there has been an investigation into the abuse of overtime and whether anyone has been brought to book. To date he has not responded to the questions.

Shamase has alerted the police to the threats. Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Henry Budhram said a case of intimidation can be opened.

He said the necessary documentation will be obtained by police from the courts to enable them to trace the calls made to Shamase.

Witness editor John Conyngham said the newspaper’s job is to serve the public. “We will not allow bullies to attempt to undermine our watchdog role,” he declared.

An e-mail was sent to both Haswell and Mayor Zanele Hlatshwayo yesterday morning asking for a statement on the matter. When no response was received by the afternoon, a follow-up revealed that Haswell had not seen the e-mail as he had gone to see his doctor and not returned to the office.

Hlatshwayo said the threats are shocking and unacceptable behaviour. She urged the police to launch a thorough investigation that will trace the calls.

“We are not going to protect people who do these things,” she added.

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