Exclusive: Big Brother at Freedom Park

2013-11-19 13:05

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Freedom Park CEO Fana Jiyane has resorted to using state security agents and forensic investigators to try to get to the bottom of media leaks at Freedom Park. Charl Blignaut reports.

“There is a dark cloud over Freedom Park,” said the chairperson of the Pretoria monument, Vusi Mchunu, when he addressed angry and divided staff at a meeting that went on for three hours on Friday.

Management were asked to leave the meeting where staff expressed fear that they would be suspended if they spoke out against CEO Fana Jiyane – as has happened to three staff members in the past four months.

In an ongoing investigation, City Press can reveal that:

» Jiyane then tried to have the suspended staffers investigated by state security; and

» Hired private forensic investigators to scour security footage and go through their computers.

This is according to documents in the possession of City Press, and comprehensive interviews with numerous current and former staff members at the park.

They are too afraid to use their names because of the measures employed by Jiyane to uncover ongoing leaks to the media, especially after a sexual harassment charge brought against him by a staff member.

As the crisis at one of South Africa’s wealthiest cultural sites continued last week, Jiyane “remained shut up in his office” on Monday and Tuesday, according to staff. After work he allegedly made use of a security vehicle to escort him from the park.

On Wednesday he flew to Cape Town with his council for a stakeholder engagement event that cost the taxpayer an estimated R250 000. Jiyane and his council flew business class and stayed in the luxurious Southern Sun Cape Town hotel.

Just a few weeks earlier, a delegation of about 15 made a similar trip to Cape Town to make a presentation to Parliament. On that trip, they stayed at the up-market Three Cities suites in Bantry Bay.

City Press has two separate sets of minutes of council meetings where concern is raised about overspending on the council budget.

Jiyane returned to work on Friday, but was not asked to attend the staff meeting led by Mchunu. Last week Mchunu also stopped answering any questions sent by City Press about Jiyane’s use of apparent Big Brother tactics and other matters.

City Press has learnt that Jiyane resorted to extraordinary measures to try to find out which staff members had leaked information to the media when fundraiser Peggy Dube laid sexual harassment charges against him. In July, Dube, archivist Lubi Ndaba and exhibition developer Ricky Mafadza were suspended for gross insubordination after they challenged Jiyane in a staff meeting.

City Press has learnt that Jiyane then put in a request with the State Security Agency to investigate the media leaks. A government agent was sent to the park to look into at least six staffers Jiyane suspected – including the suspended women.

It appears nothing came of the request because four sources confirmed this week that a new investigation was then commissioned from the firm SizweNtsalubaGobodo (SNG).

“There was a stage when the CEO was determined to find security footage of Ms Dube and there was a visit to the control room to look at footage,” says a source. Jiyane, says another source, wanted to prove she was handing over confidential documents to other staff members. City Press has a copy of an unresolved internal investigation into Jiyane’s visit to the control room with other staff members on March 19 this year.

City Press has asked whether Jiyane was in possession of authorisation to go through security footage, but has received no answer.

Two other staffers have confirmed that the investigator was then given access to the computers of the suspended staffers to look for evidence of leaks.

A quote submitted for this investigation by another firm amounted to R200 000, but City Press is unable to confirm the exact cost of the SNG investigation to taxpayers.

At Friday’s rowdy meeting, staff raised numerous issues – most notably accusing Jiyane of favouritism, fearing that his plans to restructure his 100-odd staff, at a cost of R868 000 for consultants, will lead to the retrenchments of those not in his favour.

“The walls here have eyes and ears. How will we know you will protect us if we speak out?” someone asked Mchunu.

Mchunu told them that he would create a suggestion box to receive anonymous complaints and that he would be the only one with a key to its lock.

It is believed that Freedom Park will host the key events for the country’s 20-years-of-democracy celebrations as well as chosen it as home for the countdown clock to the celebrations.

In a statement released on Saturday afternoon, Mchunu said that the council had begun a process of intervening to gauge the problems at the park.

The statement includes his first concession to date: “This frank dialogue with staff makes the council concede that there has been neglect, no proper communication, a confusing management style and a delayed response to needs of the staff by management.”

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