Nkandla officials fear for lives

2014-11-16 15:45

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Eleven of the public works officials charged in relation to the spending at President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead say they fear for their lives if journalists sit in on their hearings.

The officials’ about-turn is revealed in a written submission opposing the bid by Media24 and Independent Newspapers to attend their hearings, which will begin in Durban tomorrow.

Only Jean Rindel, a project manager for public works’ Durban office, has agreed to open his disciplinary hearing to the media.

The other 11 officials say in their submissions to the chairpersons of the disciplinary hearings that their fears were kindled by the fact that Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s security detail was increased soon after she had released her findings on Nkandla.

They say their testimonies to the hearings will implicate other senior officials from their department and the information they use in their defence relates to “national security”.

“By virtue of the above defence and the evidence which will be led, there is a reasonable apprehension of fear on the part of the [officials] that by divulging such information their lives may be in danger and their future employment in the department, should they be found not guilty of the charges laid, will be damaged,” reads the submission, which City Press has seen.

Officials also cited their right to privacy and said their personal safety would be jeopardised if journalists attended the hearings and reported on “sensitive” information.

“Given the likelihood of the implication of senior members in the government, there is a real likelihood that the personal safety of the respondents may be in jeopardy. This is brought into clarity by the necessity for further bodyguards for Public Protector Madonsela after her release of the Nkandla investigation,” reads the submission.

The officials also fear that the “nature of the reporting [by the media] may distort the evidence led in one inquiry and, by virtue of that distortion, lead to complications in other inquiries”.

They say the media should wait for the outcomes of the hearings because “the public’s right to receive information ought to be limited to knowledge of the outcome of the individual disciplinary inquiry rather than knowledge of the evidence led at the inquiry”.

The officials are being represented by the Public Service Association, whose labour relations officer Roshan Lil-Ruthan previously told City Press they wanted former public works minister Geoff Doidge, his then deputy Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, former SA National Defence Force surgeon-general Vejay Ramlakan and Madonsela to testify in their defence.

The officials have also indicated that they have a right, at any stage, to abandon the individual hearings and challenge the disciplinary action at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.

They cited a 2009 ruling by former Constitutional Court judge Kate O’Regan in which she said officials charged in disciplinary hearings could abandon that process if they accepted that doing so would mean the employer had a right to terminate their contracts.

Phillip Masilo, legal adviser to Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi, said the department was also taken by surprise by the officials’ sudden change of heart.

“We don’t know what changed their minds, but the department did not want the media to be part of these proceedings because we want to protect our employees, and some of them have agreed,” said Masilo.

“If they don’t want the media, it’s their choice and we respect it. We know they had indicated they had no problem with the media attending, but we don’t know what changed their minds,” he said.

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