Woman’s long fight for justice

2012-10-13 16:06

This as the man who sexually harassed her continues to climb the ranks in local government

The career of a municipal manager found guilty of sexually harassing an employee continues to thrive despite the judgment against him.

George Mthimunye was the manager of Mpumalanga’s Dr JS Moroka municipality when he was accused of sexually harassing senior clerk Esther Mahlangu-Mathibela.

Mahlangu-Mathibela spent three years hiding out in the office kitchen after accusing Mthimunye, avoiding the colleagues in front who had bad-mouthed her.

Her career ground to a halt.

Mthimunye’s star continued to rise, though: he resigned from Dr JS Moroka in 2001, and was sent by then cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister Sicelo Shiceka to run the Naledi local municipality in Vryburg, where he stayed until August 2010.

Last year, he became Emalahleni’s municipal manager despite the judgment.

Mahlangu-Mathibela was a senior clerk in theDr JS Moroka municipality when she accused her then boss, Mthimunye, of sexual harassment.

In February last year, North Gauteng High Court Judge Jody Kollapen ruled that Mthimunye had sexually harassed Mahlangu-Mathibela.

Kollapen ordered both Mthimunye and the Dr JS Moroka council to pay Mahlangu-Mathibela damages.

The council applied for leave to appeal, arguing the case was not about its failure to prevent sexual harassment and insisting Mthimunye had not harassed Mahlangu-Mathibela in his professional capacity.

Its application was dismissed, and last December the council had to pay Mahlangu-Mathibela R549 000 after she attached its properties in a bid to recoup her legal costs.

She initially claimed R1.3 million for the sexual harassment she was subjected to from 1998 to 2001.

The case was back in court this week for a ruling on the amount of damages to be paid to Mahlangu-Mathibela. The hearing was postponed due to outstanding actuarial reports.

Contacted for comment, Mthimunye said: “I’m not sure that we’re reading the same judgment. However, I prefer to reserve my comment on this matter.”

Mahlangu-Mathibela was relieved the case was drawing to a close. She said: “It was a very painful period of my life but I prayed a lot. I was an outcast

in the workplace because councillors and staff members were instructed to keep their distance from me. I spent three years in the municipal kitchen doing no work as I was completely sidelined.”

Her career was in huge trouble after she took on Mthimunye. She had applied to the municipality in 2001 to be trained as a traffic officer, but her name vanished from the list.

“I told my husband about this when I realised (Mthimunye) was not giving up and my career was being sabotaged.

“After (Mthimunye) received letters from my attorneys, he started charging me (with disciplinary infractions) every now and then. I had to get a court interdict that ordered him to refrain from charging me until the sexual harassment case was concluded,” she said.

Attempts to get comment from Dr JS Moroka mayor Tiny Mthimunye – no relation to George Mthimunye – were fruitless, so it is not clear whether taxpayers’ money will be used to settle the council’s debt to Mahlangu-Mathibela.

City Press understands that ANC Nkangala regional secretary, Tommy Nkoana, was fully briefed about the judgment. Despite this, the party’s deployment committee recommended Mthimunye for the Emalahleni job.

“As far as we’re concerned, the matter is still in court and therefore sub judice.

“(Mthimunye) is innocent until proven guilty and we couldn’t decide not to deploy him because we would be passing a verdict,” Nkoana said.

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