Axed Prasa workers say Montana told them to burn trains

2018-03-04 05:52
Lucky Montana

Lucky Montana

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A group of 700 former workers dismissed by passenger rail agency Prasa five years ago have accused the agency’s former CEO, Lucky Montana, of being the brains behind the burning of train coaches.

Last month, members of the National Transport Movement (NTM) won a landmark Constitutional Court bid to be reinstated.

They claimed Montana and those sympathetic to him orchestrated and covered up the arson. This was allegedly done in a bid to divert attention from alleged corruption at the parastatal.

NTM deputy general secretary Craig Nte and deputy Gauteng secretary Robert Sebati claimed on Thursday that two people were responsible for torching the trains and were “rewarded for their deeds”.

Montana dismissed the claims as unfounded.

“I will not entertain such allegations by NTM, in particular from Nte. They made these same allegations to the Public Protector and the report from the Public Protector’s office, titled Derailed, vindicated me. They cannot accuse me of directly firing workers in an attempt to cover up any corruption.

“I was a group chief executive officer and did not have direct access to employees,” Montana said.

The report by then public protector Thuli Madonsela was released in August 2015. It relates to alleged financial mismanagement and tender and appointment irregularities at Prasa.

In it Madonsela establishes that Montana was “not statutorily Prasa’s accounting officer or an accounting authority for the purposes of section 86, which identifies persons who may be criminally sanctioned in terms of the Public Finance Management Act”.

According to the remedial action contained in the report, it would not be appropriate for Prasa to pursue a prosecution against Montana.

Prasa dismissed the group of workers after a staff protest in January 2013, during which coaches were set on fire. The damage caused was estimated at R42m.

The workers were on a protected strike. After the burning of the trains, Prasa sent notices to the workers asking them to motivate why they should not be fired. NTM submitted reasons, but Prasa did not agree and fired them.

Prasa said this week that it sacked them after its preliminary investigation found they knew who was responsible for the arson, but refused to disclose their identities.

Two weeks ago‚ the Constitutional Court dismissed Prasa’s appeal against a Labour Appeal Court judgment handed down last year. The appeal court ordered Prasa to reinstate the workers. It was estimated that doing so would cost the parastatal over R1bn.

The workers, including Nte, marched to Prasa’s Johannesburg office on Thursday demanding their immediate reinstatement, in line with the court’s order.

Nte was a security manager at Prasa at the time of the dismissals. He claimed he was fired for lifting the lid on Montana’s allegedly questionable activities at the parastatal.

“My job description included investigating and reporting any alleged misconduct. When I raised concerns about some of Montana’s dealings, I was targeted and dismissed.”

He said Prasa explained to him that he was fired for bringing Montana’s name into disrepute.

Montana said he agreed with recommendations by the workers’ supervisors and managers that they be fired.

He said he was well aware of the fact that not all protesters could have been involved in the destruction of property and that some lost their jobs because of the actions of an unruly few.

Prasa spokesperson Nana Zenani said: “I don’t know any management that would burn its own assets.”

She did not want to comment on the arson, as this was a thing of the past.

“I would like to assure you that the company is fully compliant with the Constitutional Court judgment.”

She said general workers would return to work on Monday because they did not need any training. However, critical grade workers such as train drivers would need training, while some might need to have their licences renewed.

NTM said it was not convinced that Prasa was not complying with the Constitutional Court’s order as none of them was back at work yet.

Nte said the workers were fired in a “wholesale manner” and that Prasa should do the same when rehiring them.

Josina Matona was a trade hand at the time. She said the dismissals resulted in her losing her husband and home.

“I was admitted to hospital soon after I was dismissed from work. I also lost my husband, who did not understand why I took part in the protests that led to me losing my job.

“I lost my home because I had bought it via a bond. All I want is my job back and the back pay to assist with all the debt I have incurred over the five years I have been unemployed,” she said.

Read more on:    prasa  |  lucky montana

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