Durban city official gets his job back a day before Labour Court battle

2017-08-21 22:08
eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede. (Netwerk24)

eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede. (Netwerk24)

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Durban - An eThekwini Municipality official who was suspended for what became an “embarrassing" same-day cancellation of a social cohesion conference in July is back at his desk.

Head of parks, recreation and culture, Thembinkosi Ngcobo, claimed in court papers in which he challenged his suspension that the instruction to cancel the event had come from the Mayor Zandile Gumede via the municipal manager Sipho Nzuza.

The event was to be attended by about 500 people, with IFP President Mangosuthu Buthelezi as one of the guest speakers.

The city initially opposed his Labour Court application, but neither Gumede nor Nzuza challenged his allegations.

Instead, the former deputy city manager Dr Musa Gumede - who now works for the province - deposed to an affidavit, saying the matter was under investigation.

He also raised a technical defence that Ngcobo was not designated as a “senior manager” and should have gone to the bargaining council, not the court.

Back at work 

The matter was set down to be argued on Tuesday. Ngcobo’s attorney Reg Thomas told News24 on Monday that his client was back at his desk.

The city confirmed that he was back at work.

“They wrote to us on Friday and asked him to return to work. They asked that the matter be withdrawn from court and tendered to pay the costs of the application.”

Thomas said he had been told the investigation had been completed.

“I have asked for a copy of the report but have not received it so I am not sure of the content.

“But I am of the view that if the finding had been negative he would not have been asked to return to work.

“We still want a copy of it so that my client can consider his options.

“The fact that they tendered the costs means they have conceded that something was done which ought not have been done.

“None of the allegations made against the municipal manager or anyone else were refuted. Nobody involved in the matter put up any affidavit,” Thomas said.

'Power struggle'

In his affidavit, Ngcobo claimed he had been caught up in a “power struggle”.

He said on June 15, just four days before the conference - which had a budget of R2.1m and was themed "Black History" - he received an SMS message from city manager Sipho Nzuza, suggesting the conference be “withdrawn for a further date”. He asked for an urgent meeting, but Nzuza was only available on Sunday. “I told him that 500 people had been invited.

We had incurred large costs for flights and accommodation. It had received widespread media coverage.

“He told me it was the mayor’s request. He did not know that it was such a big event and of the financial implications of cancelling it. He said he would revert back to me.”

Ngcobo said Nzuza had contacted him that evening and said the mayor was insistent that the conference be cancelled and she would speak to the service providers to reduce the financial implications.

Also read: eThekwini official cries foul over cancelled multi-million conference

He asked for this in writing, which he only received at 10:30 the next day, some hours after the conference was to begin.

On July 12, he received the notice of suspension, citing the reasons as the “late cancellation of the event”, that he had placed the municipality into disrepute resulting in wasteful expenditure because he had disregarded an instruction by the city manager to cancel the event on June 15.

Asked if Ngcobo had now been cleared of any wrongdoing and if News24 could have access to the findings of the investigation, eThekwini head of communications Tozi Mthethwa said the municipality was not at liberty to discuss staffing issues with a third party.

“If and when there are labour related issues, we address those concerns directly with the employee or employees concerned. We protect the rights of our employees by following the necessary processes provided for in the Labour Relations Act.”

Read more on:    ethekwini municipality  |  zandile gumede

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