The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) has retrospectively reinstated Martin Soqaga, the chief audit executive of the University of Fort Hare (UFH), with back pay.
Soqaga was fired by the university in June last year after a disciplinary hearing found him guilty of several charges including investigating the university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Sakhela Buhlungu, allegedly without the university council’s approval.
According to the CCMA award issued on August 12, which City Press has seen, commissioner Malusi Mbuli found that Soqaga’s dismissal was procedurally fair but substantively unfair.
“The respondent, UFH, is ordered to reinstate the applicant, Soqaga, in its employ on the same terms and conditions of employment as those that prevailed before the applicant’s dismissal on June 19 .
The respondent will reinstate the applicant retrospectively with effect from June 19 2019 and will back pay to the applicant R842 219.95, which is an amount equivalent to 11 month’s remuneration calculated at R76 565.45, which was the gross salary of the applicant per month as at the date of his dismissal.
The applicant will report for duty on September 1 2020, and the amount referred to in the paragraph above will be paid to the applicant not later than August 31 2020,” Mbuli’s award reads.
UFH spokesperson Tandi Mapukata said on Thursday: “The University of Fort Hare – supported by the previous chairperson of council [advocate Thandi Orleyn], who testified for the university at the CCMA, as well as the administrator [Professor Loyiso Nongxa] – is extremely disappointed in the arbitration award and maintains that Soqaga’s dismissal was fair, both substantively and procedurally.
“The university is still studying the award with a view to approaching the labour court to set it aside on review,” Mapukata said.
Soqaga declined to comment on Thursday and referred questions to his legal team. His legal representative, advocate Dumisani Skoti, said on Thursday that they welcomed the CCMA award.
“We feel that at the end of all a strenuous legal battle, which took almost more than a year, justice was done. In the end, the client reclaimed his professional dignity and we wish him a good and prosperous environment in his workplace,” Skoti said.
WHAT HAPPENED AT FORT HARE
According to the award, Soqaga brought an application after he was dismissed following a number of charges that were brought against him, which included that:
- He failed to ensure or confirm that the investigation into Buhlungu was authorised by Orleyn, the council or any other person with necessary authority, resulting in an unauthorised investigation being undertaken,
- He refused to report to Buhlungu in relation to the investigation into the cleaning contract and/or vehicles that were purchased in order for Buhlungu to report to council and the department of higher education and training (now the department of higher education and training, science and innovation) to put measures in place to limit the university’s risk;
- He was grossly negligent in fulfilling his duties as chief audit executive in that he failed to investigate and/or report on the investigation of serious allegations relating to irregular payments made by the university for fictitious quotes following services which were allegedly rendered to the university; and
- He brought the name of UFH into disrepute by failing to act in the interest of the university.
The investigation against Buhlungu centred on allegations that he had an affair with an employee in his office. However, those allegations were cleared by an investigation that was conducted as part of a report that was independent of the one which the assessor submitted to Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande.
The allegation had, however, caused divisions within the university’s council and City Press reported on this matter.