Municipality scrambles to pay sexual harassment costs

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An Mpumalanga municipality had to scramble for cash again as a victim of sexual harassment was about to attach its properties to recoup her legal and counselling costs to the value of about R3.8 million.

The Dr JS Moroka Municipality in Siyabuswa paid R358 000 yesterday afternoon as the sheriff of the court was about to attach its properties.

The municipality has paid a total of R1.1 million on two previous occasions under the same threat this year as its senior administration clerk, Ester Mahlangu-Mathibela, demands payment after the Northern Gauteng High Court had found in her favour in February last year.

Judge Jody Kollapen found that former municipal manager, George Mthimunye, had sexually harassed Mahlangu-Mathibela from 1998 to 2001.

The court’s judgment also bound the municipality, and it failed in its court attempt to extricate itself from liability because it claimed Mthimunye was not acting in the scope of his duties.

Mahlangu-Mathibela initially claimed R1.3 million for damages but the claim is expected to escalate to about R5 million after all actuary reports that determine future loss of earnings and trauma had been considered.

Mthimunye used taxpayers’ money to defend himself while Mahlangu-Mathibela and her husband, Steve, emptied their pockets to see justice done.

There is, however, no sign that Mthimunye will pay even though mayor Tiny Mthimunye (not related) received legal advice from the Nkangala District Municipality’s legal team that the former manager should carry at least half of the costs.

City Press has a copy of the council minutes, which Dr JS Moroka municipal manager Zamani Mcineka has denied knowledge of and failed to respond when a copy was emailed to him.

“I regret to inform you that as Dr JS Moroka municipality, we are not aware of the legal advice you are referring to. In fact, there is no such, hence I have no comments to your inquiry,” Mcineka said.

The council resolution reads: “Council resolved that the matter of (Mahlangu-Mathibela) be dealt with in accordance with the recommendations of the (Nkangala District Municipality’s) legal advice/representative.

“Council to consider the possibility of recording half a share of the cost from the first defendant (Mthimunye). Expert witnesses be appointed as a matter of urgency, including but not limited to an industrial psychologist and actuary to be able to (dispute) or at least defend the expert opinions of the employee’s witnesses that she is entitled to damages in excess of R1 million.”

Mthimunye has indicated that he would not want to comment about the matter.

Mthimunye is politically well connected and has been enjoying protection from the ANC. The party’s deployment committee ensured that he was employed as municipal manager of Emalahleni municipality this year despite the Northern Gauteng High Court’s judgment.

Nkangala ANC secretary Tommy Nkoana said the ANC would be “judgmental” and “passing a verdict” if it stopped George’s employment to Emalahleni.

Emalahleni spokesperson Lebohang Mofokeng said Mthimunye was vetted before he was employed.

“As for the allegations against him it is his word against the media, we cannot comment on those allegations,” said Mofokeng.

Mthimunye resigned from Dr JS Moroka Municipality in 2001. The late cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister Sicelo Shiceka deployed him to revive the Naledi Local Municipality in Vryburg, North West, where he also became municipal manager.

Mahlangu-Mathibela said that after she had repeatedly snubbed George’s sexual overtures, she was grounded in the municipal kitchen for three years and given no work to do.

She was also bad-mouthed and humiliated in front of colleagues and her career growth was sabotaged.

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