Richmond’s human resource management have been accused of negligently exposing hundreds of municipal workers to Covid-19 following an outbreak that led to a number of senior officials testing positive.
This comes after the death of the community services strategic manager, Mabhekisisa Bigboy Mhlongo, who was said to have died from Covid-19 related complications on Thursday.
“We don’t feel safe and what happened this week is a clear indication that our lives are disposable to our human resources management when they are the people who are supposed to protect us,” said one of the staffers.
The 53-year old Mhlongo was admitted to hospital at the weekend. The Witness has reliably learned that other senior managers who also tested positive include the municipal boss, Sikhombiso Mthembu, and chief financial officer, Msizi Ngcobo.
Apparently when the news broke on Monday, the human resources department would neither close the offices for decontamination nor allow the staff who had high exposure to work from home until their test results came back.
“The community services department only tested today [Thursday] and these are people that work very closely with Mhlongo but this municipality had to wait until the death of their manager to get them tested and close the offices,” said one of the workers who got tested on Thursday.
The municipality only closed its offices in the main building, at the testing ground and at the municipal works yard on Thursday.
Some workers apparently did not even know there were positive cases in their departments because they never received any circular from the human resources department informing them.
It was also alleged that the finance staff were told that disciplinary action would be instituted against them when they threatened to work from home without authorisation until the test results confirmed their health status.
The South African Municipal Workers’ Union also apparently tried to get human resources to allow those who work in the finance office of the municipal manager and community services, to work from home until they could see if any of them showed Covid-19 symptoms, but it was not successful.
“These departments also work in close contact with members of the public so I dread to think how many residents have been exposed because of this negligence,” said another Richmond official.
As of Thursday afternoon, some were mobilising for legal action to be taken against the municipality, saying they also wanted the human resources head charged with negligence. They said what happened not only put their lives at risk but also their families and the public at large.
“There are people here who use public transport. Some of us are already vulnerable because of our age and other chronic illnesses that we have. This kind of negligence cannot be brushed aside, especially at the time when the infection numbers are rising,” said a municipal staffer who worked with Mhlongo for several years.
There were also calls for the human resources department to be made an example of by dragging its management before the uMgungundlovu District command council on Covid-19.
Richmond municipal spokesperson Sibonelo Bhengu said he was not aware of the allegations of negligence but an internal investigation would be conducted. He said Mhlongo’s death sent shockwaves across Richmond.
Mhlongo was elected in the early 2000s as a councillor in Richmond. He served as the strategic manager in the community services department for 17 years.
“We lower our banners in honour of Comrade Bigboy. We salute him for the dedication, love, passion and commitment that he had for Richmond, its people and fellow workers in general,” said Mayor Samora Ndlovu.
KZN MEC for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Sipho Hlomuka, has called for calm among the residents of Richmond. He said relevant departments have been engaged by the municipality and a contact tracing process is underway. Hlomuka also appealed to residents to make online payments to minimise the need to physically visit offices.