PUBLIC Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has struck again following the suspension of Denel Dynamics CEO Sello Ntsihlele.
He has been placed on suspension pending investigation under circumstances described as “strange”. Contrary to legal prescripts, the specific allegations against Ntsihlele will only be disclosed “after the investigations against him are completed“.
Ntsihlele was informed of this during a meeting in Pretoria on Friday morning, where he was served with the precautionary suspension letter. The suspension – with immediate effect – was based on suspicions that he had committed various acts of “ill-discipline and gross insubordination”.
The case is likely to further fuel allegations that Gordhan targeted black executives “to build a narrative that blacks are incompetent”.
Ntsihlele told the Sunday Independent earlier this month that Gordhan had placed him firmly on his hit list. On Friday, when Ntsihlele objected that it was unlawful to suspend him without placing the minimum details of the allegations of wrongdoing against him, one of the officials serving him said: “Yes and no”.
“What is said in the letter is that there will be investigations into the allegations before those allegations are put before you. Because you cannot answer to something that has not been investigated and verified,” the official continued.
When Ntsihlele pressed that the explanation was inadequate, the official retreated, saying: “I think it is safe to say the company has decided to place you on precautionary suspension. It is within your rights to object or to challenge, but at this stage, we are here to formalise the service of the letter and nothing more”.
According to case law, the labour court in 2011 confirmed that it was not sufficient for an employer to place an employee on precautionary suspension based on a mere suspicion that the employee had committed the alleged misconduct.
“Suspension is a measure that has serious consequences for an employee, and it is not a measure that should be resorted to lightly. There appears to be a tendency, especially in the public sector, where suspension is applied as a measure of first resort and almost automatically imposed where any form of misconduct is alleged,” Judge Andre van Niekerk ruled in the unlawful suspension case between senior manager Ralekgetho Lebu and Maquassi Hills local municipality.
“The purpose of removing an employee from the workplace, even temporarily and on full pay, must be rational and reasonable, and must be conveyed to the employee concerned in sufficient detail to enable the employee to compile the representations that he or she is invited to make in a meaningful way,” Judge van Niekerk said.
Ntsihlele filed four employee grievances in August, including one against Gordhan, but the company failed to address his concerns. According to him, Gordhan’s verbal attack on him on August 24 was “a clear abuse of power” by the minister that had to be addressed.
Public enterprises spokesperson Richard Mantu previously told Sunday Independent that Gordhan refuted Ntsihlele’s allegations with the contempt they deserved, adding: “Denel was one of the state-owned enterprises impacted by state capture, as evidenced in the Zondo Commission report. The minister and the department won’t be deterred or distracted from confronting corruption and maladministration at Denel.”
Earlier this month, the publication reported on an audio recording in which Gordhan could be heard lashing out at Ntsihlele, saying he ‘must leave the company and allow us to run the business and cannot continue to draw a salary and continue to behave like this“.
Gordhan was triggered by allegations that Ntsihlele had told Denel’s trade union stakeholders in a meeting that the company’s board was “useless“.
Suspended DG weighs in on SAA
Gordhan’s antics and untouchable status left parliamentarians frustrated this week when they demanded answers over the controversial SA Airways-Takatso deal. The standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) questioned Gordhan and his bureaucratic charges on Tuesday about the transaction in which the Takatso Consortium took over 51% of the state airline’s shares, and the turbulence surrounding the transaction.
The sale of the airline would cost R51 nominal fee if R3 billion in investment was made by the consortium in three years. Despite Gordhan’s assurances, MPs weren’t convinced by the discretion around the deal. This week, one of the partners resigned from the deal due to frustration over secrecy – but Gordhan told MPs that Gidon Novick was only a “small” player.
On Friday, suspended Public Enterprises Director-General Kgathatso Tlhakudi weighed in, saying that “the revelations by Novick in his resignation as the director of Takatso Consortium should raise further alarms”. In assessing the consortium as a strategic equity partner for SAA, Tlhakudi said its financial capability should have been taken into account.
He said Gordhan “needs to be transparent with South Africans on the details of the transaction including: how was Takatso Consortium chosen, how was the value of SAA determined, was there any due diligence done to determine Consortium ability to consulate the transaction?”
“Transparency means sharing the documentation on the transaction with South African citizens who are the ultimate owners of state-owned companies. The minister has chosen to hide information by claiming in Parliament, and misleading Scopa, by saying the Takatso transaction is in a closed period,” he said.
“This is not true because the closed period only applies to publicly listed entities whose shares would be suspended during takeover negotiations. This does not apply to a state-owned company, in which a share sale and purchase agreement has already been signed in February 2022.”
Tlhakudi said the Takatso transaction was awaiting regulatory approval including from the Competition Commission and the BBBEE Commission is still to pronounce on the transaction.
“We urge these institutions of State to act in the best interests of the South African public and not affirm the nefarious actions of the minister to defraud the citizenry of its assets,” he said.