Ousted communications director-general Mamodupi Mohlala says the way communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda fired her was akin to a “public execution”.
Mohlala tells TechCentral that she had questioned the minister on several issues related to the running of the department. “But I never expected it to come to a head like this.”
Nyanda announced on Friday last week that he had fired Mohlala. In a terse statement, he said his relationship with the director-general had broken down irreparably and that her employment had been terminated with immediate effect. (See Nyanda’s letter of termination to Mohlala.)
Mohlala says the first she heard about her axing was when she read about it in the media. She had to call her personal assistant to confirm it was true.
She has since submitted a tell-all affidavit to the labour court, in which she explains in detail the rapid deterioration of the relationship between herself and the minister over the past weeks.
But she says she is still not sure how it came to a head so quickly. “I don’t really understand what happened. One moment we had a good relationship, and the next we didn’t.”
There were some indications Nyanda was not happy with certain issues, she says. However, Mohlala is adamant the problems were resolvable. “It is all very strange.”
She says “certain transgressions of the Public Finance Management Act by officials at the department” may have triggered the fall-out. “The affected officials … went on a campaign to discredit me with the minister.”
In her affidavit, Mohlala implicates several deputy directors-general in alleged financial transgressions, specifically naming Rosey Sekese and Themba Phiri.
But she admits any number of other issues could have led to her axing. “As we sit here, I can’t say for sure.”
Mohlala says she first noticed something was not right in her relations with Nyanda when she received a cellphone text message from Nyanda’s chief of staff, Alfred Moshishi, after midnight on Saturday morning, 10 July.
The message, sent on behalf of the minister (and shown to TechCentral), ordered Mohlala to suspend all tenders being adjudicated by the department until Nyanda had a chance to talk to her about them.
It also instructed her to abandon a plan to appeal a decision by an arbitration committee to reinstate suspended communications human resources head Basani Boloyi. The message said she was to hand over all dealings on the matter to deputy minister Dina Pule.
“I have spoken to him [Nyanda] several times since the SMS was sent, and he has never distanced himself from it,” she tells TechCentral.
Mohlala sent a letter to Nyanda addressing her concerns both about the content of the SMS and the manner in which it was sent. In response, he suggested a meeting with her, which took place on 16 July.
At the meeting, Mohlala says Nyanda made several accusations against her, all of which she refutes in her affidavit.
She says he accused her of, among other things, holding up the tender process to build a military veterans’ archive; of causing tension between the acting CEO and chairman of Sentech, to the point that the chairman threatened to resign; of recommending unfit board members to be reappointed to the Universal Service & Access Agency of SA; and of leaking reports of her impending suspension from the department to the Business Day newspaper.
She says she tried to address the accusations with Nyanda but has not been able to secure a follow-up meeting him.
Mohlala says all she wants is to be reinstated, either to her position at the department, or at a similar level somewhere else in government. “I am in the middle of implementing a business plan [at the department]. I think I have been doing my job. Why should I be thrown out now?”
Despite the situation, she says her relationship with Nyanda is not beyond repair. “I think if I could sit down with him face-to-face we could sort something out,” she says.
But, she says, their roles would have to be clarified and delineated if the relationship were to work again.
Department spokesman Tiyani Rikhotso says the minister is not in a position to comment on Mohlala’s court application or to respond in any way to her claims, saying the matter is sub judice.
The labour court is due to hear Mohlala’s urgent application on Friday.
In the meantime, she has appealed to both President Jacob Zuma and public service & administration minister Richard Baloyi to intervene on her behalf. She says she is hoping for an audience soon with both men. — Candice Jones, TechCentral