Fawu members fight back in court

The leadership fight in the Food and Allied Workers’ Union (Fawu) and the alleged purge of supporters of former general secretary Katishi Masemola has ended up back in the courts and at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

And, in a bizarre turn of events, two deputy general secretaries of the union, Mayoyo Mngomezulu and Moleko Phakedi, have fired each other, with both claiming that the other has violated the union’s constitution.

The infighting over control of the union, the second largest affiliate of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), has been going on since before the breakaway federation’s launch in 2017. 

It has intensified ahead of its elective congress, which has to be held before the end of the year.

In September, the union fired Masemola for misconduct over a R19.2-million write-off at its investment wing, Basebenzi Investment Group. 

He was also charged internally over using an additional R20-million in union funds to pay the investment company’s rent and operating expenses.

Masemola had been involved in a lengthy factional battle with a rival grouping in the union led by its president, Atwell Nazo, and Mngomezulu, ahead of his dismissal. Masemola had served as a director and acting chief executive officer of Basebenzi between 2006 and December 2018, and had survived an earlier dismissal.

Several of Masemola’s supporters, including August Mbhele in KwaZulu-Natal and Mthunzi Madondo in the Eastern Cape, have also been dismissed by the union leadership. All three have taken their cases to the CCMA.

On Thursday, Phakedi, who was elected as deputy general secretary of Saftu at its inaugural congress in 2017, made an urgent application in the labour court to stop Fawu from removing him from its payroll and stripping him of powers as an office-bearer. 

An earlier dismissal of Phakedi was set aside by the labour court late last month, but Fawu then issued him with a fresh letter removing him from office.

Mngomezulu said they had gone back to court to interdict Phakedi from doing Fawu work and receiving a salary from the union.

Saftu, he said, had undertaken to pay Phakedi’s salary from October 2019 in terms of an agreement between the national office-bearers of the union and the federation. 

“When Saftu was founded there was an issue about paying salaries as it was a new federation,”  Mngomezulu said. “Fawu undertook to fund the salary of the deputy general secretary, who was elected, as he came from Fawu, until Saftu was in a position to do so. Numsa (the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa) did the same. The deputy general secretary appears to have his own agenda and has refused to allow the agreement to be implemented.’’ 

Last month, Phakedi in turn fired Mngomezulu, claiming that he was guilty of “gross insubordination” for ordering the union’s payroll department not to pay him his salary from October 2019.

In a letter of dismissal to his rival, Phakedi said Mngomezulu had “interfered’’ with his ability to carry out his duties as deputy general secretary. 

He said Mngomezulu had not been elected as deputy general secretary and was himself “misrepresenting’’ the union by claiming he was deputy secretary general, as he was a regional official of the Free State and the Northern Cape who was a temporary employee at Fawu’s head office.

Mngomezulu dismissed Phakedi’s claims, saying he was no longer a Fawu official.

Mngomezulu said Fawu’s national executive committee (NEC) would set a date for its national congress when it met later this month. 

He confirmed that Masemola, Madondo and Mbhele had taken the union to the CCMA over their dismissals.

Mngomezulu said the NEC had appointed Werksmans Attorneys to probe what went wrong in Basebenzi, and that the union would decide on what action to take thereafter.

Masemola’s challenge to his dismissal will be heard at the CCMA on April 14, with a pre-arbitration conference taking place in the next week or so.

“I am not accepting the dismissal. I hope to clear my name and cleanse my reputation, and return to the post. I will then resign and hand over the reins to a younger generation,” he said.

Masemola said he and his supporters were being purged as part of a “factional’’ issue and that the dispute was over leadership, and not ideological differences over whether or not to return to the Cosatu union federation.

Last year, the union narrowly avoided being deregistered by the labour department over its failure to submit financial statements for several years.

However, Mngomezulu said the union was now up to date with its commitments to the department and was stabilising, having held several successful provincial congresses in preparation for national congress.

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