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Newafrican

‘Hijacked’ nurses’ union sides with embattled Tembisa Hospital boss



  • Ashley Mthunzi is combating for his job after being suspended amid allegations of widespread corruption.
  • One among his most strident supporters is a little-known commerce union representing nurses.
  • The union was allegedly “captured” by a faction round Lerato Mthunzi, who’s each Mthunzi’s spouse and the final secretary of the union.

The Younger Nurses Indaba Commerce Union (YNITU), a commerce union organising healthcare staff, was allegedly hijacked in October final yr in what one faction of union leaders, or nationwide office-bearers, say was a bogus congress orchestrated by its then president, Lerato Mthunzi.

Lerato Mthunzi is the spouse of the embattled Tembisa Hospital chief government officer (CEO), Ashley Mthunzi.

The union has since come to the defence of the CEO after he was suspended on 26 August, along with chief monetary officer of the Gauteng well being division, Lerato Madyo, following a sequence of News24 exposés of obvious rampant graft at Tembisa Hospital in Gauteng’s East Rand.

Gauteng well being division official and whistleblower Babita Deokaran flagged R850 million in suspicious transactions on the hospital simply weeks earlier than she was killed in successful in August final yr. Lots of these funds had been overseen by Mthunzi, who was appointed CEO in mid-2021 after performing within the function since April of that yr.

In a 30 August assertion, YNITU positioned itself squarely within the CEO’s nook, saying it was “disgusted” that Gauteng Premier David Makhura was “scapegoating one more official for corruption”. The assertion was gushing in regards to the CEO’s function in enhancing infrastructure and providers on the hospital and claimed Mthunzi was the sufferer of “character assassination”.

However does the union genuinely replicate the views of the healthcare staff it purports to characterize, or has it been was a mouthpiece for the Mthunzis as the final secretary’s husband fights for his job?

Sham congress

In accordance with three rival office-bearers, the fledgling union – fashioned in 2015 and formally registered as a commerce union in 2017 – was captured by Lerato Mthunzi at a congress held over three days on the finish of October. They are saying the congress was illegitimate.

An electronic mail, dated 2 November 2021, to the registrar of labour from Fikile Dikolomela-Lengene, who was eliminated as first deputy president after the congress, accommodates a listing of allegations regarding the congress and its outcomes.

A central declare of the e-mail, signed off by Dikolomela-Lengene and three different dissident office-bearers, is that there have been not sufficient delegates on the congress to fulfill a quorum required by union’s structure.

The e-mail made a number of different allegations, together with that no election register was produced, that there was no transparency within the course of, and that different leaders on the time had been excluded from shaping the agenda and paperwork to be introduced. It paints an image of a course of beset by lobbying and manipulation.

Lerato Mthunzi, the rival office-bearers declare, was not even eligible for re-election after having left her job within the well being sector earlier within the yr, the e-mail claimed.

However by the point the congress got here to an finish on 31 October, a brand new management was put in, with Mthunzi as normal secretary.

Requested to touch upon the allegations made by her former colleagues, Mthunzi stated the difficulty of her non-employment within the sector “is mindless”.

“Clearly, if you will be a full-time official of the commerce union, you are actually an worker of the commerce union.”

Nonetheless, the union’s structure makes it clear that solely full members can stand for elections, and full members have to be employed within the sector.

Responding to allegations that the congress was manipulated, Mthunzi stated YNITU “went by means of all checks and balances” on the congress.

“There’s an electoral fee report that ensures that every little thing, even loopholes that had been recognized in our structure, had been handled totally and we made certain that each one delegates who had been within the congress had been in settlement,” she stated.

So it will really make no sense to anybody to truly peddle lies that the congress didn’t kind a quorum.

An “electoral fee report” was produced by two electoral officers, seconded by from the South African Federation of Commerce Unions (Saftu), to which YNITU was an affiliate. The report cursorily famous a few procedural issues that weren’t clear within the structure, however didn’t take care of points that might later develop into the details of rivalry, notably the quorum problem.

Trevor Shaku, one of many two Saftu electoral officers who signed the report, instructed amaBhungane that the report solely centered on the elections course of, and that the congress was later discovered by Saftu to have did not kind a quorum.

“Consequently, the selections taken at that convention had been null and void and the advice [from Saftu] was that [YNITU] should maintain one other convention.”

At its peak, there have been 37 attendees on the congress from a union of over 5 000 members.

READ | Tembisa Hospital splurge exposed: Leather loungers, skinny jeans and R10 000 for a bucket

Shaku stated that, even on probably the most beneficiant interpretation of the structure, YNITU would have required greater than double that quantity – at the least two-thirds of the 131 members who had registered.

Shaku stated that, after Saftu’s management consulted with the previous and new management of YNITU, a choice was taken by the federation that the congress must be reconvened.

A letter signed by Saftu’s normal secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, dated 17 November 2021, famous that a part of the previous management had written to the federation, with a listing of grievances, asking for Saftu’s intervention.

The letter continued: 

It’s an simple/proven fact that the Nationwide Congress did not kind a quorum… The 37 was not consultant, regardless of the measure used.

It concluded that each one the selections taken on the congress “are accordingly not legitimate and ought to be put aside”, and a brand new congress must be “convened strictly consistent with the provisions of the structure”.

The next week, on 26 November, YNITU knowledgeable Saftu of its resolution to disaffiliate from the federation.

Lerato Mthunzi accused Saftu of interfering within the union and of dealing with the dispute in a “damaging and divisive method”.

Saftu leaders, she stated, “proceed to blatantly disregard and disrespect the present management and proceed addressing expelled members as YNITU management”.

By this time, Dikolomela-Lengene and her allied office-bearers had been expelled by the brand new management.

The labour division didn’t reply to questions on Dikolomela-Lengene’s criticism to the registrar and it was unclear whether or not an investigation was underway.

Questionable transactions

Within the midst of the combat over the congress, disputes ensued over the union’s accounts. On 6 November, Dikolomela-Lengene and Portia Maseko, the treasurer of the previous management, approached the union’s financial institution, FNB, to have Lerato Mthunzi changed by Yanga Booi as a signatory on the accounts. Booi was the second deputy president of the previous management.

As the 2 YNITU factions then scrambled to get management of the union’s cash, FNB froze its accounts on 8 November.

On the finish of the month, Mthunzi’s faction lodged an pressing court docket software to compel FNB to provide Mthunzi and two different members of her faction entry to the accounts, and to have the opposite members eliminated as signatories.

In court docket papers, Mthunzi accused Dikolomela-Lengene, Maseko and Booi of getting “fraudulently modified signatories within the account”.

In an affidavit, Mthunzi says that, on 8 November, she approached FNB, along with YNITU’s newly appointed president, Wealthy Sicina, “relating to the change in authorised signatories to the applicant’s account”. They had been then knowledgeable that FNB would block the accounts.

Mthunzi claimed that she and Sicina “had been nonetheless signatories, and each our signatures had been required for any transaction within the account”.

In an answering affidavit, FNB worker Maanea Tsanwani stated the declare that the 2 had been nonetheless signatories “is mindless”, and that Sicina was by no means nominated as a signatory.

Maseko and Dikolomela-Lengene, nevertheless, had been already signatories after they requested that Mthunzi get replaced by Booi – and, stated Tsanwani, “the substitution was efficient with instant impact”.

Justifying the choice to freeze the accounts, Tsanwani stated that “It’s patently clear that some power-struggle is raging between the applicant’s rightful and illegitimate workplace bearers”.

The financial institution wouldn’t be drawn into disputes between the nationwide workplace bearers and had “no different choice however to safeguard the funds… by retaining the maintain on the accounts pending the end result of the disputes”.

In her affidavit, Tsanwani additionally pointed to a questionable R1-million fee from the YNITU accounts made on the identical day Mthunzi was changed as a signatory. The cash was paid into the account of Nursepreneur – an organization of which Mthunzi is the only director. 

In accordance with Tsanwani’s affidavit:

The one inference to be drawn is that [Mthunzi] herself accessed the [YNITU’s] on-line banking profile and carried out this transaction, transferring R1 000 000.00 from the applicant’s account to an account held by her personal firm. It’s unusual that she makes no point out hereof in her founding affidavit.

The financial institution was unable to confirm the transaction and it was blocked.

Mthunzi instructed amaBhungane that she made the fee to her personal firm after she was made conscious of the adjustments to the signatories. She says she nonetheless had entry to the YNITU accounts on-line and agreed with the brand new management to maneuver the cash to the Nursepreneur account to maintain it out of the attain of the previous management.

A few week after heading to court docket, YNITU withdrew its pressing software. 

Defending the boss 

Dikolomela-Lengene instructed amaBhungane that her faction has not had the assets to pursue the matter of the financial institution accounts in court docket, and so the account stays frozen.

In the meantime, Mthunzi and her faction are utilizing a brand new account and have continued to run the union, which in current weeks has been actively lobbying in help of Mthunzi’s husband.

A sequence of News24 exposés blew the lid on rampant corruption on the hospital throughout Ashley Mthunzi’s tenure.

The CEO allegedly oversaw a large spending spree amounting to tons of of hundreds of thousands of rands, during which invoices had been cut up into values of beneath R500 000. Purchases over that threshold would require a public tender course of. Under that quantity, the hospital’s CEO has authority to log off.

This sleight of hand in procurement allowed an online of shell corporations, with no medical expertise, to promote provides to the hospital at vastly inflated costs.

In accordance with News24, the Gauteng well being division dragged its toes, and solely instituted a random compliance audit of hospitals after Deokaran flagged the suspicious funds. The audit barely scratched the floor and was accomplished in lower than every week.

IN-DEPTH | Why Babita Deokaran was murdered

When Mthunzi was ultimately suspended amid a public outcry following News24’s reporting, YNITU grew to become certainly one of his most vocal supporters.

In its assertion of 30 August 2022, 4 days after Ashley Mthunzi’s suspension, YNITU argued that Mthunzi was being scapegoated by the division, and that his suspension was unprocedural in that it was the premier, not the top of division, who eliminated him.

The assertion demanded an “intense and purposeful” investigation, but in addition appeared to have decided that “the investigation will absolve the CEO” and the “actual masterminds” will probably be uncovered.

The assertion stated that YNITU leaders visited the hospital to have interaction with an organisation, calling itself the Tembisa Hospital Institutional Labour Caucus (ILC) – a murky entity claiming to characterize organised labour on the hospital.

The day earlier than the YNITU assertion, the ILC revealed a similarly-worded letter condemning the “determined and irrational suspension orchestrated by the Premier of Gauteng, Mr David Makhura”.

The letter presupposed to characterize the views of 5 unions and included their logos. Amongst it was the Nationwide Training, Well being and Allied Staff Union (Nehawu), which is a serious affiliate of union federation Cosatu, and the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa).

READ | Tembisa Hospital CEO, health dept CFO suspended amid R850m scandal

However the ILC’s claims to characterize organised labour had been rubbished by unions it supposedly represented.

Nehawu’s Gauteng secretary, Mzikayise Tshontshi, distanced his union from the ILC, saying that Nehawu’s management solely grew to become conscious of the letter after it was made public.

“We then convened a gathering to search out out about how our emblem ended up in that letter. We had been instructed that some store stewards of the union attended a gathering with the opposite unions after which assumptions had been made – but store stewards didn’t have the capability to talk on behalf of the union,” he stated.

He added that “Nehawu is an anti-corruption union” and doesn’t oppose the suspension of Ashley Mthunzi.

A press release by Denosa learn: “It’s a part of process for the employer to precautionary droop or switch an worker if there are severe allegations of misconduct towards them and to provide credibility to the investigation in that the worker is precautionary suspended, in order that they can not affect or hinder the investigation.”

One other union whose emblem was on the ILC letter, the Nationwide Union of Public Service and Allied Staff, got here out strongly towards the ILC’s “false narrative” and the “fraudulent” use of its title to “obtain some sordid agenda”.

The ILC’s media liaison, Kansas Stevens, stated he had been suggested to not remark any additional on the matter.

YNITU has denied that the connection between the Mthunizis poses a battle of curiosity for the union, saying it has “taken a agency resolution to excuse her” in addressing the matter of her husband’s suspension. “We should additionally state upfront that the connection had no bearing on the place taken by the union, which is why we’re upfront about it.”

On SAFM’s Dawn radio present, the interviewer, Stephen Grootes, instructed YNITU’s president, Sicina: “Okay, so simply to be clear, your model is the truth that your normal secretary is married to this particular person had no affect on this resolution. Nothing in any respect. And also you count on us to consider that?”

Sicina responded by saying that Grootes was pushing “a story”.

YNITU is saying we’re disgusted in that but once more one official is thrown beneath the bus, and everybody believes we’re saying that as a result of we’re supporting Dr Mthunzi as a result of we’re not directly supporting our normal secretary.

“Effectively, sure, it appears fairly apparent,” Grootes retorted.

Whereas denying that the final secretary’s relationship with the CEO influenced YNITU’s place, Sicina appeared to contradict himself in claiming that the union took the stance it did as a result of it was aware of data “as a result of we have now a normal secretary who’s married to Dr Mthunzi, so we all know what’s really taking place in Tembisa”.

Ashley Mthunzi didn’t reply to questions amaBhungane despatched him.

Metadata on the ILC’s letter suggests the involvement of Phakamile Hlubi, a buddy of Lerato Mthunzi, and the spokesperson of the Nationwide Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa). Social media posts level to the closeness of Mthunzi and Hlubi.

One sequence of posts present Mthunzi on stage with Numsa’s normal secretary, Irvin Jim, on the union’s controversial eleventh congress earlier this yr, which noticed delegates from two areas stage a walkout.

Numsa is an affiliate of Saftu.

Within the lead-up to the congress, over 30 members, together with the second deputy president, Ruth Ntlokotse, had been suspended in what critics of Jim declare was a purge. Court docket motion that resulted within the suspensions being lifted delayed the congress for 2 days.

YNITU, regardless of having disaffiliated from Saftu, was vocal in help of the Jim faction, saying in a press release by Lerato Mthunzi that that YNITU was “exasperated by these deliberate makes an attempt to derail and distract Numsa in persevering with its sterling work of saving jobs, combating for higher circumstances for staff and guaranteeing staff get truthful wage offers and advantages”.

In response to questions, Hlubi instructed amaBhungane: “The assertion was shared with me in a Phrase format and I merely transformed it to PDF earlier than I shared it with different media homes. And, by the way in which, I typically share statements of unions with different media homes and there may be nothing unusual about that.”

AmaBhungane is a non-profit centre for investigative journalism. We co-publish our investigations, that are free to entry, to information websites like News24. For extra, go to us on www.amaB.org.

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