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Suspended KZN official chairs inquiry of staffer at another municipality

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Suspended KZN official chairs inquiry of staffer at another municipality

8th December 2023

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A senior manager at a district municipality in KwaZulu-Natal was suspended when he chaired the disciplinary hearing of the legal head of another local municipality in the province, News24 has learnt. 

Msunduzi Local Municipality legal head Nomfundo Hlophe was found guilty of misconduct and dismissed earlier this week.

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The broke municipality has been paying senior officials from other municipalities to discipline its officials because it can't afford to stage normal disciplinary processes, two sources said. 

uMkhanyakude District Municipality senior manager Bantubenzani Phillip Sibiya found Hlophe guilty of misconduct. However, it turns out that Sibiya was suspended at the time he headed Hlophe's disciplinary inquiry.

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In late October, uMkhanyakude District Municipality manager Musa Nxumalo placed Sibiya on precautionary suspension, according to a suspension letter seen by News24.

In the letter, Nxumalo alleged, among other things, that:

  • Sibiya failed to defend and represent uMkhanyakude in certain labour matters which resulted in the municipality "incurring huge financial losses";
  • There was "reasonable cause" to believe that Sibiya's presence in the workplace could jeopardise the probe into his conduct through interference with potential witnesses; and
  • Sibiya could "commit further acts of misconduct";

Sibiya was suspended on full pay and wasn't required to report for duty until instructed to do so.

Sources say he "illegally" chaired the inquiry into Hlophe while he was suspended, and his conduct suggested that he was "determined" to get rid of her.

Hlophe, who was found guilty in absentia, was charged with:

  • Dereliction of duty in that, on 25 May 2021, she "failed, refused and/or neglected" a municipality policy on recruitment by "head-hunting" two recruits for a position, whereas she was supposed to know that appointments need to fall in line with the municipality's recruitment policy;
  • Gross misconduct in that, on the same day, she recommended the two recruits "when you knew or ought to have reasonably known" that the two candidates were not suitable for the job, contravening item 2 [a and b] of Schedule 2 of the Local Government: Municipal Systems Act No. 32 of 2000";
  • Gross negligence stemming from an act of serious misconduct relating to her shortlisting the two candidates, and that her actions created an impression that the two were fit to hold the position; and
  • Gross dishonesty because she "attempted to secure employment and promotion for [an official whose name has been withheld]" when she should have known that this person has a criminal record.

The municipality sent Hlophe a letter of dismissal on 27 November.

News24 understands that Hlophe has challenged the outcome of the inquiry because Sibiya was on suspension when he chaired the inquiry into her conduct and because "he didn't give reasons for the verdict or base it on any evidence", according to sources. 

In an email to Hlophe and several officials during the hearings, Sibiya wrote: "It is apparent that you had never practised as an attorney. Further to that, you are clueless about the provisions of clause 7.6.3. of the Disciplinary Procedure Collective Agreement that [came to] inception on 1 February 2023.

"Even your naive friends in my municipality ill-advised you. Nothing will deter or restrain me from handing down the sanction. I finally advise you to refrain from sending emails to me outside the hearing."

Sibiya told News24: 

I have a full mandate to preside over the disciplinary hearing in question, hence I was duly appointed prior to 20 September 2023 in terms of clause 7.6.3. of the Disciplinary Procedure Collective Agreement that [came into being] in February 2018. Google yourself the authority you have been referred to. Whether or not I am being placed on precautionary suspension by 'my employer' is immaterial.

He said he presides over Msunduzi municipality proceedings and is "not performing duties of my employer".

"Further to that, there is no breach or violation of any applicable legislation."

He said News24 sources on this story were "unreliable and misleading".

In response to News24 queries, he incorrectly assumed that Hlophe was leaking information to this publication and said the story could exacerbate her sanction. This was before Hlophe was fired by Msunduzi this week. 

Nxumalo had not responded at the time of publication. 

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