The leadership of the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) on Wednesday said claims that the union was in a “state of paralysis” were propaganda.
“What is said is far from the truth,” said Simon Mathe, the union’s general secretary.
He was responding to a report published by News24 on Tuesday in which the former Gauteng chairperson of Samwu alleged that rent had not been paid, the telephone lines at the union’s offices were down and the organisation had failed to keep its website running because it had not paid Rhesus Media Group – the media company managing the union’s site.
Mathe said in December 2015 he issued a letter of appointment for financial services firm Ernst & Young to conduct a forensic investigation into the union’s finances.
He said the report would be made public at the end of May.
“It is alleged that people were expelled in 2016 because they requested a forensic investigation. How can we expel people for asking for something that we had already done?”
On the matter of the website being down, he said the organisation had paid the service provider an amount of R6 440 last Friday.
“The website was down because we were rebranding. We wanted it to be hosted internally because it was being hosted by a third party.”
He denied that the phone lines had ever been down.
“People are trying to create havoc and are embarking on a propaganda mission just to destabilise the leadership.”
He explained that some members had taken the current leadership to court last year.
“They were challenging the leadership and the judgment was issued in December 2017 and the court ruled in our favour. It said we were the legitimate structure. They appealed the decision and we are waiting for the outcome of that appeal.”
Outstanding rent paid
Mathe said the union continued to do its work as usual.
“Financially, the union is fulfilling its obligation. We continue to pay salaries without a problem. The only issue is when we try to verify invoices, it affects the turn-around time.
“We continue to pay rent. There are cases where expelled members [failed] to pay rent because the money [went] to their account.”
He said all the outstanding rent had been paid.
“We accept that people will continue to run their propaganda mission. We are not broke, we are functioning like any other organisation.”
On Tuesday News24 approached the owner of Rhesus Media Group. He declined to comment on the site being shut down and asked that his identity not be made public.
Site back up
Upon landing on www.samwu.org.za, a message popped up informing users that the site had been suspended because of non-payment.
On Wednesday the website was operating again.
When News24 contacted him again on Wednesday, the owner once again declined to give details about the shut down.
“I know that you are a journalist and you have to write your story, I am the service provider, we cannot publicly disclose these things with regards to our client. There is no need to call us all the time about this matter.”
He said the domain was automated.
“If they have paid, then that is the case, I will have to go to check in the system. There is no one sitting there controlling the site manually.”
He referred all other queries to Samwu.
Samwu’s former Gauteng chairperson Nkhetheni Muthavhi told News24 on Tuesday that there were two factions within the organisation that had taken each other to court with each claiming to be the legitimate structure.
Muthavhi said in January 2016, several members of the committee were purged and replaced.
“The organisation is in a state of paralysis. It is worrying that as an employee, I go to the website and there is nothing there.”
He said if the current union leaders were not stopped, “there will be no organisation”.
Muthavhi added that the union had failed to pay for the website to continue running as well as a range of other problems “including the telephone lines, rent, have not been paid and shop steward allowances have not been paid”.
“It is a really big concern,” he said.
In the red
One of Samwu’s Gauteng provincial leaders, who asked not to be identified, admitted that the organisation was not in a healthy financial state.
“Whether we are in denial about it or not, the organisation is not healthy. We took incorrect decisions and we made bad financial decisions. We made more people permanent employees and large chunks of the money went to paying lawyers.
“We are sitting at a negative,” the leader said.
However, he expressed hope in the union, saying its future was still intact.
“As long as the organisation deals with the leadership issue. Everyone wants to lead, that is the problem.”