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Controversial SIU official back at work

Sally Evans

The Special Investigating Unit has reinstated business support head, Miseria Nyathi - allegedly with R2-million in back pay and performance bonuses.

Willie Hofmeyr, former head of the Special Investigating Unit, fired Miseria Nyathi. She has now been reinstated. (Paul Botes, M&G)

She was controversially fired in August last year.

The unit confirmed to the Mail & Guardian this week that Nyathi had returned to her former position. Replying to questions, the unit would only say: “Nyathi’s return was agreed as part of a settlement reached between her and the SIU, the terms of which are confidential.”

The M&G understands, however, that the “confidential settlement” includes back pay for the 10 months since Nyathi was fired and “performance bonuses”. Two sources indicated the total amount could be close to R2-million.

Nyathi’s attorney, Tukela Ningiza, said: “The terms of the agreement are confidential, but part of those terms was that she should go back to work.”

Ningiza said that Nyathi went to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration a few weeks ago but that both parties had “embarked on a discussion”. “During those discussions I made recommendations that the matter ought not to have reached the level that it had reached. My recommendations were accepted by the SIU.”

Privileged
Nyathi was first suspended by the unit in April last year, following allegations of misconduct concerning her sharing of “privileged” information with members of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) in the unit. She was also accused of filing irregular claims, allegedly amounting to R60 000, for a special overtime allowance. She was dismissed in August after refusing to undergo a lie-detector test. The Labour Court ruled that her refusal was a material breach of contract.

The unit’s employment contracts include a clause allowing it “to require an employee to take a lie-detector test if there are concerns about their conduct”, said a source.

Last year the M&G reported on a memorandum circulated to the unit’s staff, in which the executive committee said: “Despite the SIU warning Ms Nyathi several times that her refusal would constitute a material breach of contract, which would allow it to terminate her contract, Ms Nyathi failed to heed the warnings.” As there had been an irretrievable breakdown of trust in the relationship, the memo said that the unit’s boss at the time, Willie Hofmeyr, had terminated Nyathi’s contract with immediate effect.

Nyathi sought to challenge her suspension and applied to the Labour Court in July last year for an interdict to prevent the unit from terminating her contract. The court found the extension of her suspension was invalid, but refused to interdict her dismissal after it found that the unit had “acted reasonably” in asking Nyathi to take the polygraph test.

Her dismissal followed months of internal conflict between Nehawu and the unit’s senior management, including Hofmeyr.

Allegations of racism
Nyathi, who faced allegations of a conflict of interest, breach of fiduciary duty and disclosure of the unit’s confidential or privileged information, was also allegedly behind an email sent in February last year on a Nehawu letterhead that was circulated in the unit’s national and regional offices.

The email, which allegedly originated from Nyathi’s daughter’s computer, was said to contain allegations of racism in the unit and accused Hofmeyr of using black members of the unit’s executive committee to sow division among employees and block transformation.

She defended her decision not to take the polygraph to the M&G last year, saying that she “didn’t trust it” or the motives behind it.

“Hofmeyr called me under false pretences that I was going for a performance appraisal while he was going to suspend me. He lied to me and wanted me to take a lie-detector test. [The test] is not credible; I don’t trust what would have been the outcome of it.”

Hofmeyr was controversially replaced as the unit’s head in November by former judge Willem Heath, who held the position for two weeks before he resigned. Its acting head now is advocate Nomvula Mokhatla.


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