/ 20 July 2001

Right Royal scandal hits Telkom

The man being groomed to run Telkom faces disciplinary action for allegedly colluding with a controversial private security company

Mungo Soggot, Stefaans Brmmer and David Shapshak

Telkom crown prince Bheki Langa’s job is on the line after a lengthy investigation uncovered a string of alleged irregularities including dubious payments to a private security company and abuse of his position to help the security company bag contracts worth millions.

Langa, Telkom’s deputy chief operating officer, stands accused of bending over backwards to favour and cover for the company, Royal Security. Apart from allegedly using his position to help it get work, Langa faces several allegations of compromising Telkom security. He even allegedly took control of alarm tests so he could shield Royal Security from potentially embarrassing drills.

Telkom chairperson Dikgang Moseneke confirmed this week that Langa has been the subject of a three-month internal investigation at Telkom and now faces a disciplinary hearing. He said Langa, who this week went on leave with full pay, has filed a defence against the allegations.

Moseneke stressed that the allegations remain allegations and will have to be supported with sworn affidavits. “The outcome cannot be predicted,” said Moseneke, who is leaving Telkom to become a judge.

Sources say the investigation was led by specialist investigators from outside South Africa, as opposed to Telkom’s in-house sleuths.

Langa is in line to replace Telkom’s current chief operating officer, Tom Barry, an executive at SBC Communications the United States company that with Malaysia Telkom bought a 30% stake in Telkom in 1997.

Langa has held senior positions in several South African companies, and is currently on boards including cellular group Vodacom and the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He joined Telkom’s board and top management in 1996, swiftly rising to his current position.

Until March this year, Langa’s duties included overseeing Telkom’s security and investigations division. He lost the security portfolio in a reshuffle.

Royal Security, which has received several major contracts, is the main security company featuring in the allegations. Sources say investigators believe Langa must have been financially rewarded or expected to be for his efforts to favour the company.

Royal Security is based in Durban, Langa’s hometown. It has won contracts from Telkom mainly in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. Royal faces a string of violations of the security officers’ board’s code. The company’s duties with Telkom include reacting to cable theft alarms. It is these protection systems and procedures that are now in question on account of a series of strange decisions by Langa, which allegedly made it harder for Telkom to monitor security contractors.

The head of Royal Security, Ray Moodley, this week dismissed the allegations, saying his company and Langa are the victims of a “racist plot. The whites … can’t stand to see a black man coming up.”

It is alleged that Langa’s questionable decisions regarding security procedure included demanding that the names of Telkom and police personnel on “call out lists” at security installations be taken away a move that allowed the favoured security companies free rein, making it difficult for Telkom to monitor their performance.

The case against Langa includes allegations that he ignored management’s take on Royal’s contractual duties. Langa’s colleagues said Royal had to patrol and not merely react to alarms. Langa allegedly decided otherwise.

There is also an allegation that Langa improperly took control of alarm simulation exercises, apparently putting himself into a position where he could tip the security company off when a test was going to take place.

Langa is alleged to have put out a directive that he had to be told in advance of where and when alarm tests would happen. After sending out that order, no further tests took place. He is also alleged to have told Telkom employees not to react when alarms went off, leaving security contractors like Royal in control.

The aspect of the case covering Langa’s alleged efforts to favour the companies with Telkom work is equally damaging. In one instance Langa is alleged to have ditched a national tender process to recruit new security companies and replaced it with a provincially based system.

Using regional appointees selected by him, Langa was then allegedly in a position to ensure that his favoured companies, which in this instance meant Royal Security and Indlovu Security, a company associated with Royal, could get contracts. Between them, Royal and Indlovu have all KwaZulu-Natal’s alarm reaction contracts.

Sources say the investigators have unearthed evidence that in one instance Langa actively ignored the decision of a senior colleague to appoint another rival company, picking Royal instead for a Gauteng contract.

Sources say Langa also allegedly sidelined or axed employees from the security department who raised questions about irregularities linked to Royal’s work for Telkom.

One of the most serious allegations against Langa is that early this year he ordered Telkom investigators to stop looking into an alleged fraud by Royal against Telkom running into more than R2-million. A senior Telkom employee involved in the case was transferred, allegedly at Langa’s behest, leaving Langa in place to control the case. He allegedly never pursued it.

And sources say there is also evidence that he instructed one of his managers late last year to pay Royal an extra fee of about R1-million for work that it did not do.

The scandal coincides with Telkom’s preparations for a listing on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange, which may be postponed because of poor market conditions.

Moseneke said it would be improper to comment on any details of the allegations. He said he had been presented with the dossier, which was “properly done”, in his capacity as chairperson of the human resources committee. Moseneke said he had the unanimous support of his board and of Telkom’s equity partners in deciding on disciplinary action.

Telkom’s shareholders were tightlipped this week, but did not deny Langa is under investigation.

SBC’s Barry said: “Any investigation of staff conduct within Telkom is an internal matter and it is not our policy to comment on such matters publicly or in the media. I am therefore unable to comment any further on your enquiries.” Langa declined to talk to the Mail & Guardian.

Radio Surveillance Security Services (RSSS), which works alongside Royal, is another company that also allegedly benefited from Langa’s actions. However, one person familiar with Telkom security said that while Royal’s success with Telkom puzzled many employees, RSSS was a well-run professional operation.

RSSS provides the sophisticated alarms to which Royal responds. It allegedly got more Telkom work after Langa allegedly cancelled another security company’s cheaper and similar contract. An RSSS employee also stands accused of giving confidential information to Royal a transgression Langa allegedly decided not to pursue.

RSSS this week declined to respond to any questions, including one about its relationship with Royal. RSSS instead passed all queries to its lawyer, Pradeep Bob Bahadur of Yacoob Meer & Company.

Bahadur represents Royal as well. The M&G also sent detailed questions to Royal, on behalf of which Bahadur said: “Before replying to the contents thereof our client requires full disclosure of the names and addresses of the persons who supplied you with the information relating to the aforesaid.” Bahadur also threatened legal action.

On behalf of RSSS, Bahadur said the matter was sub judice and again threatened legal action if the M&G published “comment which prejudices its legal right or position in this matter”.