Reinstated SIU official thanks pals

Former Special Investigating Unit head Willie Hofmeyr. (Paul Botes, M&G)

Former Special Investigating Unit head Willie Hofmeyr. (Paul Botes, M&G)

TShe was fired for refusing to take a lie detector test.

In a June 18 letter addressed to members of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu), which the Mail & Guardian has seen, she praised the union for its "unwavering support and sacrifice" during "one of the longest and most torturous chapters of my life".

"This is the end of my painful chapter ... and as the chapter closes, please take a bow," she wrote.

Nehawu vigorously campaigned against the "victimisation" of Nyathi by SIU members allegedly aligned with Hofmeyr. However, other members of the unit and a preliminary auditor general report have criticised her reinstatement.

Nyathi's letter also raises issues about her position as a senior manager responsible for human resources, which includes mediating and negotiating between the unit and the union.

In her three-page letter, she referred to "individuals who have agreed to give affidavits with false accusations in a bid to discredit me.
I am aware that those who were party to these baseless affidavits are now sending wild speculations throughout the organisation of retaliatory actions from my side. This is another tactic to portray me as a savage monster."

Privileged and confidential
The unit's acting head, Nomvula Mokhatla, drew Nyathi back into the fold in mid-May. After replacing Hofmeyr in December, Mokhatla summarily reinstated Nyathi following a marathon battle over her dismissal last year.

Nyathi reached a settlement agreement with the SIU, signed on May 16, which included eight months' back pay amounting to more than R900 000 and a 77% performance bonus.

She was suspended in April last year following allegations of misconduct and fraud relating to allegedly irregular claims for a special overtime allowance amounting to more than R60 000.

She was also accused of sharing "privileged and confidential" information with Nehawu members in the SIU.

Nyathi and Nehawu's allegations that Hofmeyr was against transformation aggravated tensions between her and Hofmeyr.

Towards the end of 2010 the battle heated up when anonymous faxes were circulated in the SIU, most of which dealt with Hofmeyr's management style. On February 13 last year a fax was sent to all SIU members titled "Hofmeyr to stop using apartheid tactics".

Before her suspension, Nyathi was accused of involvement in another document, typed on a Nehawu letterhead, which appeared to have originated from her daughter's computer in February. This letter called for Hofmeyr to step down. It accused him of using black members of the executive committee to block transformation, thus sowing division in the unit.

In this context Nyathi expresses her "gratitude" to Mokhatla. "I have no words to describe my appreciation for her believing in my innocence, and for the confidence she has shown in me. I do not know what she went through but can only imagine the fierce resistance."

Imprudent and unlawful
Mokhatla's decision to reinstate Nyathi caused controversy after it was revealed the former ignored the opinion of two external advocates who cautioned her against it.

Mokhatla was advised that the settlement agreement was "imprudent and unlawful", especially in light of a Labour Court ruling that found Nyathi's dismissal lawful. The court ruled that Nyathi had breached her employment contract.

But in a September 4 brief to the auditor general, which the M&G reported on last week, Mokhatla defended her decision to reinstate Nyathi, saying she was "not convinced" that Nyathi's refusal to do the polygraph test "amounted to a material breach" of her contract.

Mokhatla said: "For me, the main issue was the underlying reason as to why she was requested to submit [to] a polygraph test. This question remains unanswered."

In her letter, Nyathi tells union members that the SIU "has become a jungle, where 'you either hunt or be hunted'. But despite facing dangers of becoming prey, most of you refused to be a part of the hunters.

"I have been acutely aware of your unwavering support and your relentless fight and sacrifices for my reinstatement … your mature, disciplined and professional approach gave me strength to fight on."

No comment had been received from the SIU at the time of going to press.

* Got a tip-off for us about this story? Email amabhungane@mg.co.za

The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

Sally Evans

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