Ex-official rails against Transnet

Former Transnet Freight Rail executive manager for legal affairs, Harry Lekalakala, is suing Transnet for R1.1-million. (Delwyn Verasamy, MG)

Former Transnet Freight Rail executive manager for legal affairs, Harry Lekalakala, is suing Transnet for R1.1-million. (Delwyn Verasamy, MG)

Harry Lekalakala, the former Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) executive manager for legal affairs, claims his working conditions were made intolerable after he started asking uncomfortable questions about a R25-million settlement made to one of TFR’s service providers, Polyzomba.

Lekalakala’s former boss, Kenneth Diedricks, who was head of legal and forensic at TFR, recommended the multimillion-rand settlement with Polyzomba, which was contracted to do rail maintenance for Transnet.

The Sunday Times has reported that Diedricks quit his job in November last year after it emerged that Polyzomba had paid at least R300 000 towards his R3.7-million home in Bassonia, south of Johannesburg. He denied the R300 000 kickback allegation, saying the person who deposited it into his account was not an employee of Polyzomba.

Diedricks said it was untrue that Lekalakala left Transnet because his work conditions were made intolerable. He also dismissed Lekalakala’s claim that he was targeted because he raised questions about the Polyzomba settlement.
Lekalakala, according to Diedricks made inquiries about Polyzomba with the intension to assist another employee of Transnet who was being investigated for fraud and corruption amounting to R500-million.

Diedricks said the R25-million settlement was approved by TFR management.

Financial misconduct
Lekalakala, who is himself accused of benefiting financially from another company doing business with Transnet, is suing the parastatal for R1.1-million for constructive dismissal. He resigned in May last year, after he was served with a precautionary suspension over allegations of corruption and gross misconduct.

Lekalakala has also been accused of conducting a private legal practice and other businesses for remuneration without written consent from Transnet’s then group executive, Brian Molefe, or his delegated authority.

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian, Lekalakala denied all the allegations and said they were raised by his bosses only after he questioned the Polyzomba settlement. He said he became aware of it after he was asked by Transnet to review the TFR’s framework for the delegation of authority to identify any gaps and ways of improvement.

One of the areas he reviewed was the settlement of litigation matters by Transnet employees and within the company, he said.

He believed Diedricks should not have recommended the settlement with Polyzomba because it was not a matter of litigation but a contractual dispute for which he, and not Diedricks, was responsible.

‘Subjected to abuse’
In an affidavit submitted to the Transnet bargaining council, which he has approached to be compensated for constructive dismissal, Lekalakala said: “The matter was settled in 2011 when Diedricks held the position [of] executive manager and was responsible for litigation. Normal protocol within [Transnet] dictates that, where a matter does not ordinarily fall within the ambit of the responsibility of the employee, that employee seeks out the relevant legal adviser and refers the matter accordingly.

“Diedricks failed to refer the matter to the applicant [Lekalakala] but instead dealt with the matter personally, when this was not within his delegated authority, which in effect kept the applicant in the dark until the matter was finalised and settled, and this was only discovered when the applicant commenced the inquiry as aforementioned.”

Lekalakala said in his affidavit he was subjected to abuse after he started investigating the reasons for Diedricks’s decision.

“During or about February 2014, subsequent to the applicant’s inquiries into the settlement files such as Polyzomba, Diedricks in an email demands the applicant’s reason for making inquiries into the settlement files and whether the applicant had shared the files with anyone else.

“Diedricks was fully aware of the applicant’s mandate in respect of the delegations of authority so this was unnecessary in the light thereof.”

Tremendous pressure
Lekalakala claimed Diedricks made it impossible for him to carry out his duties after Diedricks failed to replace Lekalakala’s laptop, which was stolen from the TFR offices.

He said Diedricks put him under tremendous pressure to resign. When he refused, Diedricks handed him with a notice of his intention to suspend him on allegations of misconduct.

“This was the final straw for the applicant, who resigned on May?12 2014 after realising that Diedricks had made up his mind and wanted him out at all costs and would stop at nothing to achieve this,” Lekalakala said in his affidavit.

In its answering affidavit, the TFR denied all allegations and said Lekalakala resigned after he was requested to make submissions about why he should not be suspended, pending possible disciplinary steps being taken against him, for engaging in private work during working hours without having sought and obtained prior permission from Transnet.

“The applicant made no reference in his letter of resignation to any intolerable situation having been created by the respondent [TFR] or its employees and made no mention of having been forced to resign,” the parastatal said.

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Matuma Letsoalo is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003, focussing on politics and labour, and collaborated with the M&G's centre for investigations, amaBhungane, from time to time.In 2011, Matuma won the South African Journalist of the Year Award and was also the winner in the investigative journalism category in the same year.In 2004, he won the CNN African Journalist of the Year prize – the MKO Abiola Print Journalism Award. Matuma was also a joint category winner of the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the year Award in 2008. In 2013, he was a finalist for Wits University's Taco Kuiper Award. Read more from ML

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