State labour boss probed in union 'scam'
The government’s top labour relations technocrat faces an internal investigation into his alleged role in setting up a fake union — supposedly intended to destroy the troublesome but powerful Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), the department of labour confirmed this week.
Thembinkosi Mkalipi, the government’s chief director of labour relations, could face disciplinary action for his involvement in the creation of the Workers’ Association Union (WAU) — the creation of which, according to one sworn statement — was planned in conjunction with President Jacob Zuma and State Security Minister David Mahlobo.
Mkalipi stands accused of helping the WAU to register as a union in violation of departmental rules. In the process, his superiors in the labour department believe, he may have undermined measures specifically designed to prevent political interference in the regulation of trade unions.
The internal probe is to investigate how the WAU was formed, and started operating, in October 2013 despite only being registered in February the following year. It would also investigate emails in which the union’s founder apparently asked Mkalipi to provide the internal documents the union must show to qualify for registration.
Mkalipi was implicated in a civil claim brought last year by WAU founder Thebe Maswabi, who is suing the state for R114-million he says Zuma and Mahlobo owe him for doing their bidding.
Maswabi said the new union was intended to destabilise Amcu, after it rose to power in the platinum mining belt in 2013 by drawing members away from the ANC-aligned National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) with its militant stance on wage strikes.
In the court papers, Maswabi alleged that he and five other workers from mines on the platinum belt met Zuma at the Union Buildings in September 2013, where the plan to establish the WAU was discussed.
He claims the meeting was organised by a state security agent and large sums of money were given to the group to set up the union. But when the money stopped coming in, Maswabi started incurring debt, which he now wants Zuma to settle.
The labour department’s director general, Thobile Lamati, confirmed that an internal investigation has been launched into Mkalipi’s conduct, because it could have compromised the work of the registrar of labour.
“Because of the work of the registrar of unions, by its very nature, it’s supposed to be an independent person and the work that they do is not supposed to be influenced by any person. We are very concerned about this,” Lamati said.
“It means that [Maswabi] … was not communicating with the registrar. He was communicating with Mkalipi directly. We will be following up on it and if we need to act against him, we will do so. I’ve asked employee relations officials to start with a formal investigation into what happened,” he added.
Mkalipi declined to comment on the investigation into his conduct.
Last year, City Press revealed that the WAU’s application for registration of trade union form contained a cellphone number that traced back to state security operative Monde Gadini, who is married to one of the president’s legal advisers.
The civil case was postponed indefinitely after the state requested that sensitive information be removed from the court file when it was last heard on December 9 2016.