​Suspended defence chief director paid almost R3m to sit at home

Female members of the SANDF take part in a parade at Thaba Tshwane to celebrate women's month. (Theana Breugem, Gallo)

Female members of the SANDF take part in a parade at Thaba Tshwane to celebrate women's month. (Theana Breugem, Gallo)

A top defence official has been paid almost R3-million while sitting at home doing nothing.

Tandeka Lujiza, the chief director in the office of the secretary for defence, has been suspended since May 2014 on what her lawyer describes as trumped-up misconduct charges.

Despite being cleared by an internal disciplinary committee of any wrongdoing, the department is refusing to reinstate Lujiza because of the strained relationship between her and other staffers. Among other things, Lujiza was accused of frustrating important financial decisions, such as refusing to sign off on cellphone contracts, blocking the issuing of new laptops and refusing to authorise overseas work trips.

But she was found not guilty on all charges at a disciplinary hearing held last year.
Instead, presiding officer Simon Molatlhwe Shaba found that she had acted as a barrier to malpractice, which led to the strained relationships between her and those who didn’t follow procedures.

“The incompatibility found herein is on the main caused by Ms Lujiza’s insistence on compliance with the prescripts, processes, procedures and policies of the DoD [department of defence] and reluctance by other officials relevant herein to adhere to any such compliance,” Shaba found.

He did find, however, that there had been a breakdown of trust between her and other staff members.

For this reason, the department is saying it first wants to deal with the issue before lifting Lujiza’s suspension. Defence spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said legal advice was still being sought.

“The employee [Lujiza] has been placed on special leave following the presiding officer’s finding that there was a total breakdown of trust between the employee and her employer together with other staff members in the office of the secretary for defence and incompatibility. That both parties must seek legal advice on how to deal with the incompatibility as pronounced by the presiding officer. That process is now ongoing.”

But Lujiza’s lawyer, Graham Moshoana, said it was unlawful for the department not to lift the suspension while it sought legal advice, even if working relationships with Lujiza were difficult.

“In the communication that we sent to the department, we made it clear that her rights as an employee are being trampled upon,” he said. “She should come back to work and then, as part of the process of getting her into the work situation, the secretary for defence must then decide to seek mediation.”

Lujiza said she was prepared to return to work as soon as possible. “Yes, I am quite ready to go back to work. I’m prepared to do that and I have indicated as such,” she said. 

Lujiza’s case is not the only instance of alleged unfair labour practice in the office of the secretary for defence.

The Mail & Guardian has seen a report compiled by AzMerc Consulting in 2015, which paints a picture of unfair labour practices, including racism, favouritism and mismanagement in the directorate of the national conventional arms control inspectorate, which reports directly to the secretary for defence.

The report flags the use of unjust disciplinary hearings as a tool to deal with disagreements. As a result, more than six of the directorate’s employees have complained of serious health issues because of the stress of the working environment.

Dlamini said the department was aware of the unhealthy working environment in the directorate and is working to alleviate it.

Opposition parties have repeatedly raised concerns about the millions of rands the government spends on salaries for suspended government employees.

In 2015, the department of public service and administration said government departments had spent nearly R65-million on the salaries of 772 suspended employees in one year. The departments of justice, correctional services and police have been identified as the main culprits that need urgent intervention to clear the backlog of disciplinary cases. 

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