Unionist accused of stealing R600 000 of workers’ money

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) faces its first test against corruption within its ranks as it prepares to deal with one of its most popular leaders accused of illegally using R600 000 of workers’ money in two years.

The general secretary of the newly formed South African Liberated Public Sector Workers Union (Salipswu), Thobile Ntola, is being investigated by Saftu for corruption, and now faces a rebellion in the union’s ranks in Mpumalanga, North West, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.

The investigation was initiated after Salipswu provincial officials demanded an explanation from Ntola for the expenditure of the moneys between 2014 and 2016, before the public sector union held its first conference.

“There’s R600 000 that’s missing, and that is subscription money, the workers’ contribution. We are waiting to hear what is the final answer from Saftu as they are investigating,” Salipswu branch chairperson in the North West Thabo Kondile said this week.

Salipswu was established by Ntola in 2014, only a few months after he was expelled as president of the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) in May of that year for allegedly receiving monthly payments of up to R10 000 from one of the union’s service providers.

Nearly four years later Salipswu held its first national conference in Johannesburg last month,
where Ntola was elected general secretary after serving as interim chairperson.

Now Salipswu’s interim provincial leaders between 2014 and 2018 have produced a report that shows how tens of thousands of rands in workers’ subscription fees were allegedly stolen in a two-year period.

Mpumalanga Salipswu coordinator Ntsiki Hayward confirmed the case against Ntola, criticising Saftu for its lack of action on the matter.

READ MORE: Can fledgling Saftu unite the left?

“We were expecting that action three months back. But instead of them taking action against him, Ntola was elevated to the position of general secretary.”

A Salipswu leader in KwaZulu-Natal who has supported the investigation also claimed that the decision was being purposefully delayed to protect Ntola.

The alleged corruption was reported to parent body Saftu after the Salipswu interim leadership meeting and before the conference refused to take action against Ntola, Hayward said.

The report details invoices for a purchase of R300 000 at Game Stores and R50 000 spent on hotels from the union’s official credit card over the two-year period.

While fighting his expulsion from Sadtu, Ntola claimed he was being targeted over his support of the then freshly ousted Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

On Monday Vavi and Salipswu officials met in Johannesburg to discuss Ntola’s fate, but were unable to agree on what action should be taken next.

For Kondile, the failure to deal with Ntola swiftly only reminds him of Cosatu, he said.

“We came to Salipswu and Saftu because they have this rhetoric that they are not going to tolerate corruption. So we are now expecting very harsh action against that person found guilty of misusing workers’ money,” he said.

Vavi confirmed the investigation is still ongoing and said: “At this stage we are not in a position to … confirm if indeed there was misuse of funds.”

But he said Saftu would not hesitate to take action against its own if they are found guilty.

“Saftu will act without fear or favour should it be established that any money from workers has been embezzled … Saftu is committed to fight against corruption within its ranks … and this is a commitment we will not betray,” Vavi said.

Ntola did not respond to requests to comment on the allegations.

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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