In a bizarre twist of events at the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA), managers have turned against the acting chief executive officer after she suspended a senior manager who is alleged to have embezzled the agency’s funds.
One staffer, who had been booked off sick, was so intent on fighting the suspension that he arrived at a board meeting with breathing apparatus and an oxygen tank, to plead his case.
Vuyelwa Mdazana was suspended in February after allegations were made that for at least three years she had been “moonlighting” at Forte community radio station based at Fort Hare University in Alice.
MDDA is funded by the state through the department of communications and is tasked with funding community radio stations and newspapers.
Mdazana is listed as one of the two directors of Forte. The other director is well-known East London businessman Luthando Bara.
Forte is among the 10 community radio stations that were being funded by the MDDA. Mdazana, as acting projects manager at the entity, was responsible for identifying stations to receive funding. Forte had R1.4-million in funding approved by the MDDA following her recommendations.
Mdazana resigned as MDDA’s broadcast manager and acting projects manager after her suspension in February. This suspension has led to other managers revolting against the acting chief executive officer, Zukiswa Potye.
According to insiders, the managers have formed a group calling themselves MDDA Compatriots and are using social media platforms and Whatsapp groups to “Save the MDDA from the CEO and the board”.
The group has allegedly been led by the agency’s projects manager, Lindinkosi Ndibongo, who has been on sick leave for more than a year. Mdazana was acting as projects manager in his absence.
According to insiders, Ndibongo arrived at a board meeting on February 28, carrying an oxygen tank connected to tubes in his nose, to protest against Mdazana’s suspension.
He also objected to the board’s decision to have managers present their project-funding proposals to the chief executive officer and the chief financial officer.
“The board stood by the CEO and called a meeting in which they announced that as a result of the Vuyelwa [Mdazana] suspension, the managers will now present their projects to the CEO and CFO. The two will then present to the board.”
According to an insider, the managers were livid and Ndibongoexploded during the board meeting and shouted and threatened board members saying: “I survived 10 boards, 10 ministers and several CEOs and you will not survive this.”
He had to be restrained several times by his colleagues, the insider said. The MDDA Compatriots have already written a letter of complaint to the minister of communications, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.
Potye has opened a case of corruption and fraud against Mdazana at the Hillbrow police station.
A report by MDDA’s legal and compliance division, seen by the Mail & Guardian, was delivered to the board on February 22. It finds that there was a conflict of interest by Mdazana and suggests that fraud charges be pursued against her.
According to a report presented to the board, Mdazana resigned as the station manager at Forte when she joined MDDA but she remained as director and sole signatory for the struggling community radio station’s two bank accounts.
Disgruntled workers blew the whistle on Mdazana in January when they wrote to the MDDA asking for help because they had not received their stipends since October 2018.
“We are writing this letter to acknowledge that former station manager Mrs Vuyelwa Mdazana is still hands-on, on the daily operations of the station, regardless of the fact that she is the project manager at MDDA,” read the letter that was signed by staff at the radio station.
Arguing why she should not be suspended, Mdazana claimed she was not involved in the running of the station, because she was based in Johannesburg, and that she had requested that the station’s board remove her as a signatory to its bank accounts.
“I submit that all payments received by myself from Forte Radio Station, were for the benefit of the station not my personal benefit …The salaries I have paid from the station’s bank account were on the basis of a board mandate that required that I continue assisting the station with the release of funds from the station’s bank accounts, until such time that a replacement signatory was appointed,” said Mdazana. The report shows that, over a period of three to four months, Mdazana had received more than R230 000 from the station’s bank account. This was despite the station being unable to meet its business obligations, including paying staff.
Mdazana and Ndibongo had not responded to requests for comment at the time of going to print.