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No end to Fawu’s factional fight

The tit-for-tat factional battle for control of the Food and Allied Workers Union has taken yet another twist, with Fawu suspending its deputy general secretary, Moleko Phakedi, on Tuesday, hours after he was reinstated by the labour court.

The union’s national office bearers immediately placed Phakedi, who is also the deputy general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), on suspension with full pay, pending an investigation into his alleged violation of Fawu’s constitution.

In response, Phakedi’s faction has convened its own, parallel meeting of the union’s national officer bearers and has called on union staff and members to “ignore” the rival grouping, which, it claims, is acting with no mandate.

Fawu’s president, Atwell Nazo, said in a letter to Phakedi on Tuesday that, although the court had ruled that he had been unlawfully dismissed, he was now being suspended.

Nazo said Phakedi had violated Fawu’s constitution by “conducting yourself in a manner which intentionally causes division”.

Nazo said Phakedi had acted “with no authority” when he issued letters of suspension to himself (Nazo) and deputy general secretary Mayoyo Mngomezulu, and had continued to violate Fawu’s disciplinary codes in doing so.

In October, Fawu stopped Phakedi’s salary and stripped him of his powers, arguing that his secondment to Saftu prevented him from occupying the post of deputy general secretary. Fawu, which is an affiliate of Sadtu, also argued that the agreement that it paid him while he worked for Saftu had expired and that Fawu was no longer compelled to fund his salary.

Nazo instructed Phakedi to hand over all union resources and make himself available to participate in the investigation. The investigation would “establish whether there are grounds for disciplinary action”, which could result in Phakedi being dismissed from Fawu.

Fawu had previously dismissed Phakedi, who was then reinstated by the labour court. It then stripped him of his powers and stopped his pay, and went to the court seeking an order confirming this. But, in its judgment on Tuesday, the labour court in Johannesburg dismissed Fawu’s application and instead issued a declaratory order confirming Phakedi as an employee of the union.

It also ruled that Fawu should allow him all of his contractual rights as an employee.

In its judgment, the court said the matter was “one of those union cases involving union factions which play themselves out in the courts”.

“Clearly, by launching this application on such feeble grounds, the applicant was trying its luck. However, in the process of trying, they have put a man without a salary to enormous expense. In my view, this application was frivolous and vexatious,” the judgment read.

The fight between the faction led by Phakedi and former general secretary Katishi Masemola, who is also challenging his dismissal from the union, and a grouping led by Nazo and Mngomezulu, has brought the union to its knees.

It narrowly escaped being deregistered as a trade union last year because of delays in submitting its financial statements to the registrar — a delay caused by fighting between the two groupings,which began with the launch of Saftu in 2017.

The fight has resulted in Masemola, Phakedi and their supporters, including KwaZulu-Natal secretary August Mbhele and Eastern Cape secretary Mthunzi Madondo, being dismissed.

Masemola, who had acted as chief executive of Fawu’s investment arm, Basebenzi Investment Group, for nearly a decade, was fired for misconduct over a R19.2-million write-off and for allegedly using an additional R20-million of union funds to cover its operating expenses without authorisation.

But Masemola has denied wrongdoing and has challenged his dismissal at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, as have Mbhele and Madondo.

Masemola said the Nazo-Mayoyo faction was trying to get rid of Phakedi, who was elected at the
2016 Fawu congress, so that they would “run the affairs of Fawu
with no authority of congress mandate”.

Masemola said neither Nazo nor Mayoyo had mandates from the union and urged Fawu members and staff to “ignore” them.

He said their four “frivolous” attempts to bring court action against Phakedi had failed and that the court had ruled that should they make another application, they should pay for it from their own pockets.

Phakedi, he said, would be convening a meeting of the union’s national office bearers in due course to look at how to rebuild Fawu.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.

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