Nehawu leaders are ‘betraying us’

A branch of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) has accused its national office of betraying workers after the union pulled out of a parliamentary process it had initiated. 

Last month Nehawu’s Western Cape provincial secretary Eric Kweleta presented allegations of maladministration and the flouting of recruitment processes by the administrator of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), Randall Carolissen, to the parliamentary portfolio committee on higher education. The union called for Carolissen to resign. 

But Nehawu twice withdrew from follow-up meetings with the portfolio committee, to the annoyance of the union’s branch at NSFAS.

The branch’s executive committee wrote to Nehawu’s national office on 16 November raising their displeasure with how the parliamentary process has been handled. 

“The withdrawal of the trade union from the parliamentary session was a betrayal of workers, betrayal of the rich tradition upon which Nehawu is built … In a time when workers needed their union the most, we deserted them and sided with a despotic and corrupt employer,” reads the correspondence.

On 30 October. The portfolio committee chairperson, Philemon Mapulane, told members that he had received a letter from Nehawu hours before the scheduled meeting saying the union’s national executive committee was attending another meeting. 

The letter stated that Nehawu’s national office bearers had had discussions with Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande regarding suspended employees at NSFAS and agreed that they would go back to work. It also said that a process of resolving other outstanding issues had started. 

In a statement, Mapulane said the committee was “extremely unhappy” that Nehawu had pulled out of the meeting at the last minute and that the union’s about-turn was “fishy and regrettable”. 

The committee postponed the meeting to 6 November. But again the union pulled out. This time Mapulane told the committee that he had received a letter from the union two days before the meeting. The union said it no longer wanted to be part of the parliamentary process because the issues were employer-employee-related, it was in discussions with the employer and they were finding a middle ground. 

But the branch wrote to the national office and disputed that employee issues had been resolved. 

“How do we take our members to parliament, and argue their case so passionately and not even have the decency to engage them or their branch leaders on the reasons for the withdrawal? The reasons for our withdrawal in the PCHET [portfolio committee on higher education and training] are a whole lot of hogwash, devoid of any sense of rationality and so out of touch with reality that they leave us to infer that the trade union is in bed with the employer,” the letter reads. 

The branch committee also said that Nehawu’s communication with the portfolio committee was laden with lies and accused the national office of deserting its members and sacrificing the integrity of the union. 

“The choruses have begun to ring too loud and too frequent[ly] that perhaps the time has come for workers at NSFAS to seek a new home,” the branch wrote.

By the time of publication Nehawu had not responded to questions sent by the Mail & Guardian.

Meanwhile, after the union’s last no-show, the portfolio committee suggested Nehawu should be subpoenaed to account for what they had brought before it.

Mapulane said the committee would not enter into a public spat with Nehawu, but he did say it was clear something was happening behind the scenes that led to Nehawu withdrawing from the process “at the expense of the employees” they represent. 

“But let us not enter that space, honourable members. It is the public that will judge what really is the reason. 

The M&G reported recently that NSFAS employees had told the parliamentary portfolio committee that their offices were bugged, positions were created for select people and that senior executives were made redundant. 

Carolissen has dismissed the allegations and has said he is ready for any inquiry to clear his name and reputation. 

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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