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Reinstated Ingonyama Trust managers hit with retrenchment notices

Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) chief executive officer Lucas Mkhwanazi and other top managers, who had been placed on de facto suspension earlier this year, will return to work on Monday after they were reinstated by the Commission for Conciliation, Arbitration and Mediation (CCMA).

But a number of staff members at the entity, including its chief financial officer, Amin Mia, who won the reinstatement order along with Mkhwanazi, have since been issued with notices of retrenchment by its chairperson, Jerome Ngwenya.

On June 30, Land Reform Minister Thoko Didiza, under whose ministry the entity falls, extended the ITB’s term of office, which had expired, by three months to allow for the process of selecting a new nine-member board. 

According to the section 189 notices, issued on Thursday, the retrenchments are, in part, a response to the withholding of R23-million by the department of land reform because of the ITB’s failure to submit its budget for 2020-2021 on time, along with its programmes for benefiting residents on ITB land.

The ITB takes in about R90-million a year in lease revenue and has been under pressure from Parliament to implement programmes to ensure that residents benefit from the money collected each year.

The ITB administers nearly three million hectares of tribal land in KwaZulu-Natal on behalf of King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, its sole trustee. It is embroiled in a legal battle with tenants of land under its control, backed by a number of nongovernmental organisations, and has come under fire from Parliament’s land reform portfolio committee, which wants it placed under administration.

Mkhwanazi, Mia and four other senior managers had been placed on special leave by Ngwenya earlier this year while an investigation was conducted into them over the extension of a security contract on a tract of ITB land in the Harding area. They contested the special leave in the CCMA and also successfully approached the labour court for intervention after Ngwenya withheld their salaries during the early part of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Last week the CCMA ruled that they be reinstated to their posts, with effect from Monday.

In terms of the agreement, they would return to work physically in a staggered fashion, with each requesting and receiving their laptops and work cell phones from Ngwenya, who would issue them with written work instructions from Monday. 

But on Thursday an unknown number of staff members, including at least one of the reinstated executives, were issued with notices in terms of Section 189 of the Labour Relations Act, informing them of rationalisation and cost cutting measures.

In terms of the notices, the prevailing economic conditions; the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic and the “implications” of the withholding of state funding, compounded by escalating costs and “inefficiencies and poor rental collection”, meant the entity had to take urgent cost cutting measures.

These included offering staff voluntary severance packages; restructuring the ITB’s structure; salary cuts and offering staff with compromised health early retirement. Other measures would include outsourcing certain functions; a review of contract positions and of supply chain management procedures and the ITB’s debt collection strategy.

According to the notices, any revenue lost as a result of “negligence, corruption or fraud by any individual” would be recovered from them during this process.

Employees were expected to inform their unions and meet management on July 23 because the ITB wanted to finalise the process by the end of August.

The acting chief executive officer of the ITB, Sandile Gabela, referred queries from Mail & Guardian to Ngwenya.

Ngwenya had not responded to emailed questions at the time of writing.

Didiza’s spokesperson, Reggie Ngcobo, said the board’s term of office had been temporarily extended by three months while the process of appointing a new board took place.

This included consultations with Zwelithini, who nominates the board chairperson, the premier of KwaZulu-Natal, the cooperative governance traditional affairs ministry and the house of traditional leaders.

Ngcobo referred queries about the reinstatements and retrenchments to the ITB.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.

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