Suspended eThekwini electricity head and City appear before the bargaining council

Durban City hall is the headquarters of eThekwini Municipality. Photo archives.

Durban City hall is the headquarters of eThekwini Municipality. Photo archives.

Published Apr 3, 2024


Durban — The suspended head of eThekwini Electricity, Maxwell Mthembu and the City is challenging his suspension and will appear before the bargaining council, on Wednesday, to see whether the suspension could be reversed and allow him to return to work.

Mthembu, who was suspended a few weeks ago said that it was unlawful as he had not been given an opportunity to state why he should not be suspended.

He also argued that he was suspended while on official sick leave and, at the time of the announcement of the suspension in the media platforms, he had not received the letter of suspension. He vowed to fight it to the end.

Mthembu, who is affiliated to the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) lodged a complaint of unfair labour practice with the bargaining council.

Speaking to the Daily News, Mthembu confirmed that he would appear before the bargaining council, adding that this was the first phase which is called conciliation, and therefore he would appear without union representation.

Samwu's argument is also that Mthembu was suspended by the City Manager Musa Mbhele, who did not have the authority to suspend him. The union said the city manager also did not have the authority to suspend deputy city manager Sibusiso Makhanya, because the former was the latter’s immediate superior.

Mthembu is accused of disobeying the lawful instruction of the city manager to summarily dismiss workers who participated in an illegal strike.

On a second count, Mthembu is accused of allegedly giving misleading and contradictory information to one of the councillors that the strike was still ongoing, which contradicted the City’s media briefing stating the strike had been called off, which Mthembu denies.

According to the union, Mthembu had complied and served letters on the relevant employees as directed. He also denied telling any councillor the strike was ongoing, saying it was Samwu itself that had said this.

Mthembu’s suspension was also expected to pit Mbhele against mayor Mxolisi Kaunda, since it had emerged that the suspension followed a call by Kaunda to Mthembu in which the mayor had asked the electricity head to send workers to Inanda to restore the power there.

According to information obtained by the Daily News, at that time Kaunda called Mthembu and told him to assign workers to fix electricity faults in Inanda since the strike had ended.

Mthembu was said to have asked Kaunda for a letter confirming the end of the strike, as workers had stopped going to work because they were being intimidated and attacked. However, Kaunda tried to get a Samwu official to confirm the strike had ended. The official was said to have refused to confirm this over the phone, and an arrangement was made for him to meet Mthembu and his staff at the office, where the official told Mthembu that the strike was ongoing.

Mbhele allegedly called Mthembu and rebuked him for taking instructions from Kaunda. He then slapped him with a suspension on Thursday.

Last week, Samwu eThekwini secretary Xolani Dube confirmed that Kaunda had called Mthembu saying the strike had ended, and that he must therefore assign workers to restore the electricity. He also confirmed that Mbhele had called and rebuked Mthembu for taking instructions from Kaunda instead of him.

In response at the time, municipality spokesperson Gugu Sisilana said: “As a matter of principle, the City does not discuss employer-employee-related matters with a third party.

The City also refused to confirm the status of the strike: "The municipality has never declared a strike action. As such, the municipality cannot be expected to confirm the end of something it has never initiated.”

Last year, the Daily News reported an apparent plot by Mbhele to oust Mthembu. It is alleged a WhatsApp group was created that included the DA’s Thabani Mthethwa, then ActionSA caucus leader Dr Makhosi Khoza, the IFP’s Mdu Nkosi and ActionSA’s Zwakele Mncwango, in which Mthembu’s running of the electricity unit was discussed.

WhatsApp your views on this story to 071 485 7995.

Daily News