‘Hands off Vukela’: Union backs Nkandla-linked DG
Nehawu asks Ramaphosa to step in and prevent the removal of Public Works boss
Trade union Nehawu is fighting tooth and nail to keep controversial Public Works director-general Sam Vukela in his job, despite minister Thulas Nxesi making it clear he does not want a “liar” on his team.
The National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) has asked President Cyril Ramaphosa to stop Nxesi from removing Vukela, who is linked to the Nkandla upgrade scandal and the police office leasing scandal in Pretoria involving businessman Roux Shabangu.
Nxesi wrote to Ramaphosa in August, asking him to “redeploy” Vukela because he was “insubordinate and a liar”.
Nxesi said Vukela had defied him on a range of issues, including the submission of reports to parliament.
“It is therefore my conclusion that I will not be able to achieve any progress with the same DG and have lost trust in him,” the letter reads.
But now Nehawu has stepped into the fray, saying Nxesi had treated Vukela unfairly and that he was being harassed.
Vukela told Times Select he could not comment on the Nehawu letter to Ramaphosa. “I heard rumours about it, but I haven’t seen it and I was never consulted by the union,” he said.
Asked about Nxesi wanting him out, he replied: “I will only respond when time permits and when I’ve been engaged about the letter. For now, we will allow the process to take its course as this matter is with the Office of the President.”
In the letter, addressed to Ramaphosa, deputy president David Mabuza and Minister in the Presidency Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Nehawu chairperson Themba Gumede said workers demanded that Nxesi “immediately stop his continuous harassment and propaganda” of Vukela.
“Advocate Sam Vukela was subjected to an unfair disciplinary hearing and dismissed by Minister Nxesi in 2012 on allegation of misconduct. The minister and his DDGs are currently looting state resources and are hell-bent on fighting Vukela as he has become a stumble block to the looters,” said Themba Gumede, Nehawu chairperson at Public Works’ national offices.
Gumede said Vukela suffered for misconduct committed by other people. “The minister continues to harass him ... ” he said in the letter.
Questions were sent to presidential spokesperson Khusela Sangoni-Diko, but she was unable to respond by the time of publication.
However, in a response to Nehawu, seen by Times Select, the director of support services in the presidency, Michael Louw, told the union the matter had been brought to the attention of the president.
Vukela was fired in 2013 when it was found he had acted negligently by facilitating a multimillion-rand business deal with property mogul Shabangu, departing from standard tender processes. The tender was supposed to have been advertised. After an internal probe by the department, Nxesi emphasised that action should be taken against any person found to have violated the department’s procedures and policies. Vukela was later dismissed by the department.
He fought his dismissal and won a number of arbitration awards, after which he was reinstated to his position by minister Nathi Nhleko. Last year, Vukela returned to the department.
This all started when the police approached Public Works for office space ahead of the 2010 World Cup. Only two floors were needed, but the police entered into a lease agreement which resulted in the government paying more than R2.8m a month in rent for 17 floors of the Middestad building in Pretoria.
Bheki Cele was also involved in the leasing of Durban's Transnet building to house the police.
Former public protector Thuli Madonsela found that Cele, who was then police commissioner, was complicit in “maladministration” and “unlawful conduct” for driving the R1.1bn Durban police accommodation deal.
In her report, Madonsela quoted from a letter addressed to the DG of Public Works in June 2010 by a Colonel Meiring, on behalf of the divisional commissioner at the SAPS: “The National Commissioner of the SAPS has identified the Transnet building in Smith Street to be leased as alternative accommodation for the Provincial Commissioner of KZN. Kindly forward the approved norm document and cost analysis this office and issue a Procurement Instruction to your Regional Office as a matter of urgency. Please note that funding will be confirmed in due course.”
The building was owned by Shabangu.
Cele was specifically singled out as having signed the lease agreements for both buildings and having a questionable relationship with the preferred service provider (Shabangu).
Madonsela said at the time: “Urgent steps to ensure that the appropriate action is instituted against all the relevant officials of the SAPS that acted in contravention of the law, policy and other prescripts in respect of the procurement processes referred to in this report.”
Cele was removed. When Nxesi was again appointed back into the department, he wanted Vukela out as he “could not work with him” as he signed for his removal in 2013.
Nxesi served as minister of public works from October 2011, a year after the SAPS and Nkandla scandals were exposed. He was reappointed in May 2014, until March 2017. He has been appointed again to the department by President Ramaphosa.
Vukela also featured in the Nkandla “security upgrades” debacle. He and two other former directors-general, Solomon Malebye and Siviwe Dongwana, were to face criminal charges relating to financial misconduct after the cost of the upgrades ballooned to more than R200m.
Upgrades to Nkandla were initially estimated to cost R60m. Vukela was accused of signing documents that led to the inflated cost.
Nxesi could not be reached for comment. His spokesman, Sabelo Mali, acknowledged receipt of questions from Times Select, but at the time of publication there had been no response from him.