Robben Island Museum in 'crisis mode' with 50% salary cuts looming

15 April 2021 - 06:00
Robben Island, where former president Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in jail. Stock photo.
Robben Island, where former president Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in jail. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/mdmworks

The Robben Island Museum is in the midst of a financial crisis, which it once again is blaming on the effects of Covid-19 on the tourism sector rather than on mismanagement of funds.

This comes as the museum's 233 staff brace for 50% salary cuts from June.

The museum has been embroiled in a scandal after damning findings in two forensic probes, almost two and a half years after former political prisoners delivered a whistle-blower report.

In a statement on Wednesday, the museum's head of marketing and tourism, Siphuxolo Mazwi, said the prolonged economic onslaught of Covid-19 had pushed the organisation into financial crisis mode.

“Museum management is now considering various business rationalisation options, with effect from June this year until such time that there is a resumption of normal business at the museum. This includes cutting staff salaries by 50% with equally reduced working hours across the board and/or invoking section 189 of the Labour Relations Act for operational reasons,” said Mazwi.

Section 189 is the process that governs retrenchments.

Mazwi said museum employees had been informed of the situation through a process of internal engagement, wherein options are being discussed.

The Sunday Times reported that the financial troubles at the museum went way beyond Covid-19 and were linked to irregularities listed in a forensic investigation by chartered accountants Morar Incorporated, which recommended disciplinary action against museum CEO Mava Dada for breach of contract.

Despite the findings, Dada remains in his R2.4m-a-year job, while “disciplinary processes are under way”.

Mazwi denounced claims that RIM was showing signs of decay after several media reports published pictures of dilapidated buildings on the island.

“The narrative that the buildings on the island are in ruins is completely devoid of truth as there is a maintenance plan in place. The photographs of damaged buildings circulating on social media platforms relate to storm damage in October last year and were taken during a site inspection and briefing with contractors who were called to assist with the repair and maintenance of the damaged structures,” she said.

She said the museum had developed a “built-environment conservation manual” which guided built heritage conservation projects on the island and ensured compliance with all regulatory bodies and legislation.

“Such circulation demonstrates ill intentions by potential service providers or members of the public. Repair works are under way to 60 structures in compliance with conservation and safety protocols relating to handling asbestos materials,” said Mazwi.

She said the managers of the World Heritage Site had been 100% transparent about the investigation into mismanagement, and while disciplinary processes were under way, could not speculate on the outcome.

“Once the disciplinary processes and/or related legal processes are concluded, the outcome thereof, as well as an executive summary of the report, will be made available to the public,” she said.

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