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Gungubele goes to court to block suspended public works DG Sam Vukela from returning to work

12 April 2022 - 17:13
Sam Vukela will not be returning to work yet.
Sam Vukela will not be returning to work yet.
Image: Supplied

After winning a two-year battle to have his suspension declared unlawful and lifted, public works director-general Sam Vukela will still not be returning to work. 

This despite his victory at the General Public Service Sector Bargaining Council (GPSSBC) last week, which ordered he return to work immediately. 

It ordered minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele and public works minister Patricia de Lille to lift the suspension after finding they committed unlawful labour practice by suspending him beyond the 60-day period prescribed in clause 2.7(2)(c) of the senior management service (SMS) handbook.

Gungubele on Tuesday indicated he would approach the labour court to challenge the ruling.

“The minister will be approaching the labour court to stay the implementation of the award pending the outcome of an application he will be launching to review and set aside the award,” said spokesperson Nonceba Mhlauli.  

“The reasons to review the award will be in the application which will be launched.”

In March 2020 President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose prerogative it is to hire and fire DGs, gave De Lille the go-ahead to take action against Vukela who was accused of awarding irregular contracts for state funerals, including that of struggle stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

In July the same year, Vukela was placed on precautionary suspension pending the finalisation of disciplinary proceedings against him.

Arbitrator at the bargaining council Katlholo Wabile found that Vukela’s suspension was unlawful and ordered he return to work on Monday.

“There is absolutely no fair reason for the continuation of the applicant’s suspension. If anything, the continuation of the suspension is arbitrary and egregious. It is appropriate, therefore, that the respondents lift the suspension and permit him to return to work. 

“It appears to me to be a reasonable time frame for the applicant to report to work at his normal workplace on Monday, at the time he normally assumes duties,” ruled Wabile. 

Less than two days before he was due to commence with duties, Vukela received correspondence from Gungubele’s office instructing him not to do so, according to his attorney Faheem Kaka. 

“He didn’t return to work on Monday. There was a communication that was sent to the attorney to say that he must consult his attorneys to assess his option. That is the position we are in right now, despite the fact that there is an award which they are seemingly not interested in,” said Kaka.   

“At this point, we’ve got a threat of an urgent application hanging over our heads should he decide to return to work.”

The public sector council noted a “lack of fairness in the overall conduct of the respondents”. 

“In the final analysis, and for all the aforegoing reasons, I find that the applicant has discharged the onus to prove that the respondents committed an unfair labour practice in their conduct of extending his suspension beyond the 60-day period prescribed in the clause 2.7(2)(c) of the SMS handbook,” said Wabile. 

Advocate Andrew Redding, acting on behalf of Gungubele and De Lille, also failed to lead evidence in the proceedings, said Wabile.   

Vukela's attorney added that Gungubele's intentions to challenge the award were unfortunate. 

“It seems like the minister doesn’t want him to come back in the face of the ruling. Mr Vukela is now assessing his options. It is a pity because in this country, we follow the rule of law and Mr Vukela was very patient through the process,” said Kaka.  

Vukela has a contentious relationship with the department, having being fired as acting DG and accounting officer in 2013 for the irregular leasing of office space for the police in Pretoria. That deal, and subsequent investigations, resulted in the removal of Bheki Cele as national police commissioner. Vukela was reinstated after a controversial arbitration award in 2017, and was given R2m in back pay, BusinessLIVE reported. 

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