Human settlements minister Kubayi ‘unlawfully’ sacked deputy director after being stuck in lift for an hour

Labour court orders reinstatement of Nelly Letsholonyane

05 June 2023 - 12:30 By TIMESLIVE
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Human settlements minister Mmamoloko Kubayi. File photo.
Human settlements minister Mmamoloko Kubayi. File photo.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

Human settlements minister Mmamoloko Kubayi has been ordered by the labour court to immediately reinstate the deputy director of corporate services who was unlawfully dismissed because the minister got stuck in an elevator for just over an hour. 

Kubayi posted on a WhatsApp group on March 14 that she was stuck in an elevator and informed the responsible person had already left work. 

Deputy director of corporate services Nelly Letsholonyane, responding to the message, immediately contacted the acting director of facilities and security and advised her to contact the elevator company — which dispatched a technician to the building. Letsholonyane communicated with other relevant people in a bid to resolve the situation. 

Letsholonyane was summoned to the minister’s office at 7.30am the next day and, according to a ruling by the Johannesburg labour court last month, “issued with a letter of intention to dismiss for her alleged gross negligence”, that threatened the lives of employees. The letter said misconduct emanated from the incident in which the minister and others were “trapped in a lift for a period of more than one hour”. 

She was accused of failing to ensure the building and elevators were properly maintained and timeously respond to the minister’s entrapment. 

Letsholonyane denied the alleged misconduct. On April 3 she was given an ultimatum by the minister — be dismissed, face a disciplinary hearing with suspension or take early retirement. She opted, under protest, for the retirement option.

Several days later she was phoned by the minister, informed of her dismissal and told to expect a dismissal letter. The letter, dated April 20, read: “I have considered the serious nature of your gross dishonesty, the gross misconduct or gross negligence which could have result (sic) in a loss of lives, your failure and lack of convincing explanation in your letters of response and/or your avoidance to furnish reasons why you should not be summarily dismissed. 

“You are therefore dismissed with immediate effect from your employment with the department of human settlements as deputy-director general: corporate services.”

The labour court judgment reads: “The applicant has argued that the minister acted as the victim or complainant, witness, initiator and referee. Having presided over a matter where she was the complainant and witness, and an initiator leading the department’s case, the minister decided that the applicant was guilty of the allegations of misconduct and imposed a sanction of dismissal. This is not acceptable. 

“The minister’s conduct was unlawful. Such conduct should not be condoned by courts of law. This court cannot and should not turn a blind [eye] to the injustice and lawlessness. The impact that such decisions have on the employees is unimaginable. Accordingly, the applicant has made out a case for declaratory relief.” 

The dismissal was declared to be in breach of the contract of employment, the minister was prohibited from summarily dismissing Letsholonyane without following proper procedure and ordered to pay costs.

The court ordered Letsholonyane be reinstated. 

Kubayi responded to media reports on the judgment with a statement on Monday to “clarify” that Letsholonyane had been “undergoing various disciplinary processes, including those that precede the arrival of minister Kubayi at the department of human settlements”.

“The minister firmly believes that Ms Letsholonyane was presented with several allegations of misconduct and afforded an opportunity to make a written representation as to why she should not be dismissed. The minister considered the representation and found the explanation to be insufficient.”

Kubayi maintained that Letsholonyane “was not unfairly dismissed for the ‘lift incident’.”


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