Power struggles, victimisation and harassment allegations have rocked a state agency with the mandate to promote media development and diversity. City Press has learnt that current and previous senior executives are at loggerheads at the Media, Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA).
This comes amid two grievances lodged by former project manager for print and digital Lindinkosi Ndibongo and monitoring and evaluation manager Thembelihle Sibeko at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). Both cases are still pending.
Both had previously acted as COO and CEO, respectively, from 2015 to 2017.
Ndibongo’s complaints relate to his dismissal and his medical boarding which he says was unfair while Sibeko alleges she was overlooked for a post. Sibeko is still employed by the MDDA.
However, in October last year the CCMA ruled in Ndibongo’s favour after he asked that his unfair labour practice case be adjudicated even though the 90-day period had expired. That matter is now in arbitration. The agency has spent more than R1.2 million defending the cases at the CCMA.
In a statement, the board said it would await the outcome of both matt
‘We’re being victimised’
Ndibongo told City Press there was a deliberate and orchestrated effort used, through current CEO Zukiswa Potye, to get rid of them.So as a result, I got sick from 2017 and left the hospital towards 2018. When I arrived at work in 2019, the victimisation continued. Potye wanted bodyguards in July 2019, saying she was scared of being killed by me. I was on oxygen support [in hospital]. How can a disabled person, who is on life support, be a threat?
Ndibongo said he, Sibeko and others pushed for forensic audits under the previous boards and executives in 2013. In 2014, a forensic probe found irregularities in the MDDA.
He claimed his alleged victimisation started when Potye arrived in 2018, initially as acting CEO. “She dealt directly with people she knew were not wanted [by previous boards and executives]. We were demoted [from our acting positions]. Both of us got sick.”
He claimed his leave days were deducted. “I was sick for the better part of 2018.”
He also claimed he was denied his 20-day long service award despite having worked at the agency for more than 10 years. He was then advised by a provident fund broker that he was entitled to a life time income protector, an insurance benefit for sick employees, which covers salaries.
“When it kicked in, they said it’s medical boarding. They illegally medically boarded me from July 2019 up to March 2020,” he said.
Ndibongo said he told the board that he was being victimised but nothing was done.
He even wrote to Jackson Mthembu, the late minister in the presidency, who referred him back to the MDDA. Before he was medically boarded, Ndibongo said he earned R60 000 a month, which was reduced to R30 000 paid through the insurance cover.
In March 2020, he returned to work and continued to challenge the decision to medically board him.
In January last year, he could not return to the office because he was high risk for Covid-19: “My illness is called pulmonary fibrosis. My lungs have scars. If you know Covid-19 symptoms I live with them everyday. I’ve shortness of breath.
“As I continue to push them to compensate me for the eight months they placed me on an illegal medical boarding, they fabricated charges of insubordination because they are running away from my claim.”
He was suspended last April and then fired in August last year.
Ndibongo said he appealed to the board but was told to go to the CCMA.
‘They want me out’
Potye said Ndibongo and Sibeko had a right to go to the CCMA.
“At the MDDA there are no holy cows. Even the CEO gets put through [such] processes and I think the only difference is that we don’t run to the newspapers when we are put through those processes,” Potye said.
She said she had not worked closely with Ndibongo to have an acrimonious relationship with him. “I’ve been at the MMDA for three years. Ndibongo has been on sick leave for 23 months during that time. It’s not someone I interacted with intensely and it’s not someone I’ve met before.
“So I don’t hold any hard feelings against Ndibongo because I don’t know him. He has been making those allegations of victimisation and harassment by me. In fact, he made those in the first month he came back from the 17-months sick leave. I wasn’t sure about their basis. Then what followed was a litany of grievances.
“I think I had three grievances from Ndibongo. One of them was that I didn’t approve his 10th year anniversary leave, but he was on leave. Basically, I want you to get the context of the type of people we are dealing with here. No matter what I’ve done and what I do, Ndibongo will always find fault with me,” Potye said.
She said she didn’t know Sibeko before as well. Both had acted in top positions but they continued to submit grievances against her to former communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.
“There were numerous complaints about me to Ndabeni-Abrahams. I said to the board these people had never even given me a chance to be their CEO. But, it is not personal because ask yourself, why did I become the ninth CEO in four years? In 2017 alone, the MDDA had six acting CEOs, including the one who left a five-year contract in a month. Ask yourself why?
“That’s the situation the new executive found itself in … I deal with accusations of victimisation and harassment almost monthly as if I must actually close my eyes on the lawlessness and anarchy that I found in the organisation. It cannot be that, when you are an accounting officer you must not allow the anarchy and lawlessness that Ndibongo and Thembelihle want … to run the organisation with such impunity.”
She said cleaning up governance issues in the project environment was the bone of contention. “Most of the CEOs who left, when speaking with them, they say ‘if you like your life you will run from that place because you gonna die. If you look at that project’s environment, you will see that’s where the problem is.’
“When I did not exit the organisation and instead I applied and got the fixed-term contract of five years from January 1 2020, they got very disappointed and so the fight continued. It’s continuing right now. There’s nothing they would love to see than me leaving the organisation. But, what I like is that even if I leave under any circumstances, I will leave a stable organisation than what I found because policies are in place,” Potye said.
She said she had updated policies, something that had allegedly not been done since 2009.More than 60 policies were reviewed in 2019. I’m talking about people that were in position of power – Ndibongo and Sibeko – who had policies that were not updated. They actually didn’t see a need to have a grant funding policy for 15 years. And when I introduced it I’m committing a crime.
Sibeko declined to comment. But a source close to her said she never wanted Potye to leave. “In fact, she supported the CEO.”