Joburg Mayor Dr. Phalatse Denies Racism, Dares Union Over Court Action

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The Johannesburg Multi-Party Government (MPG) on Tuesday said it has “noted reckless and baseless statements” made by unions and political parties that seek to distract the public from the facts surrounding the “illegal contract conversion” of senior City of Johannesburg personnel attached to political offices.  

Earlier Tuesday, the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) accused the Democratic Alliance (DA)-led coalition running the City Of Johannesburg of racism, saying all the employees it wants to let go are all black.

Responding to the accusation, Johannesburg Mayor Dr. Mpho Phalatse said: “We are not dealing with a political or labour matter but one of compliance with the law that was flouted when the former Mayoral Committee adopted a report, without Council’s approval, to convert the fixed-term contracts of senior staff attached to political offices.”  

Rejecting accusations of racism, the mayor who is a member of the DA said: “There is no ‘political witch hunt’ targeting a particular group of people. At no point has political affiliation or ideology played a role in this process.

“Frankly, who City employees vote for or associate with politically is irrelevant, even in a political office.

“In the face of deliberate mistruths being peddled, the City and Multi-Party Government have stuck to the factual and legal parameters of this matter with the aim of it reaching its natural conclusion. “

The mayor said her DA-led COJ was backed by legal opinion and the law.

“The City and the Multi-Government are confident that we are acting lawfully to reverse an unlawful act,” said Dr. Phalatse.

She said at a projected cost of at least R80-million per annum, it would not only be costly for the City to turn a blind-eye to the irregular employment of 130 (and growing) staff.

The mayor said turning a blind eye would be a violation of both the Municipal Systems Act and the Municipal Finance Management Act; laws both the Council and its employees are bound by.

“To add further, the continued irregular employment of the political staff cripples the ability of the new administration to hire staff who share the same values as the government of the day, which will have far-reaching implications for good governance and service delivery objectives as mandated by the electoral outcome,” said Dr. Phalatse.

“None of the staff who have been served with notices to regularise (return their contract to their original form) their employment are part of the City’s administrative functions.

“Instead, they were appointed and contracted at a senior level to serve political offices linked to the term of office of the elected politician they were attached to.

“It is incorrect to state that staff are being dismissed, fired, or having their contracts terminated. Their contracts have been regularised and their contracts will run their course, coming to an end at the end of April 2022.”

Dr. Phalatse said it was accepted and prudent practice that staff serving in political offices are employed on a fixed-term basis linked to the term office they are attached to.

“This will be confirmed by a COGTA regulation, which will come into effect in the middle of this year,” said the mayor.

On complaints raised by affected staff about being served notices by armed K9 members, Dr. Phalatse said, “JMPD security officers who served the notices of regularisation did so with respect and without aggression”.

She added: “Despite allegations of intimidation, we have not received any formal complaints, on the contrary, 61 employees refused to cooperate with the security officials of JMPD and sign for and accept their notices of regularisation.

The mayor said on Friday, the City received correspondence from SAMWU and legal representatives of the 130 staff “begging our indulgence” as they consulted their members and clients.

“As such, the acting city manager in consultation with the City’s legal department, decided to suspend the delivery of outstanding notices until Wednesday, 9 March 2022, given the emotional nature of this matter,” said Dr. Phalatse.

“We, therefore, find it curious and disingenuous of SAMWU to choose to ‘outline the course of action that will be taken’ through a media briefing rather than through the established and functional channel they used to seek and receive compassion from the City and the Multi-Party Government.

“It is worth questioning why the lawful decision of the Council and Multi-Party Government is being challenged politically and in the media but not before the courts of law as it is generally the practice.

“We must question why those who are confident that the decision was unlawful are not prepared to place any facts before the Council itself and the courts of our land?”

The mayor also asked: “If the former Mayoral Committee acted lawfully and above-board, why was the report not brought to Council; why was the City’s Legal Department not a signatory to the report; and why was no legal opinion sought, all of which are standard practices?

“These questions will be answered by the Council-sanctioned investigation into this matter.

“Realising their looming electoral misfortunes, the former Mayoral Committee engineered a scheme to permanently capture the City’s political offices with no regard for the monetary and personal cost; and the adverse effect it would have on service delivery.”