News24.com | Samwu leaders accused of leaving members in the dark about finances

While the South African Municipal Workers‘ Union (Samwu) denies that its financial woes have deepened, sources claim that regions are beginning to pay the price for the union‘s bleeding purse.

Samwu members working at the union‘s JHI Building on 87 Elston Avenue in Benoni told News24 that the building was not being serviced. They say the telephone lines are down, and rent and the internet line have not been paid for.

Sources have also claimed that lawyers representing members countrywide have begun to withdraw from cases due to non-payment.

Samwu has denied both these claims.

Last week News24 learnt that the situation was similar at other buildings where telephone lines were not working and rent was overdue. The union‘s website was also offline – also apparently due to non-payment.

Samwu president Pule Molalenyane responded to the allegations during a media briefing last Thursday.

Phone bill paid after News24 report

“The telephone lines are working, we do not know where News24 got that and that the union is about to fall. We can do a media tour now and you will see that everything is operational and members are being serviced,” he said.

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A senior Samwu leader, however, told News24 that it was difficult to work at the union‘s Benoni office.

“The telephone lines are down and the internet has not been paid for as well. We basically cannot work and all of this has been reported to the finance department but nothing has happened.”

The man said the national leadership was not telling the truth to its members and the nation about the status of the union‘s finances.

“We would not come here and tell you lies. I am told that the provincial telephones were only paid last week after the News24 report.”

Another source, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation, said: “They are not telling us the reasons why they have not paid, but we know that there is no money.”

Withdrawals

The man said the situation was so dire that members were unable to hold meetings because there were no funds.

Meanwhile, other sources feared that they might lose legal cases because some lawyers have begun withdrawing from their matters due to alleged non-payment.

Although the two legal firms declined to comment on the matter, News24 is in possession of two letters in which Mkize Attorneys and MGM Incorporated have both informed the trade union that if outstanding fees are not paid, services will be withdrawn.

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The first letter addressed to Samwu, from Mkize Attorneys, in a matter involving Khanyisile Shongwe and 45 others and the City of Johannesburg, informs Samwu that the firm can no longer represent the union in its next matter if it did not pay up.

“As you may already know that the above matter has been set down for June 6, 2018, at the Labour Court in Johannesburg for the hearing of the review application.

“It goes without saying that one needs to prepare for a matter before going to court…however, we are unable to begin with the preparations for the matter as we have not been paid for work which we previously rendered to you.”

Recovery of fees

The lawyers requested payment on or before May 18, 2018.

“Failing which we will withdraw as attorneys of record in this matter and we shall proceed with recovery of our fees.”

When ed, Mkize Attorneys refused to comment on the matter and refused to confirm whether the document, which had a signature, was indeed authentic.

Another law firm, Madlela Gwebu Mashamba (MGM) Attorneys, wrote a letter to Samwu addressing five points.

The firm told Samwu that from May 14, MGM Incorporated would be withdrawing as attorneys of record in all the matters they had been handling for the union, with immediate effect.

“During the course of this week, we are going to notify all the parties of our withdrawal as attorneys of record and shall file the notices of withdrawal as attorneys of record in all the matters before any tribunal (Labour Court, Bargaining Council and internal disciplinary hearings).

Millions owed

“We are in the process of reconciling all the outstanding fees and shall deliver a letter of demand for payment of our fees in due course. We are, however, amenable to enter into a discussion to enter into some arrangement regarding payment of the outstanding fees.”

The firm thanked Samwu for giving it the opportunity and trusting it with matters on behalf of its members.

When ed, MGM Incorporated‘s Jabulane Gwebu said: “I hope you will appreciate the fact that I cannot discuss or comment on any communication between our firm and Samwu.”

Gwebu said: “I am sorry that I cannot comment on your inquiries.”  

One of the union‘s regions noted that the province was experiencing challenges in terms of members being legally represented in matters in the Labour Court and the High Court due to non-payment of lawyers. While the region is known to News24, its location has been protected as members fear backlash.

“All the law firms that were appointed by the union have since withdrawn their services owing to the outstanding payments which amounted to millions of rands.

Denials

“This has compromised cases of members who are paying every month but don‘t get any service at those levels,” the region said in a statement.

The region said it had established a competent legal team comprising full-time shop stewards, stewards and organisers to represent members at the labour and high courts.

Samwu general secretary Simon Mathe denied that the Benoni building was not being serviced.

“It is not true,” said Mathe.

When News24 put it to him that several sources working in the building had claimed it was not being serviced, he accused News24 of having an agenda.

“I think you and your sources are after a particular agenda. Your sources cannot be members of Samwu.”

Commitment to make payment

Mathe accused News24 of having lost objectivity.

Regarding the outstanding lawyers‘ fees, Mathe said they would be paid any day from Tuesday.

“I am supposed to meet Mkize to discuss the case. The matter started back in 2013 and he represents 45 of our members. There is no lawyer that has withdrawn their services.”

Mathe said he found out last week that some lawyers intended withdrawing due to non-payment.

“I made a commitment that we will make payment.

“This matter started in 2013, I do not know why we have inherited all of this nonsense.”

On MGM Incorporated, Mathe said: “We are paying Gwebu on a monthly basis. I have never seen a letter saying they are withdrawing from representing our members due to non-payment.

“It is not true that lawyers have withdrawn countrywide. There are those who have terminated because of poor services,” said Mathe.   

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