South Africa | UPDATE | Ndabeni-Abrahams gives post office board member the boot

Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has fired SA Post Office (Sapo) board member Colleen Makhubele who accused the minister of abusing her powers and acting unconstitutionally.

An insider said a meeting was called by Ndabeni-Abrahams on Friday after she received a letter from acting board chairperson Catharina van der Sandt asking for guidance after Makhubele went on a tirade during a meeting with the Communications Workers Union (CWU)

The insider said the board agreed to remove Makhubele. 

Ndabeni-Abrahams' spokesperson, Mish Molakeng, told News24 Makhubele was removed.

"The decision was taken after the meeting heard from all board members regarding the conduct of Makhubele. 

"The matters disclosed by the board are confidential, but we can confirm that they were serious and concerning. Makhubele was not present at the meeting, and voluntarily deprived herself the opportunity to make representations and be heard on the matter."

Makhubele responded to the matter in a lawyer's letter on Friday evening, saying that they acknowledged that she was asked to prepare representations to the board and in the presence of the Minister in anticipation of the Special General Board Meeting (SGM).

"We do not dispute the Board’s power to call for the Minister’s intervention. Nor do we dispute that it is well within the Minister’s power to call for an SGM, in justifiable circumstances," the letter read.

However, they argued that the SGM was not the right platform in terms of the Companies Act. 

"In these circumstances, we submit that the SGM is not the correct platform for what our client is called to do by the Minister and, obliquely by the Board. The Board and the Minister’s reliance on the contemplated sections of legislation above is, with respect, spurious and incorrect," her lawyers said.

"As such, our client will not be in attendance at the SGM until such time that she is called to a correctly constituted platform, with adequate notice – the minimum being 14 days prior."

READ | Post office board chair threatens Ndabeni-Abrahams with legal action over ‘abuse of power’

Molakeng said the department and Sapo would make a joint statement in due course.

In a letter, dated 6 October, Van Der Sandt wrote Makhubele had undermined the delegated powers and authority of the incoming acting chief executive officer with the unions by stating repeatedly she did not support specific Sapo turnaround initiatives.

She accused the former chairperson of tarnishing the image of executives, placed in doubt the integrity of the board to the unions, tarnished Ndabeni-Abrahams' image and created the impression she was the only person in Sapo who was truthful and cared about workers' interests.

According to Van Der Sandt, Makhubele stood up during a meeting with the CWU and accused Ndabeni-Abrahams of not supporting some post office initiatives like the improvement of security and cash initiatives such as the Cashless ATM System, and that the shareholder was not in line with what Sapo wanted to do.

Some of the accusations included:

  • Acting CEO Reneilwe Langa, in her previous role at the department, had written to her countering the Cashless ATMs, which were meant to save costs on security.
  • A strategic turnaround plan had raised R1.8 billion for pre-funding, R500 million that was raised for operations, and there was also R700 million that was raised by Grindrod, but these agreements were sitting with the department.
  • Proof this matter was discussed, even the Grindrod matter with the department, National Treasury and even the other funding, but this was not prioritised and the focus was put on Postbank.
  • A fight between Sapo and Postbank as the relationship cannot benefit Postbank with only 260 people versus 18 000 of Sapo and the post office cannot sell its birth right to Postbank for a bowl of soup.
  • There was no reason why Postbank could not fund Sapo without holding a gun to its head, and then requested the union's assistance in this matter. 
  • The costs of the R350 grants were draining Sapo, and workers were now being assaulted, infrastructure broken and there was chaos on the ground. 
  • There was fraud in the Blue Label matter and a case had been opened regarding transactions between Blue Label and Postbank and this had negatively impacted Sapo.
  • Writing back, Ndabeni-Abrahams called for a special general meeting to ascertain whether it was appropriate Makhubele should be retained or removed as a director of Sapo. 

The minister said it was clear she had acted in a manner "lacking in honesty, fairness, transparency, accountability and responsibility towards her fellow board members".

Ndabeni-Abrahams added Makhubele was intent on "sowing disharmony" between the board and unions "if not between the board and the employees themselves, to the prejudice of Sapo".

"Her actions on the day were in bad faith and for a purpose that was in all likelihood improper and not in the best interest of Sapo.

"She appeared to lack an understanding of the significance of her position as a senior member of a board of a state-owned entity of significant economic relevance to the country, and faced with unique and potentially incurable financial challenges.

"She was not remorseful for her actions and, when confronted, refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing," Ndabeni-Abrahams said. 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect Makhubele's comment.

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