DID AYANDA DLODLO TRY TO ‘sex pest’?
The minister requested the transfer to her department of Icasa CEO who was facing suspension over allegations of sexual harassment
Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo allegedly tried to save a “comrade” from facing serious charges, including sexual harassment. In a bizarre request, on July 3, Dlodlo wrote to the council of broadcasting regulator the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), requesting that its chief executive officer (CEO) Pakamile Pongwana be seconded to head her department, which had been without a director-general for some time. The request, viewed as suspicious by sources, came on the day that the board was to deliberate on its decision to suspend Pongwana. He had been informed five days earlier that he faced suspension.
Two legal opinions drafted in June found enough grounds for the board to charge him and subject him to a disciplinary hearing. The reports, in part, found that: . Pongwana should be subjected to a hearing and charged with sexual harassment for having allegedly abused his authority as CEO “by squeezing his subordinate’s buttocks and having passed comments and/or innuendos of a sexual nature to a fellow employee”; and
. He displayed gross insolence and insubordination, which are dismissible offences as they constitute misconduct. This related to the “disrespectful, condescending and aggressive” manner he treated Icasa council members.
Pongwana said he was not aware of the allegations against him nor was he aware of Dlodlo’s request for his transfer. However, City Press understands that he has since proposed a separation settlement with Icasa, demanding that he be paid for the remainder of his contract, which runs until September next year.
Dlodlo’s office claimed that the minister had not known about the board’s intention to suspend Pongwana and its decision to subject him to a hearing when she sent the letter on July 3.
The alleged sexual harassment happened on March 28 during the regulator’s annual general meeting in Durban where employee disputes over salaries were being discussed at a hotel foyer. The female colleague explained that she needed the money as she was a single parent, to which Pongwana allegedly responded that “women do not need anything, ufak’ induku [you have sex with her]”. He then allegedly “squeezed her buttocks and attempted to kiss her in full view of her colleagues”.
The June 26 legal report concluded that his conduct “constitutes sexual harassment and he acted in a manner that has the effect of bringing the good name and reputation of the company into disrepute”.
Another report, days earlier, had found that Pongwana was insubordinate in his “flat refusal to furnish details of his international travels for the 2014/15 and 2105/16 financial years as requested by then minister Faith Muthambi in a letter dated March 21 which specifically stated submission by the end of the same month”.
City Press was told that a whistle-blower had spilled the beans on the alleged sexual escapades of Pongwana and a co-worker that took place during trips that were mostly paid for by Icasa between 2014 and 2016. The trips included a cruise off the coast of East Africa in Zanzibar. There were also allegations that Pongwana suspended a union representative three days after she blew the whistle on the alleged sexual harassment to Icasa’s council. Documents in City Press’ possession show that Icasa intended to discipline the representative for “making false statements about the CEO”. She was also charged for her role in last year’s strike at the regulator.
Pongwana said: “I’m prepared to subject myself to the disciplinary process. I prefer that I do not deal with the media in this regard as this affects my professional life, and family.”
Dlodlo’s office said: “The minister was not informed about the board’s intention to suspend Pongwana despite the fact that she is the executive authority for Icasa.”
The minister’s office told City Press on Friday that there had been no further correspondence with Icasa since it responded to her letter on July 5, informing her of the possible suspension. It added that she had not pursued the issue of Pongwana’s transfer to her department further as she “understands that disciplinary processes must take their course without hindrance or interference”.
In her motivation to Icasa’s council, which was also sent to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, Dlodlo wrote that the secondment was “in view of the urgency of deliverables in the broadcasting digital migration project and other key policy initiatives”.
The department has been without a director-general since 2014 and Dlodlo said that this had a negative impact on the department’s ability to carry out its mandate.
“Mr Pongwana will serve as acting director-general of the department of communications with immediate effect for a period of three months or until a permanent director-general has been appointed,” reads her letter.
The two are said to have a close relationship dating back to their days in exile. But Dlodlo’s office said this did not influence the minister’s decision. “The minister has relationships with many people in the public and private sector who she met in exile, especially former Umkhonto weSizwe veterans. However, the minister maintains professional relations with these individuals in her capacity as the minister. As such, the minister considers professional competence at all times when she makes decisions that impact on the work of the ministry,” said acting spokesperson Philiswa Sebati.
Sources told City Press that the reason the letter was also sent to Ramaphosa, who is head of the ANC’s deployment committee and head of government business, was to bulldoze the board into seconding Pongwana’s transfer. But Dlodlo’s office denied that there was any malicious intent and said the letter was sent to Ramaphosa in his capacity as leader of government business.
In the proposed settlement negotiation, Pongwana’s lawyers told Icasa’s council that he should be paid all the money due to him, as he believed this was “an amicable resolution to the disputes”. “Accordingly, our client proposes that in order to maintain stability, he resigns from his position and he be paid the remainder of his contractual period together with all statutory benefits due to him,” a lawyer’s proposal, dated July 21, reads. The letter has prompted the postponement of a planned disciplinary hearing on Friday, while Icasa’s council decides on the next step. Icasa chairperson Rubben Mohlaloga refused to talk about the case against Pongwana, saying the regulator “treats all its internal disciplinary processes confidentially”. “The organisation is functioning in accordance with its mandate with an executive that is competent,” he said when asked how this affected the regulator. Chief operating officer Willington Ngwepe is the acting CEO until disciplinary processes against Pongwana are finalised.