‘White wife’ jibe back­fires

FNB axes four ANC-sup­port­ing em­ploy­ees over e-mail rants

The Sunday Independent - - FRONT PAGE - STEVEN MO TALE

ANEGATIVE com­ment about DA leader Mmusi Maimane on What­sApp is among the many po­lit­i­cal com­ments that led to the sacking of four young FNB ANC-sup­port­ing em­ploy­ees.

Siph­e­sihle Jele, Si­mon Masim­ula, Sipho Coke and Xolani Nkosi, who were em­ployed as premium bankers at FNB in Inanda, Sand­ton, were fired for “po­lit­i­cal talk and us­ing in­sult­ing lan­guage” af­ter the bank mon­i­tored their busi­ness e-mails and What­sApp group con­ver­sa­tions for sev­eral months last year.

In one of the e-mails an­other em­ployee, Linda Ma­haye, said: “I’m shocked Mmusi Maimane’s wife is white,” to which Jele re­sponded: “White voice, white party, white wife, very soon he will be a Michael Jack­son and bleach his skin.”

In his re­sponse to an e-mail from Masim­ula, Jele wrote: “If we don’t want white peo­ple to look down at us, we then should stop the no­tion that ev­ery­thing white is beau­ti­ful.

“Luck or any­thing good and ev­ery­thing black is as­so­ci­ated with ug­li­ness, black sheep, etc, cos (sic) that sim­ply means if you’re al­most white then al­most beau­ti­ful and if you’re darker then you’re far from be­ing beau­ti­ful.”

Jele was also ac­cused of in­cit­ing fel­low em­ploy­ees af­ter he for­warded a What­sApp mes­sage stat­ing: “Lead­ers, as we wake up even on a Satur­day and go­ing to slav­ery, let us also not for­get that a black em­ployee can­not af­ford to buy a house, can­not af­ford to buy a car and also can­not af­ford to pro­vide ba­sic com­modi­ties for his/ her fam­ily. Lead­ers, it is upon us to fight for equal­ity and to trans­form that un­trans­formed FNB. Lead­ers, it is also true that the time is now.”

An­other e-mail that landed Jele in hot wa­ter was his re­sponse to a col­league, Sbu­siso Nyembe, in which he wrote: “The im­pe­ri­al­ists are the ones we should be us­ing our en­ergy and re­sources cos (sic) they are milk­ing our coun­try and con­ti­nent and they are not re­morse­ful about that. They bru­tally ru­ined our land, killing them, our fore­fa­thers, and they are still not re­morse­ful about that. In­stead they want us to think they are men­tally su­pe­rior.”

These com­ments saw Jele and his three col­leagues be­ing ac­cused by the bank of “mak­ing (a) racially-based and mo­ti­vated state­ment which is gen­er­alised, which con­sti­tutes dis­crim­i­na­tory slo­gan­ism and which is racist and big­oted in na­ture”.

They were sub­se­quently slapped with 10 charges in­clud­ing “gross mis­con­duct and breach of your duty of good faith to­wards the bank”. The four were also ac­cused of caus­ing “an ir­re­triev­able break­down of the trust and work­ing re­la­tion­ships be­tween your­self and the bank, to the ex­tent that the bank and its man­agers no longer be­lieve that they can ex­er­cise con­fi­dence in you to ex­er­cise your du­ties as a premier banker or in any other ca­pac­ity at the bank”.

In re­sponse to e-mailed ques­tions on the mat­ter, FNB spokesper­son Shamala Mood­ley said the bank “re­spects ev­ery em­ployee’s con­sti­tu­tional right to pri­vacy and free­dom of as­so­ci­a­tion”. She con­firmed the four em­ploy­ees were dis­missed “fol­low­ing a thor­ough and vig­or­ous in­ter­nal dis­ci­plinary and Com­mis­sion for Con­cil­i­a­tion, Me­di­a­tion and Ar­bi­tra­tion process”.

Mood­ley said the bank con­sid­ered the mat­ter closed. How­ever, the em­ploy­ees be­lieved their dis­missal was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

Jele, 30, said he and his col­leagues would still have been em­ployed by FNB if, in their in­ter­cepted con­ver­sa­tions, they had said some­thing neg­a­tive about the ANC or Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma.

Jele said his “un­fair” dis­missal made it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for him to find a new job. “Life has be­come a liv­ing night­mare for me. I can’t pro­vide for my three daugh­ters and my fam­ily back home in KwaZulu-Natal.

“I paid a heavy price for ex­er­cis­ing my con­sti­tu­tion­ally guar­an­teed right to freely ex­press my­self… I doubt we would have been dis­missed if we had heaped praise on Mmusi Maimane and the DA.

“Our dis­missal was also racially mo­ti­vated be­cause we had a griev­ance against a se­nior white col­league who was vic­tim­is­ing us as we were ad­vo­cates of trans­for­ma­tion within the bank,” claimed Jele.

“Clearly, that did not go down well with the bank man­age­ment, which started, with­out alert­ing us, mon­i­tor­ing our e-mails, an act which was a gross vi­o­la­tion of our pri­vacy.”

Masim­ula, 36, also said he was the bread­win­ner and it would be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to take care of his three chil­dren and his fam­ily.

“I was also tak­ing care of my par­ents and ex­tended fam­ily. Our rep­u­ta­tion has been se­ri­ously dam­aged and has made it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for us to get new jobs.

“I have been sub­mit­ting sev­eral job ap­pli­ca­tions and haven’t re­ceived a sin­gle call,” he added.

Masim­ula called on em­ploy­ers not to pu­n­ish their staff for freely ex­press­ing them­selves on is­sues they felt strongly about.

“What we found strange, once dis­ci­plinary pro­cesses started, was that our em­ployer started beef­ing up se­cu­rity.

“How do you un­leash armed se­cu­rity guards on young em­ploy­ees who are pri­vately ex­press­ing them­selves on e-mail and so­cial me­dia?” Masim­ula asked.

PIC­TURE: DAVID RITCHIE

TAR­GETED: DA leader Mmusi Maimane was the butt of jeers among FNB em­ploy­ees in e-mails as his wife, Natalie, is white.

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