CEO digs in on Robben Island
Apartheid prison warders prided themselves on keeping their inmates trapped on Robben Island. Forty years later, island staff have the opposite problem: they can’t get their boss to leave.
Despite damning findings in two forensic probes, Robben Island Museum (RIM) CEO Mava Dada remains in his R2.4m-a-year job two and a half years after former political prisoners delivered a whistleblower report.
Now museum staff face 50% salary cuts while the government sits on findings of irregular expenditure and misconduct.
Staff anger over a perceived cover-up reached boiling point this week with ex-political prisoners and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) demanding Dada be suspended.
Island revenue has all but dried up due to the lockdown. Figures presented to parliament last year revealed the island is no longer financially viable and operations were slated to shut down last October.
Staff claim financial troubles go way beyond Covid-19 and are also linked to irregularities listed in a forensic investigation by chartered accountants Morar Incorporated, which recommended disciplinary action against Dada for breach of contract.
The report, seen by the Sunday Times, found that Dada was irregularly appointed in 2016, did private work without permission and undertook multiple unexplained “work” trips to the Eastern Cape. The island’s recruitment process under Dada’s watch was also questioned after allegations of several irregular appointments.
Last month, museum chair Khensani Maluleke said a second “final” report “sustains a prima facie case for disciplinary steps”, though he did not name anybody involved.
This week a Sunday Times source said the CEO’s contract was renewed despite the cloud hanging over him. RIM management last year assured parliament that no personnel would be retrenched, but last week staff were given just days to indicate their willingness to accept the 50% salary cut or face possible retrenchment.
The proposed cuts follow the irregular purchase of a R90m island ferry from Singapore, also highlighted in the Morar report. A senior staff member racked up a bill of more than R500,000 in Singapore during the consulting period.
Nehawu Western Cape secretary Baxolise Mali said: “We are highly suspicious that there is a cover-up … Our view is that some of those implicated are receiving political protection for one reason or the other.
“Dada and several other senior executives should have all been placed on precautionary suspension as implicated people.”
A staff member who did not want to be named said the salary cut was potentially catastrophic. “The island has been run like a personal fiefdom, so there is no surprise that the funds ran dry,” he said.
“But it is not staff on ground level who are responsible but the very people who are calling for salary cuts. At a 50% salary cut, most of our staff below the 40 age group will lose their accommodation and houses.”
Ex-Political Prisoners Association secretary Mpho Masemola said the salary cut plan is “invalid and unconstitutional”, and called for the suspension of managers named in the forensic reports “so that they don’t interfere with the process and witnesses”.
RIM declined to answer questions about salaries and referred the Sunday Times to the latest annual report. Head of marketing and tourism Siphuxolo Mazwi did not clarify whether Dada faced disciplinary action but confirmed “disciplinary processes” are under way. “Once the disciplinary processes and/or related legal processes are concluded, the outcome thereof, as well as an executive summary of the report, will be made available to the public,” he said.
Mazwi said a 50% salary cut is one of various business rationalisation options in response to the Covid-19 lockdown, which has “pushed the organisation into crisis mode financially”.
The arts & culture department, which oversees the museum, did not respond to questions. Dada referred queries to the museum.