A whistleblower claims he was fired from his job after he allegedly alerted higher education director-general Gwebinkundla Qonde about allegations of corruption and maladministration.
Ernest Elefu, former assistant director for human resources at Lovedale technical and vocational education training (TVET) college in the Eastern Cape, which has campuses in King William’s Town, Zwelitsha and Alice, has claimed to City Press that Qonde did not protect him.
Elefu was dismissed in 2012, a year after he allegedly reported allegations that implicated senior officials at the college who were manipulating the payroll by paying themselves irregular allowances, which they did not deserve.
He is currently challenging his dismissal in the Bhisho High Court.
One of those who had been implicated by Elefu in a list he showed City Press of officials who allegedly received payments is currently the acting principal Juanita Verster.
This comes after City Press reported online last week that the college fired a state accountant, Nomphelo Magongoma, for channelling thousands of rands into her second bank account after manipulating the college’s payroll using the details of a colleague.
Read: Lovedale TVET staff member fired over money scandal
Neither Qonde nor his department’s spokesperson, Ishmael Mnisi, had responded to questions sent on July 23 or responded to texted messages.
Elefu said Magongoma had learnt this from senior officials at the college.
Verster would not respond specifically to questions relating to her but referred City Press to a college response.
The college said the department of higher education at the time appointed through a non-governmental organisation, Joint Education Trust, an investigative team led by Advocate Geraldine Dunn.
“The purpose of the investigation was to deal with a series of allegations submitted to the minister [of higher education] levelled at the then principal and management of Lovedale…to draft and present a report to the Joint Education Trust and the department,” the college said.
Their report led to the formulation of charges against Elefu, which led to his dismissal.
The college said Elefu was charged on December 5, 2011, for offences that were not related to allegations he raised with Qonde.
His charges included deliberately defying the instruction of a chairperson during a meeting, uttering discriminating remarks to the meeting with a racist undertone, threatening security of the college and property by attempting to secure services of a person to burn offices.
The college said it was also in the process of finalising the appointment of a forensic investigator to probe the extent of financial irregularities following the discovery of Magongoma’s matter.
But, Elefu dismissed the Joint Education Trust investigation, saying its report was not even presented to his union – the National Education, Health and Allied Worker’s Union (Nehawu).
City Press has seen the first email that Elefu allegedly sent to Qonde on September 14 2011.
In it, he wrote: “I work and live in Eastern Cape for one of your Further Education and Training colleges [now called TVETs]. I would like to blow the whistle around the administrative irregularities that I have witnessed, but has no power or a better platform to express this.”
In what seemed to be Qonde’s response on September 15 2011, he allegedly wrote: “Thank you for availing your assistance to us, I will call you for arrangements. Kind regards Gwebs.”
On November 2 2011 Elefu allegedly sent another email saying “I’m still waiting for your call as per the attached e-mail Meneer.”
On November 17 2011, Elefu allegedly sent another email. “This is my third email trying to draw a red herring across in terms of the mismanagement of state resources that is currently taking place at Lovedale … This matter was brought to the attention of both the Eastern Cape corruption unit and the head of the department [of education] but there has been no action.”
He continued: “Whistleblowers have been subjected to the worse conditions some were charged with cooked up [charges] and dismissed with no intervention from the department. I have personally requested a meeting with the chairperson of the council but this has all been fruitless. I humbly appeal for your intervention on this matter before it is too late. In fear of victimisation I wish this email is be kept confidential but my number … I can substantiate any of the claims I’ve made with evidence and prepared to present this if my safety is guaranteed,” the email reads.
He allegedly sent a follow-up email on December 6 2011, saying: “I am not sure as to what it will take for you to ‘just lend an ear’ to me even if you will not act on this matter.”
Then on February 28 2012, Elefu allegedly sent another email.
“It is for more than four times asking for your intervention at Lovedale college and I’m now suspended after I disclosed corruption and maladministration. You promised to return back to me and investigate this matter but what more should I do?”
After being fired in 2012, he sent a petition on November 15 that year, allegedly to Qonde and the parliamentary committee on higher education.
In that petition, Elefu said he had been subjected to “unparalleled occupational detriment of 17 charges of misconduct and three disciplinary hearings in only 11 months”.
He detailed in his petition that:
- An assistant director for finance siphoned R300 000 from the college since 2002 in the form of R4300 and R500 cellphone irregular monthly allowances; and
- An amount of more than R150 000 was irregularly paid as adjustment of salary to a secretary of the then principal since 2008.