South Africa: Union Demands Suspension of Municipal Manager Accused of Sexual Harassment

Ekurhuleni municipality initially suspended the manager in June following an internal investigation into the complaint. He was allowed to return three months later

  • A City of Ekurhuleni senior manager has been accused of sexually harassing a woman in his department.
  • The City initially suspended the manager following recommendations from its investigation into the complaint.
  • But, without explanation to the woman employee, the manager was back at work just a few months after his suspension.
  • The municipality confirmed to GroundUp on Monday that the senior manager is back at work, despite an ongoing investigation into the allegations.

The Municipal Employee and Civil Servants Union (MECSU) is calling for the immediate suspension of a City of Ekurhuleni senior manager accused of sexually harassing a female employee.

MECSU has questioned the municipality’s ability to adequately deal with employees who are accused of serious allegations such as sexual harassment.

The City initially suspended the manager in June following recommendations from its investigation into the complaint. But, without explanation to the woman employee or the union, the manager was back at work in September.

Lefu Makhoba is accused of touching and making sexual advances on a woman only identified as Miss X. She said her ordeal began in October 2022 when Makhoba greeted her in the parking lot outside the Benoni labour relations offices. She claims that, without consent, he hugged her and kissed her neck while making unsettling comments.

“Before releasing me from his unwelcome embrace, he kissed my neck and told me that I looked beautiful. I felt violated and exploited by a senior manager of the department who is meant to be protecting the City of Ekurhuleni employees from the very behaviour that he was perpetuating towards me,” Miss X said in her statement to the City during an internal investigation into the allegation dated 11 May 2023.

Miss X said he then forcibly hugged her and made remarks to another male senior colleague about “stealing her away from her boyfriend”. She then submitted a complaint to the divisional head of labour relations, Xolani Nciza.

“I have been reluctant to report the occasions on which I have been sexually harassed by Mr Makhoba because I have been afraid of being victimised by him as my direct line supervisor and a senior manager, and afraid that my report may be destructive to the employment relationship,” she said.

She said she feels uncomfortable, afraid, and intimidated by the prospect of encountering Makhoba at work.

When GroundUp contacted Makhoba, he refused to comment and referred our questions to the municipality. “My employer should be able to say what is happening to me. I can’t talk about this issue as it is sub judice.”

Vukile Mlungwana, the secretary general of MECSU, emphasised the urgency of the matter, and that the impact on victims and the message that the municipality’s inaction would send to other victims.

“We are shocked that despite a cloud of serious allegations of sexual harassment hanging over his head, ironically, Makhoba will now facilitate sexual harassment workshops [to the Ekurhuleni police management] on the 3rd, 10th, and 17th of March 2023,” the union wrote in its formal complaint submitted to the municipality in February.

The union has not received a response from the municipality according to Mlungwana.

Despite this letter, Makhoba was allowed to conduct the workshops, but was suspended in June.

The internal disciplinary hearing report recommended Makhoba’s suspension until a competent tribunal could examine the allegations. But Makhoba was allowed to return to work before an investigation was completed or any tribunal issued a ruling.

City of Ekurhuleni spokesperson Zweli Dlamini on Monday told GroundUp that the matter was sub judice as the disciplinary hearing was still ongoing.

Asked if the municipality offered any support to the victim, Zweli said, “Unfortunately, the victim could not be reached to confirm if she did get any such help.”

Dlamini said the case had taken this long because a thorough investigation had to be undertaken to ensure “that no stone was left unturned”.

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