Mon, 22 Oct 2018
28
Havana

(This story was held back because it seemed to be repeating an error which City Press sent out a correction for with regard to VBS' loan to Samwu. Please see the link to City Press' story on Fin where the correction was made.)

The South African Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu) appears to be spiralling even further into financial trouble.

Not only is it failing to pay rent and keep the telephone lines open, but its website is down because the organisation has failed to pay Rhesus Media Group.

News24 approached the owner of the media company who declined to comment on the matter.

"I cannot tell you how much they owe or when the site went down," said the man who refused to be identified.

Upon landing on www.samwu.org.za, a message pops up informing users that the site has been suspended because of non-payment.

Landline phones rang unanswered when calls were made to the Johannesburg office.

R11.8m mortgage deal

According to City Press, VBS Mutual Bank lent out large sums of money to its own directors, municipal officials and Samwu to finance a building the union already owned.

At least five of VBS' senior executives received mortgage loans running into millions of rands between 2015 and last year.

The October 2017 mortgage deal worth R11.8m, which VBS signed for the Samwu headquarters in Johannesburg, is now shrouded in mystery.

This week, Samwu denied that it ever mortgaged its headquarters, Samwu House in Marshalltown, Johannesburg, with VBS last year.

It instead claimed that it owned the building outright and had since 2007.

Samwu's former Gauteng chairperson Nkhetheni Muthavhi said there were two factions within the union and that it had been so since 2016.

Mismanagement of funds

The factions had taken each other to court with each claiming to be the legitimate structure.

Muthavhi said the trouble began in December 2015 when a central committee meeting ordered an investigation after it was discovered that money had been squandered.

Muthavhi said in January 2016, several members of the committee were removed and replaced.

"Samwu members in all nine provinces who asked for the forensic investigation were purged."

Muthavhi said there had been gross mismanagement of funds.

"There has been overspending. Three weeks ago they were in Cuba and then they went to the United States. They have exhausted all the funds and went to VBS to get a loan to rescue the organisation."

Declining membership

He said if the court ruled in favour of the current leadership, all those who had allegedly been benefitting from the organisation's purse must be held accountable.

"The organisation is in a state of paralysis. It is worrying that as an employee, I go to the website and there is nothing there.

"If we do not stop them, there will be no organisation."

In 2015 the union's membership sat at 160 000. It currently has 110 000 members.

"The website has not been paid for and a range of other things, including the telephone lines, rent, have not been paid and shop steward allowances have not been paid. It is a really big concern."

Muthavhi said: "If you thought state capture was bad. The unions are captured. Workers are not being serviced. All I can say is that the future of the organisation is in the hands of the judges.

"If the judge rules in their favour then the organisation is gone."

He said the matter was heard in the Labour Appeal Court on February 27 and a judgment had not yet been made.

'Everyone wants to lead'

One of Samwu's Gauteng provincial leaders, who asked not to be identified, denied that there were two factions and that that was the centre of the court case. He said those who were expelled wanted their positions back.

"There is only one organisation. One group was expelled and they are challenging their expulsion in court."

He admitted that the organisation was not in a healthy financial state.

"Whether we are in denial about it or not, the organisation is not healthy. We took incorrect decisions and we made bad financial decisions. We made more people permanent employees and large chunks of the money went to paying lawyers.

Financially, "we are sitting at a negative".

The man said: "The future of Samwu is still intact, as long as the organisation deals with the leadership issue. Everyone wants to lead, that is the problem."

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