26 May 2023
The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) has learned with agitation of a letter of suspension that was issued to the Union’s Shopsteward at Tolokologo Local Municipality in the Free State Province. Our member and Shopsteward are being victimised following his execution of a mandate from workers that a criminal case be opened against the Mr. Caswell Tlhokwe, the Acting Municipal Manager of Tokologo Local Municipality.
Under the leadership of Mr. Tlhokwe, who is the accounting officer at the municipality, money intended for pension funds was deducted from municipal workers’ salaries for a period of 14 months, yet that money was never paid over to the pension fund. As SAMWU, we have always argued that deducting workers’ money and failing to pay it over to the intended recipient is a criminal offense that should be punishable. In terms of the Municipal Systems Act, accounting officers have the overall authority over the administration of a municipality, including the financial affairs of the municipality.
Many municipalities, especially in the Free State Province have been pickpocketing workers with impunity for a long time. On the 27th March this year, acting on behalf of the Union and its members, the Shopsteward opened a case of fraud against Mr. Tlhokwe at the Hertzogville SAPS under CAS55/3/2023. We are as a Union, in full support of the mandate from workers given to their Shopstewards to open criminal cases against municipal managers who defrauded them.
As we speak, workers have already received letters from their pension funds informing them that their pensions are in arrears as a result of the irresponsible, reckless, and criminal actions of the Municipal Manager. Of great concern to us is that Mr. Tlhokwe is a Board member of one of the pension funds which he, through his actions has defrauded, along with members of the pension fund. To us, Mr. Tlhokwe is not acting in the best interest of the pension fund members, as a Board member, he was supposed to be the one raising the red flag that workers’ contributions are not being received by the pension fund.
As a Union, we view the decision by the Acting Municipal Manager as nothing but an intimidation tactic to silence the union and its leaders in exposing the rot, fraud, and corruption in the municipality. We will however not be silent when individuals such as Mr. Tlhokwe are harassing and intimidating workers into silence, seeking to tame the Union into their lapdogs. The primary focus of the union is the well-being of workers, including ensuring that their monies are in safe hands. We will therefore not allow individuals who are acting on borrowed power to harass and victimise workers who are raising issues of genuine concern. In case Mr. Tlhokwe is not aware, fraud is a serious criminal offense in the country. We will therefore, as a union not be complicit in the defrauding of workers.
As SAMWU, we therefore, demand the immediate and unconditional uplifting of this malicious suspension aimed at protecting Mr. Tlhokwe from facing the wrath of the law and the justice system. The Municipal Manager is the one that should be facing disciplinary processes for having have allowed workers at the Tokologo Local Municipality to be defrauded for over 14 months. We further demand that the 14 months’ arrears of workers’ pension be settled with immediate effect, along with the interest that would have accrued if these deductions were paid over to the pension funds.
We are pleased that the country’s elite crime-fighting unit, the Hawks, has recently prioritised the defrauding of municipal workers as we have seen in December 2022 with the arrest of Johnny Mackay, the former Municipal Manager of the Kai !Garib Local Municipality in the Northern Cape, who also defrauded municipal workers and pension funds.
The time for Municipal Managers to act with impunity in the province has come to an end. As a Union, we will always take accounting officers who deliberately defraud workers of their hard-earned money head-on. To this effect, we will as a union be writing to the Hawks to investigate the fraudulent actions of Mr. Tlhokwe. He, like many other accounting officers, should be held personally and criminally liable for their actions.
We further urge our members and Shopstewards to not allow themselves to be bullied into submission and silenced by municipalities. The issues which they are raising are in their interest and that of the members which they represent. As a Union, we are ready to use all avenues and resources at our disposal to defend all members who are being victimised for executing the mandate given to them, and importantly, those who blow the whistle on fraud and corruption in municipalities.
Issued by SAMWU Free State
(079 152 9638)
Deputy Provincial Secretary
(071 978 0310)
National Media Officer
(076 795 8670).