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Guards idle at home while employer dithers on contracts

Past investigations pointed to financial irregularities at the Vaal University of Technology. Photo: Antoine de Ras

Past investigations pointed to financial irregularities at the Vaal University of Technology. Photo: Antoine de Ras

Published Nov 8, 2021


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Vaal University of Technology (VUT) has been accused of sabotaging the process of insourcing in order to continue with tendering security services.

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Past investigations pointed to financial irregularities at the Vaal University of Technology. Photo: Antoine de Ras

This was after VUT in 2016 entered into an agreement with labour unions and the Student Representative Council (SRC) to in-source security guards and cleaners.

Insourcing of guards became phase two of the project in 2016/17 and those who worked for Mafoko Security Patrols, which provided security at VUT at the time, were to be absorbed.

However, the workers are still waiting to this day.

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One of the officers, William Mofokeng, said they were sitting at home five years after VUT and labour unions entered into an agreement to in-source their service.

“About 400 people are sitting at home. This is sad. These people have actually stolen this project because about four companies were given contracts despite us filling the forms.

“We were told that we would be hired during phase two after cleaners were insourced. But this has never happened. And we don’t get clear answers when we ask what was happening,” said Mofokeng.

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Another officer, Ntandazo Mfundisi, who worked for Maduna Security, shared the same sentiments, saying he was disappointed with how VUT handled the matter.

“We waited and nothing happened until 19 March, 2019, when we were called to fill the forms of employment. We waited again, they said that they were still busy with uniforms and Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (Prisa) certificates and nothing happened.”

He said this was until they asked former student SRC president Troy Mathebula to intervene.

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“Because VUT had their task team to deal with the matter, we asked Mathebula to be our delegate and after that we were told that the varsity is done with our issue, and that everything will be handed to the human resources (HR) department. We were told that we must submit our list and HR will organise a meeting with us. We have been waiting until today and they did not say anything.”

Nehawu acting spokesperson Lwazi Nkolozi said: “Part of the reasons that the matter has taken this long can be attributed to many factors such as the university being placed under administration recently and also the finance of the institution.”

In December last year, Mathebula wrote to deputy minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Mohlopi Philemon Mapulane, who was the chairperson of the higher education portfolio committee, asking for his intervention to resolve the insourcing crisis.

In the letter, he said VUT entered into an agreement with the labour unions and the SRC to start a process of insourcing cleaners and security guards. He said the agreement was approved and signed by VUT’s former vice-chancellor Professor Irene Moutlana and Nehawu and National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), where insourcing of guards became phase two of the project in 2016/17.

However, he said it became clear that the process of insourcing was sabotaged in order to continue with tendering security services.

“Since the agreement was reached in 2016, the university has changed the security of the university to four service providers - Magic Security Services, SSG, Maduna and PhiriPhiri Security Services.”

He added: “All the appointments of these companies happened in a space of four years and the forensic findings to the appointments have worse things to say about these appointments, the chair won’t dwell much on the findings of the forensic investigation, that’s a matter on its own.”

He said in 2018, he received a call from security guards working for Maduna Protection Services, which was contracted by VUT at the time. The employees embarked on a strike about not having received their salaries.

Mathebula said he met with the guards, Maduna management and VUT management, and it was agreed that their salaries would be paid in a few days time, but they never received their salaries.

Mathebula said Maduna's contract was terminated and PhiriPhiri was appointed on an emergency contract. Mafoko and Maduna security guards were intended beneficiaries of insourcing.

“Most of the workers who took part in the strike were casualties and lost their jobs, most are still sitting at home.”

“Chairperson, we are writing to you because there has been a shift from the above agreement. I have attached a list of all the workers who were part of the strike, as proof that the current implementation of insourcing has diverted its mandate and people are employed based on proximity and relationships with protection personnel (managers with VUT). We have evidence of a worker bragging on how she secured a job through proximity,” the letter reads.

The letter further reads: “Chairperson, in the interest of rebuilding VUT under the theme ’change VUT’, we call for fairness, corrupt free process,” said Mathebula.

Mapulane referred questions to higher education portfolio committee secretary Anele Kabingesi, saying he should be having records “of our engagements with the university”.

Kabingesi also failed to respond, referring questions to chairperson Nompendulo Thobile Mkhatshwa, who said the committee noted that the correspondence from Mathebula was addressed to Mapulane.

“The committee’s first engagement with VUT took place on 7 February 2020 during its oversight visit to the university, where it met with the Administrator, Professor Rensburg, the university’s SRC and labour unions. Due to the nature of the issues that were raised in the committee’s first engagement with the university, the committee resolved to have follow-up engagements with the university.

“The engagements took place on 6 and 28 October 2020. The committee also undertook another follow-up oversight visit to VUT on 26 February 2021.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned engagements with the university and its stakeholders, the committee noted the complaints, especially from the workers’ representatives concerning the delays with the insourcing of protection services staff.

“During its last engagement with the university on 26 February 2021, the committee was informed that the insourcing of protection services staff was an ongoing process in line with the university’s approved budget,” said Mkhatshwa, adding that the committee commits itself to continue its robust oversight and engagements with the university to ensure that the commitments that the administrator made to stabilise the institution materialise, but also that the interests of all stakeholders are engaged and implemented.

However, VUT director for marketing and public relations Kediemetse Mokotsi said the first phase of insourcing of security guards commenced in 2020 after 57 security officers were insourced. She said these officials formed part of the supervisory and surveillance component.

“The second phase is set for 2022 where it is estimated that 210 security officers will be insourced, but this is highly dependent on the infrastructure that must be established. This number can therefore be reduced substantially," she said.

She said insourcing was meant to save money for the financially struggling varsity.

"The insourcing of staff is a budget driven process which makes provision for the acquisition of adequate infrastructure. It is common cause that universities in general, and VUT specifically, are experiencing financial constraints which must be carefully managed to ensure sustainability of the insourcing process.

“VUT had not escaped the adverse effect of Covid-19 and subsequent lockdown restrictions which had caused unforeseen delays and further financial challenges in the finalisation of the insourcing process,” said Mokotsi.

VUT, which is based in Vanderbijlpark in Emfuleni, has been plagued by allegations of corruption and mismanagement since it was established as a university of technology in 2004.

A 2006 commission of inquiry, a 2012 independent assessment, and numerous forensic audits have all pointed to major problems at the institution.

The 2020 report by a team of assessors appointed in May 2019 by former minister of science and technology Naledi Pandor warned that the university’s situation was worsening.

The assessors found multi-million rand projects, such as the varsity’s R32 million upgrade of student residences, peppered with irregularities. Some paid-for work on the residences was defective, other work had not been done at all.

They also found many irregular appointments, suspensions and people occupying acting positions - something they said paralysed the institution. The assessors also said Nehawu had crippled effective management and undermined good governance by being involved in, and believing itself entitled to, co-management of the institution.

The assessors also found that although the appointment of PhiriPhiri Protection Services met all the requirements of emergency procurement, the fact that a year later, they were still at the premises without the varsity having gone to tender, needs to be revisited.

They recommended that reviewing the business case (if available) for the insourcing of security services based on both the financial and management capabilities of VUT, and the commencement of a tender process as a matter of urgency to appoint a security company.

Sunday Independent