Denel’s suspended CEO heads to court to keep job

Suspended CEO of a Denel subsidiary, Sello Ntsihlele, has applied to the Labour Court for an urgent interdict to stop the state utility from taking disciplinary action against him for making a protected disclosure.

The head of Denel Dynamics also demands that the utility be prevented from firing him, and that the company should pay his application costs.

In his defence, Ntsihlele saying the arrival of Riaz Saloojee at Denel – earmarked to be the chief restructuring officer but without the board’s knowledge – marked the start of his troubles.

Saloojee was on mission to sell Denel’s assets, but Ntsihele blocked the moves as he believed the transactions were a giveaway.

The company is opposing Ntsihlele’s assertion and on Wednesday filed an opposition notice.

In his court application, Ntsihlele told the court the dispute should be resolved through an external dispute resolution process, rather than through the state arms manufacturing company’s own internal process.

The disciplinary hearing chair Tebogo Mancha in his ruling on May 2 supported Ntsihlele’s submission, confirming that Denel’s disciplinary hearing against Ntsihlele was an “occupational detriment”.

In August 2022, Ntsihlele allegedly declared and lodged four grievances.

Instead of attending to his grievance, Ntsihlele alleges that he was subjected to various “detriments”, including his suspension, and the institution of disciplinary proceedings against him. The state utility denies Ntsihlele’s grievances were not addressed, adding that his suspension and disciplinary proceedings were related to grievances levelled against him.

The company lists two law firms contracted to investigate the complaints, arguing that except where Ntsihlele refused to cooperate, some findings were presented to Denel.

Ntsihlele was suspended on November 18 last year for insubordination, allegedly for failing to perform his CEO duties.

Without determining their veracity, Mancha said Ntsihlele’s grievances constituted disclosures.

However, he acknowledged he had no authority to compel Denel to refer the matter to an external dispute resolution process.

The utility informed Ntsihlele on Friday that the matter would not be referred, and the hearing would resume on May 29.

On Tuesday, Ntsihlele approached the court for an interdict, requesting the matter be referred to a dispute resolution institution.

Ntsihele refers in his affidavit to the “mysterious arrival at Denel” of Saloojee in May 2022. A turf war soon broke out between Ntsihlele and Saloojee, with Ntsihlele alleging that Saloojee was engaging suppliers and potential suppliers of Denel Dynamics directly and was also issuing instructions to his subordinates without his knowledge, effectively usurping the CEO’s and board’s authorities.

“Even if he was engaged as chief restructuring officer, it is unclear on what basis he would get involved with Denel’s suppliers and potential suppliers,” said Ntsihlele.

Ntsihlele said he would not entertain Saloojee until his mandate and authority were clarified.

The situation reached a boiling point when he received “unlawful instructions”, including “the sale of valuable state-owned assets at less than fair value, which was not in the taxpayers’ interests”.

But during a meeting with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan on August 18 last year, utility chairperson Gloria Serobe instructed that Saloojee be given “unfettered access” to the company.

“Gordhan, who chaired the meeting, went on to say that employees could complete resignation forms and leave the company if they did not agree with his approaches to restructure the company.”

He said that Gordhan had previously attacked him verbally, saying: “Sello must leave the company and allow us to run the business and cannot continue to draw a salary and continue to behave like this.”

“I viewed Gordhan’s statements regarding me as intimidatory,” said Ntsihlele.

To read more political news and views, click here.

Follow @SundayWorldZA on Twitter and @sundayworldza on Instagram, or like our Facebook Page, Sunday World, by clicking here for the latest breaking news in South Africa.

Latest News