Acting Judge President and law firm accused of intimidating ex-SABC employee

Labour Court Acting Judge President Edwin Molahlehi and law firm Werksmans have been accused of victimising a former SABC senior employee. Picture: JSC

Labour Court Acting Judge President Edwin Molahlehi and law firm Werksmans have been accused of victimising a former SABC senior employee. Picture: JSC

Published Feb 25, 2024


LABOUR Court acting Judge President Edwin Molahlehi and law firm Werksmans have been accused of victimising a former SABC senior employee.

The former employee’s legal team, Machaba Attorneys, accused Molahlehi of colluding with Werksmans and the SABC to intimidate the former employee.

This was after the court ruled in favour of the former employee – who cannot be named at this point – against the SABC in 2019.

The former employee, who was responsible for commercial enterprises, was dismissed for alleged misconduct in December 2018.

However, she challenged the decision at the Labour Court, stating that her dismissal was unlawful and illegal, and should be set aside.

She said her dismissal was also part of the SABC’s purging of employees appointed by its controversial former chief operations officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

The court ruled in her favour and ordered the SABC and Werksmans to pay costs.

The public broadcaster then challenged the ruling at the Labour Appeal Court and the matter was again dismissed with costs in November 2020. The Labour Appeal Court also upheld the court a ‘’quo’s costs’’ order (only in respect of the SABC).

In a complaint letter filed on February 9, 2024, Machaba Attorneys said after the former employee served the SABC with a notice of intention to tax the bill of costs, which amounted to R433 332.55, there had been a flurry of intimidation lawsuits against her and the legal representatives.

Molahlehi said the matter was initially placed on an urgent roll before the judge who agreed between the parties an order of the court.

He said one of the parties then complained to him about how the judge had dealt with the process of making the settlement agreement an order of the court.

“The matter was again placed on the urgent court roll, which was to serve before the same judge while the complaint was still pending.

“The AJP (Acting Judge President) resolved that, in the circumstances, it would be inappropriate to have the same judge hear the matter pending the finalisation of the complaint.

“The AJP accordingly directed that the matter be removed from the roll and be allocated to the following week’s urgent court roll before a different judge,” he said.

SABC spokesperson Mmone Seapolelo said the merits and demerits of this matter were articulated in the court papers filed in court.

“We further have a judgment in favour of the SABC which is self-explanatory. We therefore cannot provide more input beyond what is contained in the court papers and the judgment,” Seapolelo said.

Questions were also sent Werkmans who did not respond.

According to Machaba Attorneys, it all started when the SABC alleged that the former employee owed them, and sued her, for a sum of R620 239.79. The lawyers said the employee did not owe such an amount to the public broadcaster.

The attorneys said she then requested that they hold execution in abeyance until the lawsuit had been finalised between SABC, Werksmans and herself.

Machaba said this was communicated and after they were given the nod to proceed with the writ and execution of the attachment of SABC property, the broadcaster lodged a review application to set aside the proceedings.

Machaba said the matter was served on December 23, 2023, but it was postponed to January 4, 2024, after the SABC elected to file a replying affidavit.

The matter could not proceed on the 4th and was enrolled for a hearing on January 11.

Machaba said instead of Werksmans’ attorney addressing the court, he immediately sought an adjournment for 30 minutes to discuss and reach a consensus with its attorney, advocate Macgregor Kufa.

“The court immediately granted the request and stood the matter down to allow parties the opportunity to discuss settlement proposals. The attorney then tried several times to call Mr Tommy Sadike of the SABC and then Ms Nomsa Feliti.

“He reverted later and stated that he now had instructions to settle the matter on the former employee’s terms and conditions and requested that there be no order as to costs. She acceded to the SABC request for no order as to costs despite believing in the strength of her case,” read the complaint.

Machaba said the settlement agreement was entered into freely and voluntarily by both parties but Werksmans’ attorney lodged a complaint against them and Judge Reynaud Daniels despite a court order being procured by consent.

The complaint, according to Machaba, was for an ulterior motive to ensure that the SABC does not pay the outstanding amounts and to the court to sympathise with the broadcaster and Werksmans.

On January 22, the former employee instructed that a letter be written to Molahlehi’s office detailing the events and circumstances leading to the judgment or court order by consent of January 11.

“On 24th and on 26th January 2024, the SABC sent two letters of demands urging the former employee to consent to set off and she respectfully and with a warning for costs de bonis propriis declined such invitation by way of a letter dated 27th January 2024.”

The lawyers said they received an email from Molahlehi’s registrar, Mpolokeng Mosimanyane, on January 29 which read: “I have been directed by Hon AJP Molahlehi to advise the parties that the above matter is forwarded to Judge Daniels to case manage it.”

They said the response was irregular and tantamount to an interference in a matter in which the Labour Court was “functus officio and thus res judicata”.

Machaba added that Werksmans’ complaint was malicious and an abuse of court proceedings because when Molahlehi set the matter down for case management before Daniels on January 29, a senior associate at Werksmans reacted and sent an email that the matter was settled on January 11, and there was no dispute.

Werksmans and the SABC lodged the second urgent application in less than four weeks, predicating on the same issue. The matter was scheduled to be heard on January 31 but was moved to February 1.

However, the matter was then removed from the roll by consent of both parties to have it enrolled on February 8 to file the SABC replying affidavit and the heads of argument.

Machaba said it has also received another email that the matter has been removed from the roll of February 8 to February 13.

“This email directive like the one preceding it is one of the 3rd January 2024 and the email of the 29th January 2024 setting the matter down for case management is, with respect, irregular and unconstitutional and interference with the proper and effective administration of justice.”

Machaba said the purported sending back of finalised matter by Molahlehi’s office undermined the effective administration of justice.

“The former employee is now anxious as to whether in all matters with Werksmans and its attorney which are initiated at the Labour Court, she will have a fair trial in the remit of Section 34 of the Constitution.”

However, Molahlehi said he was entitled to exercise discretion to have any matter referred to case management.

“As indicated to the parties in correspondence, the parties were erroneously advised that the matter had been referred to case management when that referral related to a different matter,” he said.

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