Sunday, 25 October 2015

City of Johannesburg negligence: Public Protector sticks up for a small business owner

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to Afternoon Drive on 702 with Xolani Gwala, and caught the tail end of a call from a very distressed man who related how negligence by the City of Joburg had resulted in his business closing down and him losing everything. No-one was listening to him and all attempts to get the city to respond had failed. The City was even ignoring a report by the Public Protector that found against the City, and called for remedial action.

I called 702 and asked for this man's details and not long afterwards we were in contact. His name is Tshepo Kgaudi, and his business was the PhindiK line of shoes, designed in South Africa, made in and imported from Brazil.

What I discovered was truly shocking. For five years, the City had done everything possible to protect itself and an ANC local councillor of dubious ethics, Councillor Mzwandile Zwane,  from admitting its liability in the chain of events leading to the closure of the business.

The story has been widely reported so I won't repeat it - have a look at the Times Live coverage for background as well as this expose by IOL. DA councillors had raised the matter many times in Council but the City did nothing.

Tshepo and his wife Phindi - after whom the business and shoe line were named - had become celebrities in the fashion world as you can see from this coverage in Transform SA, Style Scoop and African Millionaire. They were even featured on a Top Billing programme.

Tshepo sent me the Public Protector's report, dated 14th December 2014, and the City Manager's response, which was not dated but Tshepo tells me only came in July. Apparently the latest scheduled meeting between Mayor Parks Tau and City Manager Trevor Fowler and the Public Protector was cancelled at the last minute, with no new date set.

So I wrote the City Manager the following letter:

Mr Trevor Fowler
City Manager
City of Johannesburg
2nd Floor CCW
Metropolitan Centre
158 Civic Boulevard

20th October 2015

Re: Complaint to the Public Protector by Mr Tshepo Kgaudi

Dear Mr Fowler

I am writing with regard to the above complaint.

Mr Kgaudi brought it to my attention due to your failure to meet with the office of the Public Protector to find a resolution to this matter. This, after your office cancelled a meeting with the office of the Public Protector due to take place tomorrow.

While I understand your diary might be full, the fact that the Public Protector’s report was written in December 2014, over ten months ago, shows your office has not taken this complaint seriously.

I have read the Public Protector’s report and your response, attached, the latter being undated, which is mystifying.

The matter might not be straightforward, but the issue at hand is the effective destruction of Mr Kgaudi’s business and financial wherewithal, leaving him and his family nearly destitute.

There is no doubt, as you admitted in your response to the report, the City has been negligent and I believe the City has a responsibility to find a mutually acceptable solution to the matter without delay.

The recent Supreme Court of Appeal’s ruling in the matter of Mr Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s suspension as COO of the SABC is instructive, as regards the Public Protector’s findings being enforceable unless overturned by a court of law.

Small business owners like Mr Kgaudi are the backbone of our economy. Government structures such as the City of Johannesburg are duty bound to protect them from illegal behaviour and uphold municipal bylaws regarding illegal occupation of buildings, which appears to be at the root of this matter.

I look forward to your response.

Kind regards,

Toby Chance MP


Nthatisi Modingoane
Deputy Director : Media Relations
Tel: 011 407-7354
Cell: 082 467 9228

Serapelo Nkosi
Manager: Remedial Actions and Compliance
Public Protector South Africa
(012) 366 7023

The city's website is so opaque, it is impossible to find any contact details for the City Manager or Mayor so I emailed it to the Deputy  Director: Media Relations (there being no contact details for the Director), with a note to say I thought it would be in the City's interests to respond as soon as possible.

I sent it on the evening of last Tuesday, 20th October, and the next day Tshepo called me to say that, Hey Presto!, the meeting had been set for Friday. Late on Friday I received an ecstatic WhatsApp message from Tshepo, so called him and we agreed to meet at his house on Saturday.

What a meeting that was! He and his lovely wife Phindi greeted me with such warmth, then sat me down to tell me their tale of woe. It included death threats from Councillor Zwane, robberies at their store just down the road from where they live, police dockets gone missing, persistent stonewalling by the City, and more. They showed me their extremely stylish and beautifully made shoes, which South Africa's rich and famous could not get enough of until they were forced to close their doors.

For the first time in five years, Tshepo told me, last night he got a good night's sleep. The City had finally agreed to implement the remedial action called for by the Public Protector. They might now be able to re-build their lives and get PhindiK back on its feet.

I will be keeping a close watch on matters to see what happens. I have not had a response from the City Manager yet - surprised?

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