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Wife of SA’s ambassador to Japan Smuts Ngonyama allegedly assaulted domestic worker with a broomstick

Wife of SA’s ambassador to Japan Smuts Ngonyama allegedly assaulted domestic worker with a broomstick
South Africa’s Ambassador to Japan Smuts Ngonyama. (Photo: Gallo Images / Media24)

South Africa’s ambassador to Japan, Smuts Ngonyama, has been trying to reach a settlement with his former domestic worker Tandiswa Tokwe after his wife, Nokwazi Ngonyama, allegedly assaulted her.

A South African domestic worker in the official diplomatic residence of Pretoria’s ambassador to Japan quit her job and flew home recently after allegedly being assaulted by the wife of Ambassador Smuts Ngonyama.

Since Tandiswa Tokwe (52) left the Tokyo residence and the country, Ngonyama has been urging her not to press charges against his wife, Nokwazi, and to sign a non-disclosure agreement, both of which Tokwe has refused to do. She has insisted on an unconditional payout from him for the rest of her contract period, according to documentation seen by Daily Maverick and interviews with Tokwe and others.

That is where the impasse currently lies.

Nokwazi Ngonyama allegedly attacked Tokwe on 14 July. After the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) heard of the incident, Ngonyama and his wife apologised to her and she stayed on briefly in her job.

But she said she grew increasingly terrified of Nokwazi Ngonyama and on 27 July she quit the job and left Japan. She is now back home in East London, an unemployed single mother struggling to make ends meet while waiting for a payout from Ngonyama for the rest of her contract period.

Ngonyama is a political appointee to the post in Japan, although he was previously SA’s ambassador to Spain. Before that, he was the spokesperson for the ANC, but left the party after then president Thabo Mbeki was ousted by the ANC in 2008. Ngonyama then joined the Congress of the People (Cope), but resigned from that party in 2014.

Nokwazi Ngonyama is a former director of the Department of Social Development and an investor.

‘A physically violent incident’

Tokwe had been working in the ambassador’s residence since May 2019. She told Daily Maverick that Nokwazi Ngonyama offered no reason for laying into her with a broomstick, beating her three times on her thighs and arms. According to Tokwe, “Nokwazi said, ‘You have to tell me, what is going on in the house?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. There is nothing happening here.’”

Tokwe received medical treatment. A certificate, seen by Daily Maverick, from a Tokyo clinic which she visited, diagnosed “an external injury of the thighs and forearms and elbows. We diagnosed her [with] insomnia because of … traumatic injury. Until her recovery, she has to take rest.”

Shortly after, Dirco Director-General Zane Dangor was informed of the assault. Ngonyama wrote to him on 27 July, expressing his “deepest apologies and sincere regret for a recent and unfortunate incident that took place in our Official Residence”.

He characterised it as “a physically violent incident involving my wife and the domestic assistant”, and said it was a “sequel to an attitude that for some time was perceived as a show of disrespect on the part of the concerned assistant”.

“This tension escalated into a violent, unacceptable and inexcusable incident. I am deeply ashamed and remorseful for the harm caused to both individuals involved, especially the domestic assistant, as she is physically harmed.”

It is not clear what harm the ambassador believes was caused to his wife as there has been no suggestion from available communications that she was physically injured. Tokwe also insisted to Daily Maverick that she had never shown any disrespect to Nokwazi Ngonyama.

Ngonyama’s letter to Dangor added that his wife had “apologised profusely” to Tokwe and undertook not to do it again. He said Tokwe had accepted his wife’s apology. He suggested she take sick leave because of the trauma and then continue with her job.

Tokwe co-signed the letter, as did Nokwazi Ngonyama.

But that did not end the matter. On 27 July, Tokwe tendered her resignation and flew home from Japan. She told Daily Maverick in a phone interview that she feared that if she remained in the house after resigning, she would not be safe.

She said she had resigned in the first place because she no longer felt safe. She said she had signed the ambassador’s letter of apology only because she was “terrified” of his wife.

“After I signed that letter I hurt, my body, and I was afraid of everything. Even if she is walking outside my door, I was afraid. I was terrified and I had palpitations. I didn’t sleep at night, everything was upside down to me. So, I said I must go home because I’m going to be mad if I’m staying here. So, I decided to resign because I saw myself running mad.”

Her sister Noluthando Snobolo said Tokwe told her that Nokwazi Ngonyama once came into the ironing room and returned Tokwe’s phones, which she had confiscated. “She came back the second time with a plank in her hand, stood by the door, left after some time without saying a word. And she placed this plank on top of the refrigerator.”

Settlement dispute

When Dirco became aware of the incident, it dispatched human resources officer Lungisani Ntombela to Tokyo to investigate, said Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela. Ntombela drafted a settlement agreement which Ambassador Ngonyama signed on 30 August and which was presented to Tokwe the next day.

Ngonyama agreed to pay Tokwe R195,231 — the five months of her outstanding salary until her contract expired at the end of December. But the settlement offer stressed that it was not an admission of any wrongdoing by the Ngonyamas. Tokwe would also have to undertake not to take any legal action against Ngonyama or his wife, and not to disclose the terms and conditions of the settlement to any third party, including the media.

Tokwe told Daily Maverick she had refused to sign the agreement because of all the conditions. She said Ntombela had not mentioned these conditions when he discussed the settlement offer with her on the phone.

On 4 September, Tokwe’s attorney, Pumelele Hole, wrote to Ngonyama with a counteroffer. It included the same cash offer of R195,231 from Ngonyama to Tokwe, but excluded any obligation for her to waive her rights to press legal charges for the assault. It also made no mention of any non-disclosure agreement.

In his cover letter, Hole said that Ngonyama’s 30 August settlement offer to Tokwe had “unfortunately conflated the employment contract with issues related to a possible claim for the assault on the part of Ms Tokwe”.

He added that Tokwe wished to reach a “mutually beneficial and confidential resolution of these matters. She is sensitive to the need to protect your reputation and the interests of the country you represent by virtue of your office.”

Hole said that Tokwe was “amenable to an amicable settlement” of the assault issue and suggested Ngonyama make a settlement offer.

According to Hole, Ngonyama did not respond to this letter until Tuesday, 12 September, when he claimed he had not received it before. But Hole said Ngonyama had referred to the counteroffer during several calls to Tokwe since 4 September in which Ngonyama had tried to “twist her arm” to accept his 30 August offer — which included Tokwe’s agreement to waive her legal and disclosure rights.

Daily Maverick heard a purported recording of one of these conversations between Ngonyama and Tokwe on 6 September in which he rebukes her for rejecting his settlement offer and getting her lawyers to send him a counteroffer.

‘Harassing, badgering’

In the call, Tokwe tells Ngonyama she refuses to sign his settlement offer because that would mean giving up her rights to any future claims for the assault.

In a letter to Ngonyama this week, Hole accused him of “harassing, badgering” Tokwe to sign the 30 August agreement and that in his “efforts to beguile her” to sign it, he had told Tokwe that the agreement was “merely a means of Dirco protecting their interests and does not mean you will not in the future compensate her for the assault on her by Mrs Ngonyama.

“Regrettably, we gained the impression that you are using her desperate financial position as a means to twist her arm to sign a document that seeks to silence her and to absolve you and your wife from civil liability. This is not the kind of conduct one usually expects from a person of your status.”

Hole warned Ngonyama that if he did not immediately pay Tokwe the R195,231, she had been advised to:

  • Register a criminal case against Nokwazi Ngonyama for assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm;
  • Report Ambassador Ngonyama’s conduct to the director-general of Dirco and to the minister;
  • Lodge a claim against Ngonyama with the CCMA; and
  • File a civil claim against him and his wife in the high court.

In a reply to Hole this week, Ngonyama asked for more time to resolve the issue, insisting that he was trying to find “a lasting solution on the issue at hand. For someone who worked under my watch, a person whom I went out of my way at all material times to ensure that as a single parent she remains a pillar of strength that she is.”

Daily Maverick approached Ngonyama for comment, but he replied that he had been told that Dirco would take over all communication.

Contacted by the Daily Maverick telephonically, his wife said the same.

‘A matter between employer and employee’

Dirco spokesperson Monyela said that when Ntombela spoke to Tokwe as part of his investigation, she had said she didn’t want to press charges and was comfortable with the 30 August settlement offer from Ngonyama, which he had signed.

“However, since it has transpired that that is not the route she wants to go, we are of the view that her rights should fully be respected and, if she wants to press charges, she should go ahead. If she wants to claim damages, she should go ahead.

“This is a matter between her and her employer, in this case being the ambassador and the wife.”

He said domestic workers in ambassadors’ residences were hired by the ambassadors themselves and not Dirco. Monyela said Dirco only became involved at first because it wanted to understand what had happened and to see whether it could help to resolve the matter. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Another one of the elite who think they’re above the law and can bully ordinary South Africans into silence. I hope Ms Tokwe takes them to the cleaners (pun intended).

  • Irmgard Becker says:

    And if this was a white Karen instead of a black Karen oh-my-word.

  • Wilhelm Boshoff says:

    A better life for all!

  • Iam Fedup says:

    Which just goes to show how the ANC appoints thugs in the highest positions. No surprises here, and just the tip of the iceberg. It’s the ones we haven’t heard about that interest me. Kudos to the lady who bravely spoke out.

  • Is this the same Smuts “I didn’t join the struggle to remain poor” Ngonyana? Great role model…………

  • Bick Nee says:

    R195 231 is 5 month’s salary as a domestic. Wow!

    • moolenschot says:

      Indeed! R40 000 per month with no expenses.
      Can I apply for the job?

      • Mayibuye Magwaza says:

        It’s in Tokyo, so 40k a month doesn’t go nearly as far there.

        • Iota Jot says:

          R40k on top of living expenses? Even in Tokyo that will go far enough. Current estimate is less than R17k p.m. for a single person to live in Tokyo, excluding rent. If you paid a full-time domestic worker here R100/h (4x min. wage) and they worked 150 hrs/m, that would be R15000. If she worked 300 hrs/m she’d still be earning R130/h. She was probably earning more like R260/h. Basically, ten times the minimum wage.
          And remember that is on top of all her expenses being paid.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    And this is the anc stalwart who said he didn’t join the struggle in order to be poor! The rest is history, to SA’s huge detriment, and little did we know that this would be indelibly etched into the psyche and DNA of the putrid anc and its hideous cadres! Their whole purpose in life to steal and rape the land like a swarm of locusts who leave a wasteland behind.

  • Erna Westdyk says:

    “it dispatched human resources officer Lungisani Ntombela to Tokyo to investigate”
    This couldn’t be done via phone/video phone?

  • james davis Davis says:

    This is tabloid gossip. Not worthy of DM or of Peter Fabricius.

    • Joseph Gaylard says:


    • hilton smith says:

      Rubbish. This is a paid civil servant trying to hush up an assault.

    • Iam Fedup says:

      I beg to disagree, James. It is symbolic of the way the ANC operates, and stories like this tell unsophisticated voters what it’s really like when they keep the regime in power. In any “normal” country, I’d agree with you, but this is SA.

      • james davis Davis says:

        Are “unsophisticated voters” the target readership market for Daily Maverick?

        • D'Esprit Dan says:

          I would imagine that all voters are the target readership for any newspaper. And just because the ‘demographic’ that does read it may be different, why should this kind of abuse by public officials be ignored?

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      I disagree – it’s part of a pattern of arrogance and abuse by people who think they’re untouchable and don’t need to respect and answer to Nomvula Mokonyane’s ‘dirty voters’. Mokonyane is the First Deputy Secretary General of the ANC. The same ANC that gave the second most NEC votes at NASREC last year to convicted woman beater Mduduzi Manana. 2152 delegates voted in favour of this man and spat on the graves of all the women in South Africa who have died as a result of GBV. The same ANC, with Julius Malema leading the assault, claiming that the young woman who accused Zuma of rape ‘must have enjoyed it’. The same ANC that has Andile Lungisa – a convicted criminal for smashing a water jug over someone’s head in a council argument. The same ANC that had Mondli Gungubele laughing and joking on 702 this week about the plight of hundreds of thousands of grant recipients, whilst constantly reminding us plebs that he was about to board a flight. The same ANC that has never laid a charge against anyone (read their own members) for the slaughters of Marikana and Life Esidimeni, and doubtless Usindiso building in Joburg: the violent, arrogant and dismissive attitude of the ANC is exactly why stories like this matter, if we’re ever to hold to account this evil regime.

  • Notinmyname Fang says:

    Shem! I think I know what was going on in that house….

  • Alley Cat says:

    Disgusting! Trying to take advantage of an employee when the ANC pontificates non-stop about fairness and justice! I admire her for taking it further and I too hope she wins a large settlement.
    Just another example of the pathetic ANC and its cadres. And not the first time that there has been embarrassment caused by our ambassadors who are supposed to represent our country in an impeccable manner. Last I recall was (I think) our ambassador in Switzerland who trashed the apartment rented by DIRCO and it cost hundreds of thousands of our money to fix. So far no consequences. The ANC employ thugs!

  • Hennie at Work says:

    She should’ve pressed charges in Japan. The cadres won’t receive quite the same protection from the police there.

    • William Kelly says:

      She can’t. The assault took place on South African soil. That’s diplomacy in action for you. Had she been assaulted in the streets, different story.

  • Lorna Levy Levy says:

    Smuts Ngonyama is remembered for famously saying he didnt join the struggle to remain poor!

    • bigbad jon says:

      Quite. If his maid was pulling in R40,000/month he’s probably pulling in R500k/month.. Duty-free of course. The Japs must be laughing themselves sick at these guys, now they understand the meaning of ‘you can take them out the bush’.. etc. He doesn’t seem to be ANC anymore, or maybe he is.. following his motto, he just follows the money.

  • hilton smith says:

    “I am deeply ashamed and remorseful for the harm caused to both individuals involved” – please ask him to expand upon the harm caused to each of the individuals in this situation.

  • petroscali says:

    Grace Mugabe in here too somehow ??

  • “When Dirco became aware of the incident, it dispatched human resources officer Lungisani Ntombela to Tokyo to investigate”
    I’m angered that there’s a staff problem in the embassy created by the ambassador’s wife and this necessitates one of the billion government staff members in SA. flying to Tokyo!
    As usual, nobody considers the cost. Is this indeed such a problem? Is the ambassador incapable of dealing with it??

    • Alan Watkins says:

      No its not a staff problem in the embassy… The rest of the story makes clear that the domestic worker was hired by Mrs Ngonyama personally. So, to fix a PERSONAL problem and an issue of PERSONAL liability, a Dirco HR person was called in to help and was flown to Tokyo. At taxpayers expense I presume?

  • Peter Slingsby says:

    Another authoritarian ANC thug

  • Pieter van de Venter says:

    And according to the ANC/EFF, only white people act this way. Another political lie that is in ruins.

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    “Too much public ado about nothing”

  • Henry Henry says:

    Assault committed by a South African in Japan is a crime in RSA also. She ought to be prosecuted in our courts. Otherwise in Japan.
    She can’t have diplomatic immunity from prosecution/crime.
    Job for the NPA.
    And what about defeating the ends of justice as a charge against the ambassador?

  • Kevin Schaafsma says:

    If all Smuts offered was to pay the remainder of the contract period, that’s not a settlement at all. That’s what Smuts is obliged to pay if Tokwe had good grounds to repudiate from the contract, which it sounds like is not really in dispute. So Smuts, either make a proper settlement offer if you want this to end without further embarrassment and legal action, or pay what isn’t in dispute and then let the law take its course. My advice is to sharpen your pencil and get your chequebook out! You should be in the ballpark of R100k more than what you offered pal.

  • Ingrid Kirsten says:

    Thank you for bringing this to the attention of the public. Government officials should be held to a higher standard and must be held accountable. They are paid by the South African tax payer. They work for the people.

  • Johan Herholdt says:

    Now what could the maid have been involved in to upset Smuts’ (show me where I can eat (I’m paraphrasing)) wife so? What indeed, was “going on in the house?”

  • Fuad XXX says:

    I wonder has any finality been reached or will it simply disappear under the carpet?
    Wow what excellent role models from the ANC!

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