A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS
Domestic worker ‘grateful but disappointed at treatment’, as ex-boss Ngonyama finally settles debt after wife’s alleged broomstick attack
The settlement dispute between South Africa’s ambassador to Japan, Smuts Ngonyama, and his former domestic worker, Tandiswa Tokwe, after his wife allegedly assaulted her in July, has it appears been put to bed after an outstanding payout from Ngonyama at the 11th hour.
South Africa’s ambassador to Japan, Smuts Ngonyama, on Thursday paid the balance of a cash settlement owed to his former domestic worker, Tandiswa Tokwe, who quit her job in his official diplomatic residence in Japan after his wife allegedly assaulted her in July 2023. The payout from Ngonyama for the remainder of Tokwe’s contract period ostensibly puts to rest a months-long settlement dispute.
On Thursday, 2 November, Tokwe’s attorney, Pumelele Hole, wrote to Ngonyama’s lawyers demanding that he settle the debt in full by midday on Friday, 3 November, or they would commence legal action to protect Tokwe’s interests.
“We are instructed to inform you that despite the undertaking that the Honourable Ambassador made in writing, he has failed to honour such undertaking to pay to Miss Tokwe the money that is due to her by the time stipulated in the agreement. We have previously and on numerous occasions advised you of the severe prejudice that this occasions to the unemployed Miss Tokwe and her dependents,” Hole wrote.
Speaking to Daily Maverick on Thursday night, Ngonyama said he would ask his son, who is in South Africa, to make the payment as Friday, 3 November, is a public holiday in Japan. Ngonyama later confirmed the payment was made, and Tokwe also said that the cash had been deposited on Friday morning.
This follows weeks of numerous emails of enquiry made by Hole, to Ngonyama’s lawyers – many of which he claimed went unanswered.
Tokwe quit her job as a domestic worker in Ngonyama’s official diplomatic residence in Japan in July this year, after allegedly being assaulted with a broomstick by his wife Nokwazi Ngonyama. Tokwe had been working in the ambassador’s residence since May 2019.
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, Daily Maverick’s Peter Fabricius reported.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Wife of SA’s ambassador to Japan Smuts Ngonyama allegedly assaulted domestic worker with a broomstick
However, Tokwe said she grew increasingly terrified of Nokwazi Ngonyama and on 27 July, she resigned and left Japan. She returned to her home in East London; an unemployed, single mother struggling to make ends meet while she waited for a payout from Ngonyama for the rest of her contract period.
As part of the settlement agreement, Ngonyama agreed to pay Tokwe R195,231.00 – the five months of her outstanding salary until her contract expired at the end of December.
On 27 September, Ngonyama paid an initial sum of R60,000.00 to Tokwe – her salary for the months of July, August and September. The initial payment, according to Hole, followed days of email enquiries to Ngonyama’s lawyers requesting payment. Ngonyama attributed the delay in the payment to international banking transactions, which generally take five to seven business days to reflect.
A settlement agreement signed by Tokwe on 18 October and seen by Daily Maverick, states that Ngonyama would – no later than Monday, 23 October – pay the balance of R135,231.00 of Tokwe’s outstanding salary for October, November and December. The agreement is signed by Ngonyama on a date not specified.
Speaking to Daily Maverick, Ngonyama claimed to have received the agreement on 30 October only, making it impossible for him to make the payment by 23 October. However, emails seen by Daily Maverick show that Hole emailed the agreement to Ngonyama’s lawyers on 19 October.
“I got this final agreement, far later than the 23rd, that they said I should be paying on. I got it later, and I signed, and I sent this agreement back to them through my lawyer.
“The mere fact that I signed the agreement is a total commitment to pay and settle this matter,” Ngonyama said.
Hole said “if that was the case” that Ngonyama received the agreement after 23 October, “then that would’ve been entirely his own attorney’s fault, because they received it on 19 October”.
‘I am at large’
According to Hole, the agreement containing the ambassador’s signature was then sent back to him on 30 October. In response to questions from Daily Maverick on why the payment was not made immediately after he signed the agreement, Ngonyama said: “The problem is that I am not in the office; I’m an ambassador here … I am at large.”
He added that he travels around Japan “for [his] country”.
“I’m one of the most active ambassadors because of the size of this area and the demand of my work,” said Ngonyama.
To have been expected to pay between 30 October and 3 November, Ngonyama said, would have been “totally unreasonable”, considering the delays in international banking transactions.
He added that he required Tokwe’s banking details to make the payment. However, her details were included in the agreement and were the same details used for the initial deposit of R60,000.00.
Ngonyama said he believed that “this is just about harassing [him] and [tarnishing] [his] image in the public eye as an ambassador.”
‘I am very grateful’
On Friday morning, Tokwe said she was “incredibly grateful” to have finally received the outstanding balance, and to have this matter behind her.
“I am very grateful, but grateful and disappointed in the way they conducted this matter as if I just live in Japan. I think they didn’t treat this matter in a dignified manner and they didn’t take me seriously,” Tokwe said.
“They think I’m nothing… But I am grateful that this matter is finished.”
Daily Maverick previously reported that Hole had warned Ngonyama that if he did not immediately pay Tokwe the R195,231.00, 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.
Hole confirmed to Daily Maverick that a criminal case has been registered against Nokwazi Ngonyama with the South African Police Service (SAPS) at the Inyibiba Police Station in Mdantsane, East London. Daily Maverick sent queries to the Eastern Cape SAPS, but had not received a response by the time of publication. DM