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BOSS BENZ THE RULES?

Freedom Park Museum workers want MPs to probe CEO’s R700K wheels amid cries of nepotism, tribalism

Freedom Park Museum workers want MPs to probe CEO’s R700K wheels amid cries of nepotism, tribalism
The Freedom Park Gallery of Leaders exhibition in 2017. (Photo: lib.co.za)

Employees of one of the country’s flagship museums have written a letter to Parliament alleging that their boss is guilty of a multitude of misdemeanours.

Disgruntled employees of the Freedom Park Museum have asked members of Parliament to conduct an oversight visit at the facility in Tshwane to investigate “critical matters requiring attention”.

The workers, who sent an anonymous letter to the parliamentary portfolio committee on sport, arts and culture, want it to probe, among other things, allegations that CEO Jane Mufamadi spent more than R700,000 of museum funds on a luxury German car for her sole use.

On 24 October, the committee grilled Freedom Park’s leadership on the institution’s affairs. However, in a letter addressed to the committee after that hearing, employees asked for an investigation into allegations of nepotism, tribalism and a failure to implement salary increases for more than four years.

The workers said Mufamadi misled the committee in Parliament last month.

On its website, Freedom Park is described as “a cultural institution housing a museum and a memorial dedicated to chronicling and honouring the many who contributed to South Africa’s liberation”.

The workers want a probe of the Gallery of Leaders Exhibition Project, on which they claim R25-million was spent but “the project has been in the implementation process for a long time”.

They say “completion dates have been extended a [sic] numerous times”.

“What is of major concern and which requires investigation is that some service providers were paid without doing any work,” the letter reads.

Freedom Park spokesperson Console Tleane denied the allegations about the exhibition project.

They questioned why money was spent on a luxury car when they had not had salary increases for four years.

Tleane said the project honoured 46 leaders and comprised images, praise poems, quotations and audiovisual content. It will be translated into four languages and is earmarked for opening during the commemoration of 30 years of democracy.

He said the original allocation was R4.5-million, but a public bidding process had shown that the project had been grossly underbudgeted.

Freedom Park applied for additional funding and Treasury approved an extra R20.5-million, making an overall allocation of R25-million for the project, said Tleane.

The employees further alleged that the human resources department had flouted recruitment policies and procedures that allegedly affected the performance of certain categories of workers.

Freedom Park Museum

Freedom Park CEO Jane Mufamadi. (Photo: X @Powerfm987)

Why buy an expensive Mercedes?

They questioned why money was spent on a luxury car when they had not had salary increases for four years.

They also submitted that Mufamadi misrepresented herself in her response to the committee over the use of the car, which was not used by other staff members.

Tleane said Freedom Park had a small fleet of cars to transport stakeholders.

“All these cars were bought with Freedom Park funds. One of the vehicles is a Mercedes-Benz A200 (1.6) which was bought through the National Treasury’s transversal contract RT 57/2021,” he said.

Treasury describes the transversal term contract as “a centrally facilitated contract arranged by the National Treasury for goods or services that are required by one or more than one institution”.

Tleane said the Mercedes-Benz cost R755,753, but denied it was for the sole use of the CEO.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA’s heritage at risk: Museums across the country face ongoing challenges

“The vehicle is not for the sole use by the CEO… the CFO and other managers of the entity have used the Mercedes-Benz for work-related travel requirements. Any employee may follow the entity’s trip request process to request use of the car,” he said.

In 2020, Mufamadi was the subject of an investigation by the Office of the Public Protector. The probe cleared her of accusations of nepotism and financial mismanagement.

In her presentation to the portfolio committee last month, Mufamadi said challenges facing the facility were a lack of salary increases despite the increasing cost of living, budget cuts and cost containment measures, poor revenue generation, low employee morale and high executive staff turnover.

A lack of audit skills was also mentioned. In her 2022/23 report, Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke gave the museum a qualified audit opinion, noting that Freedom Park did not accurately disclose “the budget and the actual amounts as required”.

Actual and budgeted expenditure were “misstated” by R29.07-million and R8.11-million respectively.

She also found that “cash flows from operating activities were not correctly prepared and disclosed as required”.

The staff of Freedom Park is diverse and represents the demographics of the country in terms of race, gender, ethnicity and region of origin.

“This was due to multiple errors in determining cash flows from operating activities. I was not able to determine the full extent of the errors in the net cash flows from operating activities, as it was impracticable to do so. Consequently, I was unable to determine whether any adjustments were necessary to cash flows from operating activities stated at R30.96-million.”

Freedom Park has, however, lodged a dispute against the Auditor-General’s findings.

In response to the allegations of Mufamadi giving preference to Tshivenda-speaking job applicants, Tleane said this had “never been raised by employees”.

Employees speaking to Daily Maverick on condition of anonymity painted a picture of an institution in which staff who raise such issues are “dealt with” by management through suspension.

No grant increase, no pay increase

Tleane said there had been no salary increases for four years since the government’s grant had not increased in that time.

Tleane denied claims that management had given themselves salary increases, adding that as the museum recruits new employees it must compete for “highly skilled individuals in the labour market”.

He denied the tribalism allegations.

“The facts in terms of the statistical make-up of the staff complement of Freedom Park and the evolution and role of the current CEO in hiring employees, disprove this allegation. The staff of Freedom Park is diverse and represents the demographics of the country in terms of race, gender, ethnicity and region of origin.

“Neither is there any credence to the claim that there has been ‘an increase in the number of Tshivenda-speaking persons’ since the current CEO assumed the leadership of Freedom Park,” Tleane said, adding that the CEO had very little input regarding the staff complement.

The parliamentary portfolio committee had not responded by the time of publication to Daily Maverick’s questions about any possible action. Mukurukuru Media/DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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