Working under Muthambi ‘was torture’, commission hears

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JOHANNESBURG, September 3 – A shaken acting CEO of Government Communication and Information Systems (GCIS), Phumla Williams, on Monday testified how former communication minister Faith Muthambi made her job unbearable causing her immense stress and brought back memories of torture she had to endure in the past.

She testified on the demise of GCIS which followed former government spin doctor Themba Maseko’s forced exit in January 2011. Muthambi was then appointed communications minister in 2014, and allegedly broke procurement rules and directed advertising spends to Gupta newspaper, The New Age. Williams said she was stripped of at least 70 percent of her functions and replaced by a junior official, Donald Liphoko.

She told the commission that her pleas to Muthambi drew the former minister’s wrath as she demanded that Williams call her ”honourable minister” whenever she addressed her. She said Muthambi’s mistreatment of her brought back memories of torture she endured from the apartheid regime back when she was an ANC activist in the 1980’s.

”I was no longer sleeping, I had nightmares… facial twitching and panic attacks were back. I experienced torture going through my body again…I have never thought that people could do this in this government. I was tortured for weeks [by the apartheid police] and Muthambi again did all those things to my body. That is why I wrote this letter to get her to understand what she was doing. She was cheating the State… she wanted to steal at all costs by removing finance and procurement [units] from me. They had already removed me from doing cabinet work, I was going to be a nuisance and they decided to take away finance and procurement functions from me.”

She said two of her colleagues were sympathetic and checked on her frequently, while her sister moved into her house to help her through her turmoil.

Williams said she was arrested in Soweto in 1988 and was tortured for weeks in Piet Retief, Mpumalanga after she refused to turn against her fellow comrades and become an askari (a former freedom fighter who collaborated with the apartheid regime authorities).

She testified that Muthambi never interacted with her, and decisions were taken without her knowledge. She said she had to accept that Muthambi ”was not a minister, but an enemy” who had no regard for her work as an appointed minister and public servant. The GCIS fell apart, she said.

”The GCIS became Hollywood, it was becoming dysfunctional as a result of minister Muthambi’s behaviour. The cleaners, the registry, supply chain function, salaries department, transport services, assets and auxiliary services now reported to the director general…which is why I said the bulk of deputy director general’s work was removed under the guise of the new regulations,” said Williams.

”We lost a lot of senior people and she refused to fill those posts resulting in people doubling up because of staff shortage. The media buying section was almost dysfunctional…she further completely rendered the North West office dysfunctional as she refused to [fill] vital posts there.”

As the situation at work became more unbearable, Williams said she decided to go on early retirement. She said she withdrew her letter stating her intention to retire to Liphoko and decided to stick it out. She never officially resigned from GCIS.

Muthambi’s successor, Ayanda Dlodlo, reinstated Williams to her former post as acting GCIS head.

Williams has been acting head for six years, to the shock of commission chairman Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who could not understand why there has not been a permanent appointment to head GCIS after such a long time.

– African News Agency (ANA)