Axed Fawu general secretary Katishi Masemola. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Axed Fawu general secretary Katishi Masemola. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

Long-serving unionist Katishi Masemola has again been fired by the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) after an independent investigation found him guilty of financial impropriety amounting to R20m.

An investigation is pending into how Fawu lost about R19.2m which subsequently led to write-offs in the Basebenzi Investment Group, Fawu’s investment wing, in which Masemola was a director and former acting CEO.

Fawu, which has 126,000 members, was among the first former Cosatu affiliates to switch to the SA Federation of Trade Unions in 2017. It recruits in the farming, fast food, beverage, fishing, wholesale and retail, and hospitality sectors.

Masemola has held the position of Fawu general secretary for almost two decades. In 2004 he was suspended and later dismissed by then Fawu president Patrick Johnson. The decision was overturned by the courts and Johnson was subsequently removed from office.

On Sunday, Fawu president Atwell Nazo told Business Day an external investigation had recommended that Masemola be fired and that this was endorsed by the union’s national office-bearers.

A formal letter announcing the decision was sent to Masemola on September 6. He had been suspended since April 2019 for what Nazo described at the time as allegations of policy transgressions.

Nazo said the R20m was used to “assist” the Basebenzi Investment Group to pay Masemola’s salary, and to pay rental fees for the investment group’s Sandton-based offices, among other things.

“That money comes from the subscription fees of workers. It’s meant to be used for education programmes, campaigns and to defend our workers and not to assist Basebenzi,” he said.

“The role of Basebenzi is to assist the organisation, not the other way round, where Fawu’s money is being used to assist the investment company.”

Nazo said officials needed to get a mandate before touching workers’ monies and not do something that was “outside” the organisation’s norms.

“The national office-bearers have issued a letter notifying him that he has been fired. It’s up to him to challenge that decision. The ball is in his court.”

Masemola told Business Day he was consulting with his attorneys as he wanted to challenge his dismissal.

“The hearing was held in my absence. I will challenge the lawfulness of the dismissal through the labour court ... Nazo abused his authority to charge me and proceed with the hearing without my presence,” he said.

Masemola poked holes in the pending investigation about the R19.2m write-offs, which Nazo alluded to, saying that amount and R20m were the same figures. “That’s one and the same thing and Nazo is also aware of that.”

He said it was not true that all of the R20m came from workers’ subscription fees, as the other money came from Basebenzi’s other investments.

Masemola defended his legacy at the helm of Basebenzi saying: “I brought in R90m worth of investments during my tenure [as acting CEO] since 2006 until December 2018.”

When asked if he misappropriated funds, he responded: “I don’t deny that there were funds that were used to assist the Basebenzi Investment Group. All that I’m saying is that there were resolutions supporting what I did. [Everything] was authorised.”

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za