Aubrey Tshivhandekano, who was recently dismissed as regional manager of the Department of Mineral Resources’ Mpumalanga office — allegedly for upsetting the Gupta family — has been reinstated after a court ruling against the director-general of the department.

Judge Lagrange ruled in the Labour Court on Friday that director-general Thabo Mokoena had acted in excess of the powers of his office by amending a final written warning to a dismissal in mid-February.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has previously stated that Tshivhandekano’s dismissal was linked to notices of noncompliance he issed to the Koornfontein colliery owned by the Gupta’s Tegeta Resources as well as its controversial Optimum Colliery, which was sold to Tegeta by Glencore after former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane personally intervened.

State-owned power utility Eskom has also been accused of bending over backwards to facilitate large up-front payments to ensure that Tegeta could pay for Optimum.

Noting the noncompliance notices and the allegations surrounding the underlying reasons for Tshivhandekano’s dismissal, Lagrange said if the matter was not heard on an urgent basis it would only be enrolled in October "when memories of the event are likely to have faded from the public imagination" and that "reputational damage is unlikely to be restored at that point".

Friday’s ruling focused purely on the merits of the case, and Lagrange was critical of the respondents, which included Zwane, Mokoena and the department.

The mining portfolio changed hands when NUM and ANC stalwart Gwede Mantashe replaced Zwane as mineral resources minister in a Cabinet reshuffle on February 27 – long after Tshivhandekano was dismissed.

"The respondents do not deal with the substantive merits of the alleged unlawfulness of the applicant’s dismissal," Lagrange said in the urgent matter, ordering that the respondents pay all the legal costs but stopping short of ordering that they be personally liable, something Tshivhandekano’s lawyer argued for.

There was "very clear unlawfulness" in Tshivhandekano’s dismissal, he said, saying Mokoena had acted outside of his powers and breached Tshivhandekano’s employment contract.

He overturned Tshivhandekano’s dismissal.

"The first and second respondents [Zwane and Mokoena] are directed to forthwith reinstate the applicant to the position he held prior to his dismissal and to allow him to continue with his duties and responsibilities in that capacity," Lagrange said in his ruling.