Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2004-06-14 Reporter: Sapa

'Something Smells Funny' at Denel



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The trade union Solidarity has launched an investigation into a spate of suspensions at the state arms manufacturer Denel, its spokesperson Dirk Hermann said on Monday.

By his count the company has now suspended 18 members of staff, including some belonging to Solidarity.

Hermann said the company has drawn a veil of secrecy over the suspensions.

"They are not even telling us, and some of those suspended are our members," Hermann said.

He added that all 18 were white, raising suspicion with many employees that the suspensions were aimed at making room for affirmative action employees.

"Something here smells funny, but we can't put a finger on it," he said, citing this as the reason for their own probe.

"I won't say it is covert affirmative action, because I can't confirm it and it would be irresponsible to say," Hermann said.

Hermann said the disciplinary hearing of one person only began on Monday, after a 10-month suspension.

"The lengthy period between suspension and hearing is suspicious. It also seems people are being suspended for petty matters. One person has been selling soap to Denel for the last 20 years. Now he has been accused of enriching himself."

Hermann said Denel was separately still in the process of retrenching 120 staff, down from 400 some time ago.

He said the company was "being secretive" about the retrenchments.

Denel's manager of promotions, Sam Basch, confirmed that staff have been suspended but refused to stipulate a number.

"I can confirm that a number of Denel employees have been suspended pending internal investigations," he said.

"As at any other company, Denel operates in accordance with all relevant South African legislation. Denel's disciplinary procedures are transparent and make provision for suspensions if any staff member is suspected of contravening the policies and regulations.

"We are not at liberty to elaborate in the media on internal procedures, particularly regarding specifics and individuals."

Media reports earlier suggested 26 managers, including six senior executive managers, were under suspension at Denel - apparently as part of a wide-ranging investigation into financial irregularities at Denel.

The most senior of these was Louis Dirker, the director of Denel Land Systems.

Other senior managers suspended included Jan Mulder, the general manager of Irenco, the electronic components and plastic injection moulding maker, who later resigned while under suspension.

Also sitting at home are Johan Barnard, the general manager of SPP (Specialised Protein Products), a manufacturer of soya ingredients and products; Ernest Langer, the general manager of Denel Aviation; Carel Wolhuter, the general manager of PMP (Pretoria Metal Pressings), an ammunition plant; and Org Ehlers, the general manager of LIW (Lyttleton Engineering Works), the artillery arm.

It has also been reported that the anti-corruption drive, led by chief executive Victor Moche, has delayed the reorganisation of the financially troubled group.

Under Moche the company has been focusing on eradicating corruption, avoiding duplication and finding efficiencies in order to turn the group around.

The company is widely expected to post an R800-million loss for the financial year that ended in March.

In October last year, the company announced that the previous year's net loss situation had improved from R363-million to R72,6-million.

With acknowledgements to Sapa and the Mail & Guardian.