In July this year, 31 security guards who disrupted a June exam at the University of Cape Town (UCT) were fired by the security company that employed them. But behind this action, the images of which have been widely shared on social networks, hides a story of outrageous deception.
The guards, who worked for a security company contracted by UCT and were asking to be interned by the university, were following the advice of a former student activist Sibusiso Mpendulo, 37. Now they are asking this university to forgive them and be interned. , saying they were deceived.
Labor leader Amos Qwabi said he and 30 other security guards had been misled and manipulated for years by Mpendulo, who claimed to be a lawyer, took thousands of rand from them, gave them prescription papers of the court fabricated and had lied to them on several occasions, and finally had led them into a ruinous strike which made them lose their jobs.
Earlier this year, desperate after losing their jobs because they followed Mpendulo’s advice, the workers turned to the People’s Law team for help. The People’s Law team helped them uncover the staggering extent of Mpendulo’s fraud and manipulation.
Now the workers are asking the university to forgive them for the inconvenience and for making the mistake of trusting Mpendulo.
Ask to be internalized
Qwabi said GroundUp that this group of security guards has had a long struggle to be recognized as university employees, dating back to 2015, when the #FeesMustFall protests took place on campus. Some have kept the university for more than a decade.
At the time, one of the protesters’ main demands was that university workers, including security guards, be outsourced.
In June 2016, then Vice-Chancellor Max Price announced that UCT would take on about 1,000 in-house employees in July 2016. But about 50 guards who patrol the college campus and work for Securitas and the Groote Schuur Community Improvement District (GSCID) were not among those hired.
Qwabi said GroundUp that they twice applied for internalization, in 2016 and again in 2019, but were unsuccessful. He said the UCT did not explain to them why their applications had failed.
“All we want is to be in-house so we can have the same benefits that other workers who work for UCT enjoy.” He says they do the same job but earn much less. Internal workers also receive benefits such as medical assistance.
Then in 2019, the group of guards encountered Mpendulo during a protest. They were drawn to his militant credentials. He offered to help the workers.
“He told us he was a lawyer and assured us that we would win this case against UCT,” he said.
Mpendulo has a small record at UCT. In 2016, GroundUp reported on a “mini-protest” by Mpendulo and his “bodyguard”, during which he blocked a ramp to the university as part of a protest for workers to be interns. Mpendulo continued to engage in a number of disturbances, including a closing of the library in 2017.
Qwabi said Mpendulo first told them he would take their case to the CCMA.
“I don’t know what happened at the CCMA since Mpendulo used to attend meetings alone,” he said. Then he said he was taking the case to the Western Cape High Court.
“The process was long but we trusted him. He would go to court alone. We didn’t have a problem with it because we thought he was helping us,” he said.
Mpendulo would meet the guards and tell them that he was acting for them in court. He “went to court” at least four times in 2019, and several times in subsequent years. Each time, he took R100 from each of the 31 workers.
In 2020, Covid meant things had died down. But Qwabi said Mpendulo had returned in 2021, saying he was referring the case to the Western Cape High Court.
Then, earlier this year, he came to the workers with some exceptional news – the workers had won the case and now UCT had no choice but to hire them.
A ruinous strike
In a September 20 letter written by security officers at UCT, they asked university staff, management and students to forgive them for the disruption they caused in May when they engaged in strike action for being inside the UCT.
Mpendulo came to the workers in May saying the university was not complying with a court order against them and that he had a plan to get the university to comply with the order and hire them.
After a meeting, Mpendulo told workers to follow him into exam halls as he disrupted June university exams.
The disruption was widely covered in the news at the time. But reports didn’t get to the bottom of the story.
In this video, Mpendulo can be seen throwing papers. He is misidentified as a member of the student command of the Economic Freedom Fighters, and the guards walk the aisles. They weren’t throwing papers away.
Securitas and GSCID, the workers’ employers, summoned them for disciplinary hearings after the illegal strike.
Mpendulo’s advice to the workers was that they should not attend the hearings, saying they had the right to go on strike.
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They listened to him. The workers were laid off.
Mpendulo was later arrested for malicious trespass and damage to property, but the charges were dismissed by the court.
The wrong court decision
Mpendulo did not deny when he was called by GroundUp. He said he had the court order but the UCT was refusing to enforce it. He said he has since taken the matter to the Hawks.
Here is Mpendulo’s Facebook post from July this year, trumpeting his “court order”:
His statement makes no sense: he cannot have “exclusive access” to a public document.
But to workers, unfamiliar with court machinations and styles, these papers passed as legitimate – the order was stamped and appeared to use court letterhead.
But this is a false order. Read it here.
On the one hand, there is no real order following the words “It is ordered”. Instead, gibberish:
“That this matter be remanded for oral testimony on this single issue which is raised in paragraph 1 of Plaintiff’s Notice of Motion.
“That the parties shall pursue the relevant rules with respect to the matter followed by oral evidence, and the matter is adjourned sine die for the process to be followed.”
Dates are everywhere. The stamp is from 2022, and the date written on the first page is “June 23, 2020” and on the last, “November 19, 2019”. It’s interesting because Judge Siraj Desai retired in 2020.
The stationery is irregular—the orders do not contain the court emblem. And, for some reason, Bowman Gilfillan is mentioned on the front page.
A court order would also be marked with an “X” and would be initialed by the judge.
Judge Desai said GroundUp that he has no memory of this case and that he would need the court file to determine what happened in court or in his office.
“He ruined our lives”
Qwabi said Mpendulo only brought more problems in their lives after they trusted him. UCT let them down after years of working to keep the university and its people safe, Qwabi said, but Mpendulo made matters worse.
Qwabi said this fight made them targets at work. As a result, he was no longer happy and quit earlier this year. But he continued to support the motion that he and his colleagues should be interns.
Qwabi said when Mpendulo showed them “the court order” they were “so happy”. He said: ‘We didn’t even know they were fake until recently. At that time, all the strikers were unemployed.
“We believed him, but he ruined our lives,” Qwabi said.
Mpendulo and the “hawks”
Although the “order” is a fake, Mpendulo insists it’s real, and he insists the Hawks are investigating UCT for not following him. he wouldn’t give GroundUp the case number, and he threatened to report GroundUp to the Hawks if we “saved” the order.
But things get curious here.
Qwabi said that after Mpendulo told the workers that he had taken the matter to the Hawks, he received a call from a detective by the name of “Tsiya” who asked to meet him at the police station in Cape Town Central for a statement. Qwabi said GroundUp that he met Tsiya and another man in a police station office who claimed they were Hawks. Mpendulo told us the same story.
Since his statement was taken, Qwabi has received no feedback from Tsiya. “I called him a few weeks ago. He said he would let me know in November when he was back in Cape Town,” he said.
GroundUp contacted Detective “Tsiya”, who said he worked for the Hawks and was aware of the matter. When we asked what exactly he was investigating he said he was busy in court and he cut the call.
Qwabi said GroundUp that Mpendulo became silent after the workers lost their jobs. UCT did not outsource them, in accordance with the “order”. They realized that something was very wrong.
Desperate, they contacted the team at People’s Law, a Cape Town legal advice clinic based in Bertha House. Through popular law, they discovered that the papers were forged and that they had been grossly misguided.
“We had a meeting with popular law and Mpendulo was part of it. When asked about the fake court order, he got angry and ran out screaming. He told us that we had to choose between the People’s Law team and him. He did all of this on himself, not on us. He has since let us down,” he said.
Qwabi said People’s Law helped workers uncover their deception and helped them write for college. They asked the UCT to reinstate and internalize the striking UCT security guards by the end of October.
Responding to the allegations, Mpendulo said there are “syndicates” that are being bought off by the UCT and they are trying to destabilize them. He said these “unions” are using his court documents which he posted on his Facebook page and what they are doing is not right. He says he reported them to the Hawks, who he says are investigating the UCT case against the fired workers.
Questions sent to the Hawks and UCT have not been answered at the time of publication, but answers will be added as they arrive. DM