Khulumani’s New Board Asserts their Governance and Strategic Leadership of Khulumani Support Group towards Ending the Struggle for Power and Control of the Organisation – 24 July 2019

INTRODUCTION

            Khulumani Support Group unequivocally rejects the findings of the so-called “disciplinary hearing” of its national director held by deposed former board members on the 28th of May 2019. The individuals pursuing this illegitimate action were removed from their positions at a constitutionally mandated AGM held on the 27th of April 2019, and thus do not have any authority within Khulumani Support Group, or to act on its behalf.

BACKGROUND

            Khulumani’s core values reflect our belief in our members’ right to make decisions about the strategic direction of the organisation, and the supremacy of membership structures as provided for in the KSG constitution.

            Following a process of organisational development and strengthening in 2017-2018, the governance of KSG was identified as a critical weakness in the organisation. The National Director, and the National Steering Committee, made several attempts to rectify this weakness – including through a representative national strategic planning workshop in 2018. At this workshop, members decided to dissolve the Board and create the opportunity for open applications for a reconstituted Board. Invitations to apply were sent to the broader KSG stakeholders, and to the then-Board members.

            The former Board members purporting to represent KSG refused to abide by this decision of the membership and refused for 12 months to engage with the organisation’s membership structures to find a way forward.

            The hostile responses by former board members to the holding of Khulumani’s strategic planning workshop with external facilitation, was entirely unexpected. The process, however, highlighted the extent to which board members had lost touch themselves with the capacities that had developed within the Khulumani movement.

            An internal conflict emerged as Board members attempted to take control of the movement through attempts to “neutralise” the National Director by disseminating misinformation that was designed to discredit her and by impugning her integrity and damaging not only her reputation, but also that of Khulumani itself. This culminated in an unlawful disciplinary process against the National Director, initiated in November 2018.

            In response to the various illegitimate and damaging actions taken by the then Board, the membership called an AGM on 27 April 2019 at which a new Board was elected.

            The new Khulumani board understands the damaging actions that resulted from the refusal of former board members to meet with the organised member structures of Khulumani, as an “attempt to seize power from within” – a development well-described in social movement literature.

Details of the process through which the 2019 AGM of KSG members decided to replace its board are provided below. 

  • Khulumani’s provincial representatives, meeting for an Annual General Meeting as the National Steering Committee of the organisation in Bloemfontein on 27 April 2019 (Freedom Day), elected a new board to lead its organisational development over the coming four years. The Khulumani AGM was organised in compliance with the provisions for an AGM as specified in Khulumani’s Constitution. All the former board members of Khulumani – Professor Gertrude Fester, Ms Judy Ann Seidman, Ms Shirley Gunn, Ms Nomarussia Bonase, Advocate Sipho Mantula and Mr Nyanisile Rolihlahla, were invited. None chose to attend the AGM at which the resolution was adopted to remove all of them from their positions on Khulumani’s former board.
  • The AGM resolution to terminate the services of the former board members sought to bring an end to the impasse created by these individuals and to chart a positive way forward for the organisation.
  • The Board elected at the 2019 AGM is now made up fully of Khulumani members, and as such ensures the direction of the organisation is fully in members’ hands – through the National Steering Committee (comprising provincial representatives) and the Board.

EMERGENCE & STRENGTHENING OF KHULUMANI MEMBER POWER

            The participation of Khulumani provincial structures and members in ongoing processes of capacity building for asserting their agency in the unfinished struggle for the realisation of the critical transformative processes of redress as the basis for social justice in South Africa is an important development for the organisation.

            In 2017 Khulumani was recognised as a community strengthening partner with NACOSA (Networking HIV/AIDS Communities in South Africa), which afforded Khulumani access to extraordinary organisational development opportunities over two years. In the 2017-2018 NACOSA-supported processes of organisational development, all Khulumani’s systems came under scrutiny. The valuable external evaluations (entry, mid-term and exit evaluations) supported Khulumani’s management in aligning all its systems with best management practices so that as an organisation we could meet the highest standards of performance and compliance with statutory requirements. The identified weakness remained the performance of Khulumani’s board at the time. A strategic planning workshop attended by provincial representatives of Khulumani membership structures was held in April 2018, facilitated by Dr Kasambala, at which members were made aware of the finding that governance of the organisation was a critical weakness. The decisions taken at this workshop created the course of conflict between the then-Board and membership structures. Despite multiple attempts, the then Board refused to engage with membership to chart a way forward.

ILLEGITIMATE ACTIONS TAKEN BY ILLEGITIMATE ‘REPRESENTATIVES’ OF KSG

            It became apparent that the divergence of the former board from the membership structures of the organisation emerged as an outcome of these developmental processes. The National Director, Dr Jobson, became the target of the fight-back strategies of now-former board members to take over the organisation. This involved their unlawful suspension of the National Director on fabricated grounds of misconduct. The former Board members (represented by Ms Seidman) refused to accept the conciliation proposed by CCMA Commissioner – the lifting of the suspension and an urgent independent investigation of all allegations. Ms Seidman further sabotaged the subsequent CCMA process through initially agreeing to the CCMA acting as an independent arbiter of the conflict but withdrawing just prior to the proposed hearings. With these planned processes having been subverted by Ms Seidman as the representative of the former board, Dr Jobson was then notified of a disciplinary hearing that she was requested to attend on 28 May 2019, to be chaired by a chairperson of Ms Seidman’s choice.

            By this time, alarmed by the damage done to the organisation and its work,  Khulumani’s membership held an AGM at which a new board was elected, the services of old board members were terminated; the National Director was  reinstated and all disciplinary action taken by the former Board against her was  cancelled; and the interim management structures created by Ms Seidman were declared illegitimate and unconstitutional. These developments meant that the “former board” had no further status or authority to represent Khulumani. However, as an act of respect, Dr Jobson accompanied by the new Board Chairperson, Mr Gecelo Sidumo and the Chairperson of the National Steering Committee, Mr Mbulelo Lipile presented themselves at the so-called hearing to provide the chairperson of the hearing, Ms Lucinda Hinxman of Werksmans Attorneys with evidence that Ms Seidman and her associates had no standing to represent Khulumani.

            Despite the presentation of this evidence to the hearing, Ms Hinxman decided that as she had been instructed by Ms Seidman, she would continue to hold an inquiry without engaging the question of the legitimacy of Ms Seidman to bring the matter on behalf of the organisation. Dr Jobson and the KSG Board and NSC Chair refused to participate in or recognise the authority of the hearing. 

            Ms Hinxman’s decision to produce findings on the basis of a hearing without the participation of Dr Jobson, and without recognition of Khulumani’s legitimate organisational structures, is deeply problematic. Ms Hinxman’s provisional findings further appear to have been based to a significant extent on unsubstantiated hearsay. It should be noted that no independent investigation of Ms Seidman’s allegations has to date been conducted, and the new board has received evidence supported by an affidavit of the coercive tactics used by Ms Seidman to manufacture evidence and hearsay against Dr Jobson. 

            The new board and the National Steering Committee members along with Dr Jobson contest the process and the provisional findings of the chairperson of the inquiry. The document produced by Ms Hinxman document is not an official document of Khulumani Support Group and does not represent legitimate action by the organisation. The new Board has issued letters to Ms Seidman, and all former Board members, to instruct them that they have may not represent the organisation on any platform or take any action in its name.  

            In order to ensure good governance of the organisation, the allegations against Dr Jobson were reviewed and found to be without substance at a meeting with the NSC office-bearers on 22 June 2019, in Cradock. The new Board will further review the Hinxman findings at their upcoming August 2019 Board Meeting, to put this matter completely to rest.

CONCLUSION

            Khulumani Support Group is a national member-owned, and member-driven, movement. Its governance and representative structures are comprised of members, who are leading Khulumani’s work into the future onwards achieving its core strategic objectives.  Khulumani looks forward to marking the 25th anniversary of the organisation in 2020 by recognising all who have contributed to building this unique movement of principled activists committed to seeing through the incomplete work of the TRC to a more successful and inclusive resolution.

For comments, please feel free to call:

  • Khulumani Board Chair, Mr Gecelo Sidumo: Cell 073 070 6445 and 060 344 4920
  • Khulumani NSC Chair, Mr Mbulelo Lipile: Cell 084 836 3705 and 074 378 3707
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