The North West Health Department has extended the suspension of its head of department Dr Andrew Thabo Lekalakala. News24 reports that provincial health spokesperson Tebogo Lekgethwane confirmed the extension, saying it would allow the investigation into Lekalakala to be completed. “Charges against him were delayed since more (things) kept coming up during investigations. All these necessitated to the extension of his suspension,” Lekgethwane said.
He said following the completion of the department’s inquiry, charges would be instituted against Lekalakala and disciplinary action would then take place.
Health officials had earlier protested outside the health department’s offices against Lekalakala’s return, whose initial suspension had ended. Lekgethwane said the officials blocked entrances to the offices with stones and other objects. “The MEC and administrator had to meet with the officials and explain to them that processes to extend Lekalakala’s suspension were unfolding as investigations would be concluded,” Lekgethwane said.
The report says former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo suspended Lekalakala in April over a contract given to Gupta-linked healthcare company Mediosa. Mediosa, which also paid for Lekalakala’s junket to India in 2017, was allegedly awarded a R30m, three-year contract by the health department in advance and without it going out to tender.
Mahumapelo at the time had instituted forensic investigations into the health department following allegations against Lekalakala regarding the Mediosa contract.
Lekalakala had made a surprise return to work in Mahikeng and didn’t take long to get on the wrong side of health workers. According to a Sowetan report, he said his appearance was long overdue. “The law is clear. It says if I stay at home for more than 60 days I can write to my employer and say because you have not charged me, I am now coming to work. So, I have exercised my rights,” he said.
Lekalakala said after realising the department was not getting back to him, he decided to drop in and continue to work as normal. He said he was absent from work for four months, which he felt was ample time to charge him. “I have given them enough time. They failed to prosecute me, so they must allow me to go back to work.”
He said he arrived and went straight to his office on Tuesday. “I could not allow hooligans to dictate to us,” he said, referring to disgruntled health workers who had embarked on industrial action. They wanted performance bonuses, among other things.
The report says his comments served to further provoke the workers who were none too pleased by his sudden return to work. They burnt chairs and threw garbage near the entrance to the provincial building to show their disgust.
Workers had been on strike since 18 February and went back to work on 21 May after the ministerial committee task team committed to solve their problems.
Lekalakala said he could not pay them bonuses because of the department’s poor performance. “I declined it based on the fact that the performance was not great,” he said.
National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) provincial secretary Patrick Makhafane is quoted in the report as saying they were angry because they were not informed of Lekalakala’s return. “It’s a clear provocation.”
Ministerial task team spokesperson Phumla Williams could not be reached for comment.