THESE days it seems the fastest way to join millionaire's row is to cause controversy in a parastatal and walk off with a golden handshake.

Finding yourself on the losing side in a political battle and then threatening theState with a drawn out lawsuit also seems a surefire way to attract a multi-million rand payout.

Then again, the golden handshake - or "contract payout' - is also a useful weapon in the hands of the powerful when they are out to get rid of someone who seems to have done no wrong.

More and more executives are getting millions in payouts from the State's coffers at the expense of the majority, who are given new excuses every year for the underdeveloped state of our townships and ghettos.

Both the Democratic Alliance and ANC have no problem making use of golden handshakes to achieve their own political ends - and complaining vigorously when the other side does the same.


That the payouts seem to be always accompanied by "standard confidentiality clauses" means that the public not only loses out on money that could have gone to service delivery, but it is also kept in the dark about why exactly the State is blowing our money like this.

Less than four months ago the DA-controlled Western Cape provincial government abruptly ended its contract with the head of its education department, Ronald Swartz, who had been in the job for seven years. Because Swartz's contract still had two years to run he was paid out for these years at a total cost of R2,3million.

Nobody really knows why Swartz was shunted out because MEC Donald Lee refused to give the reasons, and Swartz had signed a "standard confidentiality clause" preventing him from doing so.

This scenario played itself out again last weekend when suspended national director of public prosecutions Vusi Pikoli accepted a R7,5million payout from the state.

Pikoli's term of office should have ended in February 2015. The settlement agreement between Pikoli and the Department of Justice, released yesterday, says the R7,5million is for "full and final settlement of all trains of whatsoever nature including a claim for pension payments".

But just three months ago Pikoli was so bent on being reinstated that no contract payout could tempt him. He rejected R9,8million to leave quietly and his attorney, Aslam Moosajee, said: "Mr Pikoli wants the principle of prosecutorial independence to be upheld. It should not be that - should the president get rid of a national director of public prosecutions he does not like - unlawful action is swept away with damages."

Pikoli had also complained that no amount of money could repair the violation of the Constitution that happened when he was unlawfully suspended for political reasons.

But last weekend, accepting the R7,5million offered, Pikoli seemingly thought the violation of the Constitution had been repaired by two clauses in the settlement agreement.

"The government recognizes that the applicant is professionally competent, sufficiently experienced and conscientious and has the requisite integrity to hold a senior public position.

"It is therefore prepared to offer the applicant a position in the government" says the settlement agreement, which also said that the government was committed to an independent prosecuting authority.

The deal has left unanswered questions hanging in the air. If Pikoli is so competent that he will be offered another government job, why not just reinstate him as NDPP?

Human Sciences Research Council senior research specialist Mcebisi Ndletyana says: "Citizens should not put up with the government dishing out information when it suits them and keeping quiet when it doesn't. We are all taxpayers and it is our money.

"The State is very negligent in spending public money. It is worrisome. If they don't like you they fire you and pay you out. That's wasteful expenditure.

"If a person holds an important position we need to know why they have been compensated or fired."

But Ndletyana points out that the public has no way in which it can hold the State accountable for spending money on items that should not have been spent on. "There is just no sanction."


Indeed, the golden handshake phenomenon seems increasingly to have the sinister aim of preventing the truth from coming out.

"We can guess that there's a lot more at stake, leading to the need to give golden handshakes to keep former employees quiet" says attorney Shanta Reddy, of an eThekwini-based labour law firm.

She says another reason why golden handshakes are not in the public interest is that, in practice, only highly paid government or parastatal employees get them.

"Thousands of factory workers and other lowly paid employees, when contesting unfair practices, never receive the same public attention. Neither do they have the resources to enter into endless expensive litigation."

Reddy says using marathon legal battles to resolve worker issues is not the intention of democratic South Africa's labour laws.

"It has prompted the recent trend that only the well-to-do benefit from lucrative settlement deals," she says.

"Many poorer workers, who have substantive disputes, are not offered beneficial settlement packages, even if they are too old in today's society to be employed in the future."