Tom to drag Fort Hare to CCMA over ‘unfair dismissal’

‘I am challenging it on substance and procedure’

Jeanette Chabalala Senior Reporter
Xolani Tom was fired by Fort Hare in December for allegedly sending messages to a staff member, claiming her life was in danger.
Xolani Tom was fired by Fort Hare in December for allegedly sending messages to a staff member, claiming her life was in danger.
Image: Supplied

The president of the National Tertiary Education Union, who claimed he was kidnapped and tortured by police a year ago, says he will challenge his dismissal from the University of Fort Hare.

Xolani Tom was fired in December by the institution for among other things, allegedly sending messages to a senior staff member, claiming her life was in danger.

Tom was axed after he was found guilty on several charges, including harassment after he allegedly sent WhatsApp texts to the staffer in January 2023, notifying her about death threats which he later said were a joke. 

Tom told Sowetan on Sunday that he is challenging his ‘unfair dismissal’ at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.

“I am challenging it on substance and procedure. The chairperson who sat on the DC [Nthabiseng Makhoba] seemed to flout the procedure for the hearing. The chairperson is one of the people arrested for fraud and corruption and accused Number 3 [Paul Tladi] was my former line manager.. We knew there was something fishy in terms of the procedure,” Tom said.

He said the arbitration was set for July.

According to the charge sheet that Sowetan has seen, Tom allegedly told the colleague that she must not drive her car between home and work because she was being followed by people trying to kill a professor at the university.

Tom apparently told the woman that people had been following her from a distance, which according to the disciplinary process documents gave the woman the impression he had more information about her, including the security of her life.

Tom had also allegedly approached the woman while she was in the human resources office and pointed out to her that her vehicle looked like one of the professor’s cars.

“...Mr Xolani Tom wrote in one of his messages stating ‘nawe bakulindile’ meaning that they are also waiting for you, [the woman] did not take that as a joke, hence her response was to say that he would be the first suspect should anything happen to her.

“As a result... [the woman] has been diagnosed with psychological trauma, lives in constant fear and panics when she suspects any vehicle following her,” reads the charge sheet.

The university’s fleet manager Petrus Roets and vice-chancellor Sakhela Buhlungu’s bodyguard Richard Vesele were gunned down in separate attacks in May 2022 and January 2023 respectively.

“[The woman] shared that she did not consider Mr Vesele’s death to be a joke and the laughing emojis on her WhatsApp chats with Mr Xolani Tom were not considered a joke,” said Makhoba.

Among other charges Tom faced included gross incompetence in that the person he hired to take part in the Presidential Youth Empowerment Internship programme for six months did not perform their duty and was seen around the office a few times.

He was also charged with violating suspension for meeting the minister of higher education Blade Nzimande at Hemmingways Mall in East London, Eastern Cape, in his capacity as the president of the union.

Linked to this charge was that he went overseas without informing his employer.

Tom was found not guilty of failure to obey a reasonable instruction.

University spokesperson JP Roodt on Sunday said: “The University of Fort Hare applied institutional rules, policies and procedures to ensure that the disciplinary hearing was procedurally and substantively fair. The disciplinary hearing had an independent chair.”

In April 2023, Tom and another colleague businessman Colin Heshula were two people of interest in the police’s investigation into killings at the University of Fort Hare.

According to Sowetan’s sister publication Sunday Times, the pair claimed that in separate incidents, they were taken from their homes in Alice and East London, respectively by members of the police’s national intervention unit to a “black site” where they were tortured.

Tom said he opened a case against the officers who tortured him which is still being investigated by the Independent Police Investigative Unit. 

“I have also filed a suit against the police for the torture,” he said.

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