When unethical work relationships destroy a good man.
When Dennis Mbingo took over the position of Chief Executive Officer at the First National Bank (FNB) eSwatini, he was meant to be the trailblazing pathfinder in the corporate sector. His was to show that Swazis were competent enough to lead a multinational bank like FNB. As a people, we had come of age.
After all, the banking sector was transforming and surfacing the many Swazis who were armed with the requisite capacity to lead different sectors of the hitherto white and foreign dominated Swazi economy. The appointment of the late Ambrose Dlamini as Managing Director of Nedbank Swaziland—the first Swazi to occupy such a position—and later Mbingo at FNB showed that the banking industry now trusted native Africans to run institutions as important as banks.
Mbingo came well decorated academically and professionally. He is not some chance taker, he is a Chartered Accountant who has worked for established institutions like Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) and has served the bank in various senior capacities locally and in the region. In the country, he was Chief Financial Officer (CFO) before relocating to Lesotho and later Mozambique where he was the Deputy CEO.
He subsequently took over as Head of Operations at FNB International in South Africa. He had earned his stripes, so to speak. When then CEO Steven Bogatsu was recalled back to his country to assume the position of Botswana FNB CEO, Mbingo became the obvious choice to lead the bank back in the country. He took over a bank with a portfolio of over 250 employees, 12 branches and a balance sheet of E3 billion.
Leading a bank with a profitability of E200 Million was not something beyond the capacity of a well-educated man like Mbingo. All he needed to do was lead professionally as he had done in the three countries he had been to. ‘Gird up your loins’ the Bible calls of us all but in the case of Mbingo, this advice needed to be taken quite literally especially for a man who was known as a Christian back in his university days.
When Mbingo’s marriage to Ncamisile Mbingo broke down he took a sharp casanova turn with devastating consequences both personally and professionally. The good man of yesteryears morphed into something even his wife had not known or contemplated. His love for women and his unethical relationships at work came to define his otherwise impressive CV.
His relationships would have been forgivable if they didn’t interfere with his professional life but they came to define unethical conduct that is slowly corrupting the corporate soul of eSwatini.
Many bosses in the private sector have normalised unethical relationships at the workplace and they feel untouchable because they can whip the local media into line with threats of litigation. Many frustrated employees cry themselves to sleep knowing they are powerless to fight what is dastardly a rotten and toxic culture.
In the case of Mbingo, he hired his wife’s friend, Gugu Dlamini, as his Personal Assistant at FNB. Dlamini went on to have a sexual relationship with Mbingo something that became fodder for gossip within the bank’s corridors and disappointed, if not ruined, his wife's relationship with Dlamini.
Two consenting adults having a relationship should be normal except that Dlamini was married to Francis Dlamini and Mbingo had still not divorced his wife. This strained Dlamini’s marriage as much as it did Mbingo’s.
But if this love trilogy needed spices then Amanda Vilane came dressed in shining robes and took it a notch up. Vilane works at the Revenue Authority as Chief Internal Auditor. At the time, she worked with Mbingo’s wife at the revenue authority but in different departments. It gets better, Vilane is related to Dlamini.
When news started to leak that Dlamini was sleeping with her boss she would tell those who cared to ask that it was not her who was in a relationship with Mbingo but her relative, Vilane. Mbingo himself took this decoy quite literally and went on to have a sexual relationship with Vilane. In 2018 a child was born of the union.
This complex relationship web set an animosity never seen before between Mbingo's wife, Ncamisile, and her work colleague, Amanda Vilane, on the one hand and Gugu Dlamini and Amanda on the other hand. But Mbingo was not done. The star of the show was to come when Linda Khumalo, then Human Resources Manager at the bank, entered the netflixque love triangle.
Khumalo had just divorced businessman Bheki Nkwanyana, the Plant Manager at DD Williamson, and felt free to have a relationship with his boss, unethical as it may have been. Those who worked at FNB tell tales of how Khumalo used to treat her junior staff knowing she had protection in high places.
“She was literally ungovernable. We all knew she was sleeping with the boss but being made to feel it just made the environment unworkable. It was just too toxic,” said an ex-employee who spoke on condition of anonymity.
There are several instances where Khumalo exhibited unprofessional conduct and Mbingo did not reprimand her, at least according to five former employees we spoke to. One such instance is when she dressed down ex bank employee, Nomcebo Maphalala, in front of other staff members and Mbingo was told to intervene and he looked the other way.
The Bridge understands that so untenable was the situation at FNB that Maphalala eventually resigned. It added fuel to the fire that she had been overlooked for the position in the forex unit department, a position subsequently occupied by Zaziwe Sibiya. Maphalala had been promised this job but lost it to Sibiya who was recruited from the Central Bank.
Frustrated, Maphalala resigned and started her own consultancy. Her frustrations with the bank mirror those of Lando Dlamini, who left the bank within four months of being recruited on her return from the University of Sussex in London. Dlamini had just completed her Master’s in Business Administration and joined the bank as Marketing Manager only to leave for MTN Eswatini within four months.
She is now Brand, Communications and Sponsorship Manager at MTN. Four months was enough, she called it quits and returned to MTN where she had previously worked. Promises made had not been met and she would tell those who cared to listen that the work culture at FNB was too toxic for her. Others followed too, Nontokozo Davidson left to be Head of Resource Management at the World Food Programme.
But Mbingo’s philandering activities at the bank were to turn an already toxic work environment to hell soon as he had his eyes on Zethu Dlamini, the bank's Chief Marketing Officer. Dlamini joined FNB from Swazi TV and immediately attracted the attention of Mbingo. At the time Mbingo was also dating Khumalo in the same company.
The scene was set for a bitter love triangle that polarised the bank and created a hostile work environment. But this came at a time when Mbingo was shifting out and restructuring some positions to sideline some of the questioning employees. Most eventually left while others were removed from their positions to favour 'young people'. In the public eye, the bank was privileging young people and the PR looked good.
Meanwhile, Khumalo made Zethu’s life a living hell especially as the new favourite. Mbingo didn't take long to take sides and complained to FNB South Africa that the human resource department was underperforming. Mediation was tried in South Africa but it didn't help much.
The relationship between Khumalo and Mbingo had reached an all-time low so much so that by the time the Swaziland Unions of Financial Institutions and Allied Workers (SUFIAW) entered the fray to represent Khumalo in a disciplinary hearing they were told point blank that the fight between the CEO and Khumalo was down to a romantic fall out.
The mediation didn’t leave Khumalo in any better position, she was shipped out of the company with a good payout. She relocated to South Africa and closed the eSwatini chapter probably with a #MenAreTrash pillow somewhere in her bedroom. Gugu, on the other hand, eventually left FNB to join Eswatini Electricity Company and became Noncendo Mamba’s Personal Assistant.
Protected and buoyed by the relationship she had with the CEO, Zethu was to show her junior staff like Communications specialists Sibusile Sigwane and Marketing Manager Buyile Nxumalo who the boss was. The environment was utterly toxic to a point that the two eventually resigned. But Mbingo had still not seen how unethical his relationships at work were.
The Bridge spoke to several employees and ex employees of the bank and it was clear that many had cried themselves to sleep, wondering if anyone would ever hold a powerful man like Mbingo accountable. Mbingo and Gugu were given a chance to comment on this story and they chose not to. Mbingo sent the bank's Communications Manager Ntobeko Dlamini to tell The Bridge that they do not respond to 'rumours and malicious gossip'. Gugu simply didn't respond to questions from this publication. Linda is in South Africa and we couldn't trace her.
When Rudyard Kipling wrote his famous poem 'If' so many moons ago he meant it as advice to a boy on how to be a man. He is defining what it means to be a real man, someone who doesn't blame others for mistakes, listens to both sides of an issue, takes risks and accepts losses.
The only part Kupling missed in his poem is to warn people like Mbingo that 'if you can keep your zippers closed then you would be a man my son' . This is the kind of advice Mbingo needs.