Exclusive: The great Illovo Scandal that saw MD leave and HR resign
Illovo eSwatini Managing Director Oswald Magwenzi is gone. Magwenzi’s contract was not renewed by Illovo. He was told he would have to leave the country to head Illovo operations in Zambia. This was the best the board could offer in lieu of firing him after he accepted the resignation of Bongani Ndwandwe, then Human Resources Manager, who had pending investigations against him.
Ndwandwe resigned after the board initiated investigations on allegations of sexual misconduct involving as many as 12 women. Current Acting Managing Director Leonard Ndzimandze has his feet nicely held on top of the fire too and his attempt to resign was denied as investigations intensify at Illovo. Heads are rolling and many retrenched and fired employees are more than excited.
Nigerian songwriter, Asa, would probably sing ‘there is a fire on the mountain’ because the rolling hills of Lubombo know far too well what started all this. Indeed, a plan hatched in hell has no angels as witnesses. To any present and former employee of the company, the sudden turn of events feels like a fictional story taken out of a Hollywood movie. Not once has anyone ever thought, even in their wildest dreams, that the untouchable trio of Magwenzi, Ndzimandze and Ndwandwe would ever be where they are today—unsettled, forced out of employment or being haunted by pending investigations.
The three held strategic positions at Illovo, Ndzimandze as General Manager Finance, Ndwandwe as Human Resources Manager and Magwezi as the Managing Director and together they ran the company like a fiefdom. They covered up for each other’s transgressions and frustrated junior employees and managers alike. Over time Illovo became a cesspit for deep-seated corruption and a haven for worse forms of sexual abuse. Under the cover of restructuring they pushed out employees they didn’t like.
When news broke out that Ndwandwe was being investigated for a slew of allegations of sexual misconduct his top management buddies tipped him to resign and Magwenzi accepted the resignation against company policy. The heat turned to him and was told he would have to leave the country. Ndzimandze himself tried to pull a similar stunt but was told to hold his horses, he won’t leave until investigations are over. But in order to understand the current fallout and the scandal engulfing Illovo one must roll back the clock to locate the troika within their proper historical context and why private investigators were brought from Cape Town to probe the company and the rot they uncovered.
In March 2016, Associated British Foods plc (“ABF”), announced that it had reached an agreement with the Board of Illovo Sugar Limited (“Illovo”) to acquire 48.65% interest in shares that it did not already own. The agreed offer price per share was rand 25 representing a total consideration of rand 5.6bn (£262m) to be settled in cash. ABF acquired its majority shareholding in Illovo in 2006. Illovo is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and is the largest sugar producer in Africa.
It is one of the world’s lowest cost producers, with leading market positions in South Africa, Malawi, Zambia and Swaziland and a strong presence in Mozambique and Tanzania. Illovo Africa is headquartered in Durban, South Africa, under Group Managing Director, Gavin Dalgleish.
Illovo operations in the country were for a long time headed by Mandla Hlatshwako who however left the company in 2008 when he was forced into exile in South Africa. John Hulley took over for five years before Zimbabwean born Magwenzi was promoted to the apex of the company.
As a multinational company, Illovo has an anti-corruption hotline where employees can report cases of corruption or maladministration anonymously. Illovo employees made use of this facility where they detailed their frustrations.
But with each effort they hit a brick wall. Rumours started doing the rounds that perhaps the anti-corruption unit was not actioning the slew of allegations because Dalgleish felt it wouldn’t look good that rot was happening right under his nose.
It is here that employees decided to write an email to ABC foods in London, chronicling their frustration and the many allegations of corruption and sexual abuse of countless women.
ABF didn’t hesitate to hire a Cape Town based private investigator, Kitshoff Consulting, to conduct widescale investigations in the company. Kitshoff brought polygraph tests and interviewed a number of employees. The information they uncovered implicated top executives and everyone wanted to run away.
A history of corruption
The Bridge investigations have uncovered that if there is anything consistent with Illovo it is its history of sexual scandals and corruption involving senior managers. For example, when allegations of corruption first surfaced that Percy Maziya, then assistant Human Resources Manager, had been benefiting improperly from a company hired to provide food hampers to junior employees, the company acted swiftly by charging and ultimately firing him. The company has a food hamper scheme where lower end employees get food and other essentials for free.
The service provider was outsourced to a company trading as Quality caters. Maziya was found to be getting monthly payments from the company. He was subsequently charged and fired.
His superior, Jobe Mashwama, who was the Human Resources Manager, had to go too because the company policy stipulates that the boss is liable for the transgression of their junior staff.
With both Mashwama and Maziya gone, the company took Ndwandwe from the Accounts department and made him Human Resources manager.
It didn’t matter that Ndwandwe didn’t have the qualifications needed for a job requiring background in law at the very least. Ndwandwe turned the human resources department to a sex den in the most despicable of ways.
If the FNB CEO’s sexual proclivities were shocking then Ndwandwe’s philandering ways at Illovo bordered on more than just unethical conduct but criminality in its crystal form.
If there is one thing that the private sector has normalized it is unethical sexual relations where bosses throw around their weight to desperate junior employees in order to gain sexual favours.
This is perhaps the greatest scourge facing the country after COVID and HIV and at Illovo it was not just ‘acceptable’ but had been taken to new despicable lows.
The HR department seemed to be the cesspit for worse forms of sexual abuse and the victims were both married and unmarried women. Women were literally forced to sleep with their bosses if they were to get promotions or, for those out of employment, jobs.
The Bridge spoke to several employees and discovered that Ndwandwe slept with at least 12 women, four of them married and eight unmarried, for jobs, promotions and other favours in the workplace. Some of the women who spoke to The Bridge literally cry tears when recalling what they went through at Illovo.
In fact, all 12 of them were so distraught that as soon as they discovered they had all suffered similar ordeal they formed a support group. As it turned out, Ndwandwe had been doing this for years to different women. Others who wanted promotions had to go via his bedsheets first.
Ndwandwe would have gotten away with it had it not been for a university graduate, Slindile Shongwe*, who joined the company first as a trainee doing menial work in the company’s online magazine and later as Ndwandwe’s Private Secretary. Shongwe’s quick rise within the company sent tongues wagging and soon questions were asked about her qualifications.
“That is when Bongani couldn’t justify her employment and fired her. The girl went home bitter and told her mother what had happened to her. Luckily for the girl, her mother worked in the company and she was mad as hell. She exposed the rot and one by one the women came out. Four were married and eight were not. A thread between all of them is that they were threatened or promised promotions if they slept with the man,” said a source within the company management.
Ndwandwe was not done, he would frustrate junior employees by demoting them to junior ranks without a care in the world. Sfiso Nkambinde*, for example, was forced into a depression after being demoted from a foreman to a junior position below that of the employees he was in charge of.
Rumours started doing the rounds that his wife was one of the many victims of Ndwandwe and that demoting him was to frustrate him out of the company. And indeed when the time came he was shipped out during the restructuring exercise that started last year and continued this year.
Clement Dlamini, the company’s Procurement Manager, was promoted without qualification to a senior position and then demoted back as soon as he started to make demands Ndwandwe didn’t approve. Dlamini himself had tried to sleep with his junior, Hlobsile Msibi*, and when she refused she was fired three times without reason.
Msibi complained to Ndwandwe that she was drowning in the department and was concerned about the unexplained dismissals by her boss. Ndwandwe quickly promoted her to the position of Administrator within a day. Ndwandwe then demanded to sleep with her or he would remove her to her previous position. Numerous cries for help from Ndzimandze hit a snag.
Msibi sank into depression especially after being sacked three times only to be recalled back to work when her boss couldn’t explain why she was fired. Ndwandwe used his power of being able to recall her from home to sexually abuse her.
”I used to come to people crying every day. I didn’t know what to do. I told Leonard several times what was going on and he never seemed to take our case serious,” Msibi told The Bridge.
When Shongwe blew the whistle on Ndwandwe, opening up a can of worms in the process, most people came up and investigations were opened by the company in response to the discontent this had caused. A private investigator had to come from Cape Town to interview most employees. As many as 12 women came out and others only spoke on the condition they would not be exposed because they were still married.
It is here that Ndwandwe resigned to save his pension and the MD accepted it against company policy. Ndzimandze tried to pull a similar stunt and his resignation was denied. Oswald was nicely pushed out and Ndwandwe escaped with murder.
“I fear for my life just like the other ladies. The person involved got a chance to resign and live on but what is my protection in all this? I have told my story and the HR manager got to walk away with his package and I was left with no job till today. I'm sorry but I see no benefit in me voicing out what I went through in that company,” said another victim.
Ndwandwe was called for comments and he politely declined to comment and Leanard’s phone rang unanswered. Peter Kitshoff, from Kitshoff consulting, the Cape Town based private investigation company, confirmed that they worked with Illovo on the investigations but will not reveal their findings owing to confidentiality agreements.
*Not real names to protect identify of victims
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