PLIGHT OF RURAL TELECOMS FIRMS HIGHLIGHTED BY CCMA RULING IN SOUTH AFRICA

Telecoms

The founder of one the black-owned telecommunications operators struggling to survive in rural areas has won compensation from his company after being unfairly dismissed. Dominic Mokhethi has won his case at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), and has been awarded compensation of R164000, equivalent to six months' salary.

The clash within the management of Bokamoso Telecoms highlights the difficulties faced by rural telecoms operators, which were licensed to offer voice and data services in areas too poor or too remote for Telkom and the cellular operators to tackle.

Mokhethi was among the first entrepreneurs to win an under-serviced-area licence, conceived by the Communications Department to bring more black people into the industry and take services to the masses.

Mokhethi claims he lost R600,000 before tension within Bokamoso led to his dismissal. He says several other telecoms companies operating in rural areas are also collapsing from a lack of money, lack of business sense and from licences confining them to small, unprofitable areas.

The department earmarked 27 areas for the licences and has so far issued about a dozen. The CCMA upheld Mokhethi's claim of constructive dismissal, CCMA documents said. However, he doubts he will see any money as the consortium has failed to raise any funding, and is still surviving on R5m in seed capital that the Universal Service Agency awards to each of the rural operators. Next month the agency will issue a report analysing the problems the rural operators face and proposing how to make their shaky business case more sustainable.

The CCMA heard that Mokhethi was CEO of Bokamoso until he was suspended by Owen Monoang, a shareholder and board chairman. Monoang also claims to be human resources manager, and is trying to get the company to pay him R2,5m in salaries.

Monoang told the hearing Mokhethi did not tell the board about the company's operational activities or explain how the R5m start-up cash was used. However, auditors did not find irregularities. CCMA commissioner Hlalele Molotsei ruled that Mokhethi's conditions of employment had become intolerable, particularly because of the chairman's behaviour. "The applicant could not be expected to put up with that conduct."

Business Day