Cape Town – The disappearance of R417m of clothing workers’ money is a matter that the court needs to treat seriously, especially with workers experiencing such a struggle to survive.
This was said by Judge Dennis Davis in the Western Cape High Court in his finding on a court application by Richard Kawie, a former consultant for the clothing workers’ union Sact¬wu, claiming he was not compelled to testify about the money.
Clothing workers who filled the courtroom gallery to capacity on Thursday applauded Davis, who ordered Kawie to testify on November 23 in an inquiry into the affairs of Canyon Springs, a company that had received around R100m of the retirement funds.
Kawie was to have testified on October 17, but failed to make an appearance. On October 21 his legal representatives submitted an application to have him declared not compelled to testify. On Thursday Davis heard Sactwu’s urgent counter-application.
Davis sketched the background to the case and said he could not sufficiently stress that the case involved missing retirement funds with which workers – who are having such difficulties these days – would want to retire with dignity.
He said that from the information it was clear that the inquiry’s commissioner would have to interrogate Kawie as he was a “key witness” on the affairs of Can¬yon Springs. Canyon Springs, in turn, played a “key role” in the disappearance of the money, he said.
The information before him indicated that the money had been stolen or squandered. He called this a tragedy, but not a tragedy for those who had benefited from it.
Kawie, who will be overseas until November 16, wants to delay matters at the expense of workers who have lost their retirement funds, because of the holiday lying ahead, argued Gavin Woodland, counsel for Sactwu.
In his application Kawie referred to the media having access to the case and the breach of his privacy.
Davis said there had been a court order giving the media permission to report on the case. This was appropriate, he said, as it was a case of enormous public interest. It was no longer a question of what the public found interesting, but of the public interest.
The Sactwu members in court loudly endorsed his assertion that the workers had the right to know what had happened to their retirement money.
Nothing that Kawie had argued appeared sufficient reason to grant his application. It appeared to be nothing other than a ploy to postpone the inevitable. In Judge Davis’s view it was inevitable that one would have to testify on the affairs of a company that appeared to have stolen from people who were in no position to be robbed of their money.
Davis referred specifically to the case and generally cautioned people against using court procedures to prevent justice being effected.
The court, he said, could not simply approve every procedural argument and thus undermine affected parties’ clear right to have their interests examined.
If a court cannot find the balance (between the rights of the parties), it loses legitimacy in the eyes of the public.