Sacked C-Max prison commissioner loses Labour Court bid for reinstatement

The sacked area commissioner of the Ebongweni C-Max Prison near Kokstad, Patrick Baxter, has lost his Labour Court bid to be reinstated to the position.

Baxter claimed he was a "whistleblower" and the corruption and nepotism allegations he made against senior correctional services officials were "protected disclosures".

But in a recent judgment, Durban Labour Court Judge President Hamilton Cele said: "Disclosure is only protected if it is made in good faith.

"Baxter appeared to have been driven by ulterior motives, revenge and malice," the judge said.

Central to this, he said, appeared to be Baxter's fury at his daughter being dropped from the department's prisons internship programme and the failure of his wife to be shortlisted and interviewed for a senior post within the service.

When Baxter was appointed to the post to oversee both the maximum security prison and Port Shepstone prison, he and regional correctional services commissioner Mnikelwa Nxele reportedly had a good relationship.

Claims of irregularities in appointments

But things soured in 2013 when Nxele cancelled the internship programme, claiming he had heard reports that Baxter "had interfered" with the selection process and secured a place for his daughter.

Angered by this, Baxter then asked for an audience with the national commissioner and the minister, alleging "corruption and abuse of power" by Nxele, which he later detailed in a series of WhatsApp messages over one weekend to the acting national correctional services commissioner Nontsikelelo Jolingana.

In the messages he alleged irregularities over the appointment of five senior officials.

Baxter was suspended and charged for influencing the selection of the interns, refusing to open his car boot during a search, violating the terms of his suspension by contacting potential witness and failing to submit a sick leave certificate.

He alleged that the charges came about because he had made "protected disclosures" to Jolingana about Nxele and to Nxele about other staff members.

He claimed Nxele had stopped the leadership programme because one of his own relatives was not on the list. He claimed that Nxele had interfered with the selection panel's preferred candidates.

But Baxter was found guilty and dismissed.

'He should have lived by example'

On appeal, and after hearing the versions of both Baxter and Nxele, Judge Cele said it appeared that Baxter had become infuriated at the treatment of his daughter and wife.

"If everything had gone his way, he would have been content. This is evident from a message to Nxele in which he said: 'When it touches an innocent child. I have to do what is expected of me as a father'."

The judge said by refusing to allow a security search of his car, he also "displayed an attitude that he is too senior to be subjected to the ordinary rules of the department".

He also noted that during the disciplinary inquiry, Baxter had been legally represented but had elected not to testify.

The chairperson, advocate M B Matlejoane of the Pretoria Bar, had commented at the time of his ruling that Baxter had caused the trust relationship between himself and his employer to break down irretrievably.

"He compounded the problem by trying to justify his actions rather than [accepting] responsibility for where he had clearly erred," the chairperson said.

Cele said he agreed with Matlejoane's finding that the charges were of a serious nature.

"Senior officials like Mr Baxter are expected to behave with impeccable moral rectitude and he failed himself and his employer in this instance.

"He should have lived by example. Considered individually or cumulatively, the charges justify a dismissal."