Black Physicist Fired

Mojalefa Murphy, one of South Africa's rare black nuclear physicists who has been suspended by the Atomic Energy Corporation, hit back in the Pretoria High Court this week with a bitter attack on the AEC's chief executive, Waldo Stumpf.

Murphy, who was meant to be the new face of the AEC, has been suspended as executive general manager: corporate external relations for allegedly failing to submit proof of all credit-card expenses and failing to follow procedure in dismissing an employee. This week he asked the Pretoria High Court to prevent Stumpf from presiding over a disciplinary inquiry into the allegations.

A returned exile and radiation physicist, Murphy was appointed to transform the image of the AEC, which laboured under the twin disadvantages of being perceived as an apartheid dinosaur and purveyor of the unpopular technology of nuclear power.

Murphy embarked on his task at the beginning of the year and became, according to one highly placed player in the science sector, an excellent ambassador for the AEC. He was appointed to various government committees concerned with the nuclear sector, and established links with educational institutions and other bodies.

He said in his affidavit that the charges against him were untrue, that Stumpf was biased against him and that he suspected Stumpf "intends to use the inquiry as a vehicle through which to lend legitimacy to his attempts to have my employment services terminated".

To demonstrate that there had been a breakdown of communication between them, Murphy submitted passages from a letter he received from Stumpf in June. In this letter, Stumpf accused Murphy of having "strained relations between the two of us", referred to incidents that had affected "the trust in our working relationship in the future" and said he had reached the conclusion that there was far too much conflict and division surrounding Murphy's interaction within the corporation.

The chair of the AEC board, Don Ncube, and Stumpf submitted affidavits denying these allegations, and AEC lawyers argued that the company has a right to follow its own internal procedures for disciplinary hearings and to keep them "in-house". They maintained that Stumpf, as chief executive, was the only appropriate person to mediate. The court will decide whether the AEC should bring in an external mediator. Meanwhile, the transformation of the AEC's image hangs in the balance.

Mail&Guardian, November 25, 1997.


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