Court battle ahead over minister's SABC powers

Johannesburg - A court battle is set to rage over newly expanded powers that Communications Minister Faith Muthambi has gained over the SABC board, City Press newspaper reported on Sunday.

"The changes are far-reaching and reduce the board's power significantly," said civil action group SOS co-ordinator Sekoetlane Phamadi.

The SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition collective, along with other partners, have approached the High Court in Pretoria in a bid to have Muthambi's new powers declared unlawful and unconstitutional.

On 14 September last year, the minister signed an amended version of the SABC memorandum of incorporation which grants her the power to veto candidates and make the appointment of the national broadcaster's chief executive officer, chief financial officer and chief operating officer.

Lack of information

She also now has the power to approve the terms of their employment contracts as well as to approve all the board's business and strategic plans.

Phamadi said that the minister's new level of authority set up a system of "micromanagement" of the SABC.

"[Rather] there really should be a light touch approach. This is exactly why we are taking the minister to court - to not only address the appointment of executive directors, but also to establish, once and for all, the extent of government powers in relation to the national broadcaster."

According to the City Press, in her answering affidavit, Muthambi stated her plan to reduce the board from 15 members to seven.

Muthambi's spokesman Ayanda Holo told the newspaper that the minister "disagrees" with the claim that the amended memorandum is illegal.

"Your belief is based on a lack of information or ignorance...The minister is in the process of overhauling the entire Broadcasting Act and will engage the stakeholders in this regard".

Hostile takeover

On Sunday, SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said that the broadcaster did not comment on matters relating to the minister.

Also, the Democratic Alliance issued a statement in which it deemed the extended powers of the minister a "hostile takeover".

"In short, the memorandum of incorporation removes the power of the Board to run the SABC, said DA MP Gavin Davis.

In January, board member Professor Bongani Khumalo resigned, allegedly because the minister had sent letters to the board asking for reasons as to why they should not be suspended.

His resignation came less than a month after SABC board chairperson Ellen Tshabalala resigned, following a scandal in which she was unable to provide proof of her academic qualifications, as requested by a parliamentary committee.

Last year, the public broadcaster's CEO Lulama Mokhobo resigned, while chief financial officer, Gugu Duda was fired for misconduct.

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