Suspended CEO ready to take SABC to high court

Cape Town – The SABC's suspended chief executive officer Frans Matlala has warned that he is ready to take the public broadcaster to court if his suspension is not lifted by Tuesday.

Barely four months after appointing its next CEO, Frans Matlala has warned the SABC in a lawyer’s letter that his suspension must be lifted by Tuesday. Matlala is the embattled South African Broadcasting Corporation’s ninth CEO since 2009.

He was suddenly suspended by the SABC, which gave no reasons, although he is fighting back with his legal representative revealing and refuting the SABC’s reasons for his suspension.

Through his lawyer, Joe Mothibi of Norton Rose Fulbright, Matlala wrote to the SABC on November 17 demanding that he be reinstated as CEO by this coming Tuesday. If this doesn't happen, Matlala plans to take the SABC to the high court.

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago didn't respond to a media enquiry made on Thursday seeking comment and clarification on Matlala’s letter.

Matlala's lawyer told the SABC that the public broadcaster did not follow the legal process by suddenly suspending him.

"Our client views your conduct to be unreasonable, unlawful and not in the best interest of the SABC," his lawyer told the SABC.

While the SABC's chief operating officer (COO) Hlaudi Motsoeneng has not been suspended after almost two years since the Public Protector's report implicated him in gross maladministration and abuse of power, Matlala got barred from the SABC after just four months.

Matlala said he was helping the Treasury who asked for his support with an investigation into the R40m new SABC studio ordered by Motsoeneng and which was never put out to tender.

The new SABC studio of R39 380 000 (excluding VAT) was quickly constructed for use in Rugby World Cup coverage and for use by the SABC News (DStv 404) channel to do news coverage.

Motsoeneng – currently himself the subject of an upcoming disciplinary hearing and who last month went on a "voluntary leave of absence" without being suspended – admitted that the SABC studio contract, given to Vision View Productions, never went out to tender as it was supposed to.

According to Frans Matlala, the SABC's chairperson Obert Mbulaheni Maguvhe ordered him on November 11 to stop helping Treasury with the investigation into the SABC studio procurement process.

It is not clear why the SABC chairperson would allegedly prevent a SABC CEO from helping with a Treasury investigation.

In another revalation, Matlala is directly criticising the SABC, saying the process to appoint the attorneys of Werksmans Attorneys to act in the disciplinary hearing of Hlaudi Motsoeneng is flawed.

Matlala also said he was given no chance to make any representation before he was abruptly served his suspension letter, and that he was suspended after Minister of Communications Faith Muthambi gave the green light for his suspension.

Matlala also said the gutted SABC board, which has six vacant seats following resignations and firings, doesn’t have a quorum to suspend him or to start disciplinary proceedings against him.

Frans Matlala also says he directly wrote to president Jacob Zuma to apologise for the embarrassment of the SABC earlier this month when the SABC's Twitter feed tweeted "WHAT.THE.F-!!!" after reports over a R4bn Zuma jet to be procured for the South African president.

Matlala said SABC policy and his contract states he as SABC CEO is the main point of contact between the public broadcaster and the government. Yet his suspension includes a charge that he was allegedly "not authorised" to be in contact with Zuma.

The SABC, lurching from crisis to crisis, just posted a R401m loss in its latest financial report.

While its CEO is suspended, its COO is facing a postponed disciplinary hearing now set for December 1 and the process to find replacements for the first two out of the six vacant SABC board seats have been further delayed.

* Thinus Ferreira is Channel24's television expert

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