Cape Town – The SABC had to fork out R22m to defend former chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng during his tumultuous tenure at the broadcaster, a parliamentary reply revealed on Wednesday.
Motsoeneng was a respondent in no less than 15 different cases since the 2013/14 financial year, former communications minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane revealed in a reply to DA MP Thomas Hadebe.
His highest legal bill, R5.3m, accrued from his fight against the DA over the Public Protector's report into governance failures at the broadcaster, When Governance and Ethics Fail.
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Other notable spending included R4.9m litigating on "various SABC board matters", R1.6m against the Helen Suzman Foundation and R1.1m in a case against veteran journalist Vuyo Mvoko.
The total figure might increase as matters progress, Kubayi-Ngubane added.
The news comes at a bad time for Motsoeneng, after the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) told Parliament last month it had issued a summons against him for more than R21m he owes the broadcaster.
"The SIU will determine whether or not to pursue the individual concerned for the recovery of any monies in this regard, as well as the timelines for this exercise," Kubayi-Ngubane said.
DA MP Phumzile van Damme on Thursday said Motsoeneng must pay back every cent owed to the taxpayer, saying the public shouldn't pay for his legal fees.
Motsoeneng laughed when he was asked about the DA's demand that he pay back his legal fees.
He said insurance covered the litigation of a director or senior employee and that it was standard procedure if the matters related to the employee's work.
As for the SIU matter, he didn't want to jeopardise the legal process by commenting on the summons, and said he would be filing a responding affidavit soon.
He confirmed that the R21m figure related to separate matters, including allegations that he had hired senior staff at the broadcaster irregularly.
He is currently engaged in a labour dispute with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) over his dismissal, which coincidentally wrapped up on Wednesday.
The CCMA will reconvene in May to discuss his case. He did not want to comment on that matter either.
He said the burden was on the SABC to prove that his firing was fair.
"The ball's in the SABC's court," he added.
Zuma's legal fees also in focus
Motsoeneng was removed from his position at the SABC in June last year after he was found guilty of bringing the public broadcaster into disrepute in an internal disciplinary hearing.
SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said the broadcaster would consult its legal department before commenting, and to also confirm that the information sent to the ministry was accurate.
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Later on Thursday, Kganyago told News24 that all of the listed cases mentioned were undertaken in Motsoeneng's capacity as a director for the SABC.
"The SABC was also a respondent in these cases," he added.
The news comes in a week during which former president Jacob Zuma was also called on to pay back the money spent on legal fees in his fight against the corruption charges still outstanding against him.
President Cyril Ramaphosa told Parliament on Wednesday that Zuma had spent R15.3m of state money on legal fees since 2006, R7.5m of which was spent before the charges were dropped in 2009.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane also called on Zuma to pay back the money, and said his party would start legal processes to look at recouping the sum.
Ramaphosa assured the House that Zuma had agreed to repay the state if the court rules that he acted in his personal capacity when it eventually deliberates on the matter.
ALSO READ: Zuma will pay his legal fees... if court orders him to - Ramaphosa
This was part of a signed agreement between Zuma and the Presidency under then-president Thabo Mbeki in 2006.
Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court on Wednesday dismissed an application that sought to prevent National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams from announcing his decision on whether the charges against Zuma should be reinstated or not.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said the announcement could come any time after Thursday.
*UPDATE: This story has been updated to include Motsoeneng's response.