Muthambi under fire for SABC power grab

A senior SABC executive is challenging the public broadcaster’s new governance regime introduced by Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, arguing that it is unlawful and is used to victimise unpopular SABC employees.

In a highly technical case in the Western Cape High Court, the SABC’s suspended head of technology, Sipho Masinga, accuses Muthambi and the SABC’s chief operations officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, of abusing their power and victimising employees who are not sympathetic or loyal to Motsoeneng.

Masinga claims that the amendments brought about by Muthambi to the SABC’s memorandum of incorporation and the manner in which the amendments were made were unlawful.

The case is the latest in the many legal wrangles bedevilling the SABC.

This week it was told by the Western Cape High Court that Motsoeneng’s appointment was illegal and that it should be set aside.

The SABC and Muthambi have said they would appeal this judgment.

The SABC announced in November 2014 that it had suspended Masinga on full pay, but refused to divulge the reasons for his suspension.

At the time, SABC insiders claimed Masinga was suspended after he had written a damning report saying that the broadcaster’s infrastructure was so broken and outdated it could not keep its own TV channels on the air.

In court papers, Masinga accuses Muthambi of amending the articles of association of the SABC and substituting them with an amended memorandum of incorporation.

He alleges that Muthambi acted unlawfully in amending the memorandum and that Motsoeneng, acting in terms of the amended memorandum, proceeded to issue a notice to discipline him for a number of alleged acts of misconduct.

Masinga wants the high court to determine if Muthambi had acted lawfully in authorising Motsoeneng to take a decision to discipline him.

Masinga said the amended memorandum was invalid on the basis that Muthambi did not adopt it at a general meeting to pass a resolution amending the memorandum. Instead, she unilaterally adopted a special resolution outside of a meeting with the SABC board.

“Further, the minister did not ratify this resolution with members of the Cabinet,” he claims.

Masinga also claims that Muthambi’s amended memorandum granted the group chief executive officer, the chief executive officer and the chief operations officer disciplinary powers over employees.

He argued that this was in conflict with section 14 of the Broadcasting Act, which grants powers of discipline to the SABC board.

Masinga claims that the fact that the SABC board “refuses to take a resolution that I be disciplined is indicative of the fact that there is no such proper resolution”.

“Why this is not done begs the question. It demonstrates, I submit, that there is no proper authority to discipline me,” said Masinga.

On Thursday, Advocate Nazeer Cassim, on behalf of Masinga, told the Western Cape High Court that Motsoeneng was the person who was “actually exercising the authority to discipline Masinga” and had no authority to do so.

Muthambi’s lawyers argued that everything was above board. The court reserved judgment.

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