Tension at MDDA simmering for some time

Cape Town – The tension at the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) that burst into the open last week seems to have been simmering for quite some time.

Staff members at the MDDA have apparently been trying for years to bring attention to their working conditions. Allegations of victimisation were a common thread in the messages to MPs that News24 has seen.

The matter reached its peak on August 15, when staff members wrote a letter to Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo, her deputy Thandi Mahambehlala and the chairperson of the portfolio committee on communications, Humphrey Maxegwana.

In the letter staff members also cite victimisation and allege that MDDA board chairperson Phelisa Nkomo is interfering with the day-to-day running of the organisation. The letter also expressed the staff's support for Donald Liphoko, who was seconded to act as the agency's CEO by Dlodlo in May, after the agency had been without top executives for quite some time.

DA MP Veronica van Dyk wrote to Maxegwana two weeks ago to request an urgent meeting on the matter, which led to last week Tuesday's explosive meeting.

At the meeting, Nkomo put much of the blame for the agency's woes on Liphoko.

'Very unusual event'

After Nkomo's presentation, the committee gave Liphoko a chance to speak.

He said workers at the MDDA were being intimidated.

Currently, there are only four non-executive MDDA board members, meaning it is inquorate. According to Liphoko, the three remaining board members are "institutionalising a culture of victimisation".

Three days after the meeting Liphoko reported a "very unusual event" at his house to the police after his gate's motor was disabled. According to the subsequent security assessment, this was part of the modus operandi of the suspected intruders to have him get out of his vehicle.

READ HERE: Deputy minister concerned about threats against acting MDDA CEO

Mahambehlala on the weekend condemned the incident and stated her commitment to keeping the parliamentary committee on communications informed on the state of the MDDA.

Van Dyk said she had raised the MDDA's human resources issues in her very first speech in Parliament in 2014. Since then she has written several letters to the portfolio committee on communications' chairpersons – former chair Joyce Moloi-Moropa and current chair Maxegwana – as well as former communications minister Faith Muthambi, but the situation has remained unchanged.

Decision on inquiry

She said the number of vacant posts at the MDDA was unacceptable and that it was very concerning that Nkomo seemingly usurped the role of CEO.

"I wonder if we shouldn't go the same route as with the SABC (and institute a parliamentary inquiry)," she said. "It must cut to the bone."

ALSO READ: Media agency likened to SABC; inquiry in sight

At last week's meeting, the committee rejected Nkomo's report.

"Although the situation at the MDDA warrants an inquiry, that decision may only be taken after the committee has met with the minister to hear her side of the story and how she proposes to resolve the current untenable situation," Maxegwana said after the meeting.         

This upcoming meeting will take place on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the committee will on Tuesday interview eight candidates to fill the three non-executive board positions agency. The candidates are: Lufuno Nevondwe, Onkaetse Sheila Mmusi, Sibongile Gangxa, Hubert Matlou, Nombeko Mbava, Ronald Lamola and Martina Della-Togna.

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