Snuki suspension 'last straw'

2008-05-15 20:20

Johannesburg - SABC chief executive Dali Mpofu's move to suspend his news chief was the last straw that prompted his own suspension, according to court papers on Thursday.

Mpofu has launched an urgent application with Johannesburg High Court to challenge his suspension last Wednesday.

In papers submitted to the court on Thursday, SABC chairperson Khanyi Mkhonza said: "The applicants (Mpofu) in clear defiance of the (SABC) board decided without any power or authority to do so, to suspend (news chief) Snuki (Zikalala).

"The applicant's conduct in suspending Zikalala, in the manner that he did, is yet a further example of what appears to be a pattern of behaviour by him that discloses complete lack of accountability to and disregard for the board."

Mpofu has argued in turn that the presidency orchestrated his suspension.

Mpofu's decision to suspend Zikalala came just a day before his own suspension.

Mkhonza said in affidavits that the board was already "concerned" by that time about Mpofu's conduct as group CEO.

This related to, among other things, the late submission of the budget for the 2008-'09 financial year.

When a draft budget eventually was presented, it contained errors and some of the figures were "incorrect and inconsistent with other figures in the very same document".

The board was also upset about the SABC losing broadcasting rights with the International Cricket Council because Mpofu did not follow instructions to have the necessary contract with the ICC concluded and delivered within the set time frame.

Memo leaked to newspaper

Another concern was the "alleged failure to manage and present a clear technology road map" ahead of the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

The board was also worried about the "alleged failure to implement board resolutions, particularly in relation to the repositioning of SA FM".

A memorandum containing the board's discussions on these concerns was then leaked to the Sunday Times newspaper.

"Following the disclosure of the memorandum, the applicant (Mpofu) did not contact me or any other member of the board," said Mkhonza.

"Rather, the applicant proceeded to canvass (extensively) the issues dealt with in the memorandum in the media.

"The applicant also sought to impute to the board unlawful and improper purpose in considering the serious allegations contained in the memorandum."

Mpofu later claimed Zikalala had leaked the memorandum to the media and that was why he was suspended.

However, Mkhonza maintained in the court papers that Zikalala's suspension was "invalid and unlawful".

Mpofu is arguing that his own suspension was unlawful because the meeting where it was decided did not follow the correct procedures as stipulated in the Company's Act.

Personal animosity

He said in affidavits that the minister in the presidency Essop Pahad had ordered the board to "get rid of the CEO".

"I have reason to believe that the chairperson and the deputy chairperson, in particular, were and are still acting in pursuance of that instruction," said Mpofu.

"Mr Pahad bears personal animosity towards me because I resisted his unwarranted attempt to interfere during the PSL and SuperSport matters towards the end of 2007."

Mpofu also claimed that Zikalala's conduct was "in direct contravention of the SABC's disciplinary code and his employment contract".

Mpofu's lawyer, advocate Vincent Maleka SC, told the court that the board did not have the authority to suspend Mpofu - but that Mpofu did have the power to suspend Zikalala.

Maleka said the person responsible for appointing Mpofu, in this case, the communications minister, was the only one with the power to suspend him.

He also said the board had acted unethically by giving Mpofu very little notice of the meeting at which his suspension was decided.

Held a late-night meeting

It did not give him an opportunity to offer his version of the story either.

The minister of communications did not even know that the board was discussing Mpofu's suspension.

Maleka said the board clearly regarded the matter as urgent because it held a late-night meeting and informed Mpofu of his suspension in the early hours of the next morning. This is why the court should also consider Mpofu's application as urgent.

Advocate Tim Bruinders will oppose his application on behalf of the SABC.

The hearing continues.