SABC journalists critical of President Jacob Zuma face having their social media posts scrutinised by management, then disciplinary hearings and suspensions for “being a danger to the investigation into their action of expressing a personal opinion”.
This is what happened to Durban journalist Thulani Msimang this week.
At 9.42pm on Tuesday, October 11, he posted the following on his Facebook account: “The #NPA has somehow maneuvered and managed to find its spine and bring the #PravinGordan corruption charges but when it comes to #Zuma proverbial Dololo (sic).”
On Wednesday – a month after his post – Msimang received a letter from his bosses stating: “It has come to the attention of management that you have allegedly misconducted yourself in respect of the following issue: On or about October 11 2016 you posted a message on Social Media voicing personal opinion that has placed the SABC in disrepute (sic).”
The letter then states: “It is alleged that you were inter alia involved in the following act of serious misconduct:
- Bringing the SABC into disrepute; and
- Non-compliance with the duties of your contract of employment.
“Based on the above allegation, SABC management has reason to believe that your continued presence at the workplace may jeopardise the contemplated investigation into the alleged misconduct or may interfere with potential witnesses or lead to the commission of further acts of misconduct and the destruction and concealment of evidence and therefore, contemplates placing you on precautionary suspension.”
The letter invites Msimang to submit reasons in writing why he should not be suspended.
SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago was not available for comment.
Msimang’s union representative, Hannes du Buisson, the president of the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers’ Union, told City Press that he wasn’t surprised. “The trend of ousting people opposed to the [Hlaudi] Motsoeneng faction in the SABC is clearly continuing.”
Du Buisson said that, according to SABC Personnel Regulations, an employee “may only be suspended for serious misconduct such as assault, theft or fraud”.
He also questioned the investigation into Msimang’s post: “When someone makes a post on Facebook, there is absolutely nothing to investigate, there are no witnesses that can be interfered with, there is no evidence that can be destroyed or concealed.
He accuses the SABC of abusing its power to intimidate Msimang, who made the post in his “personal capacity to stimulate debate”.
Msimang, it seems, has had a colourful career at the SABC. Eight years ago he was reportedly suspended as a political reporter for not covering a Cope meeting when he was assigned.
At the time, the ANC’s Senzo Mchunu spoke out in favour of Msimang, saying “the SABC may have developed bias in favour of Cope, even going to the extent of covering every little event that they stage.”