Former SABC head of news slammed by group CEO for 'refusing to take responsibility'

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Phathiswa Magopeni
Phathiswa Magopeni
PHOTO: Moeletsi Mabe, Gallo Images, Sunday Times
  • SABC CEO Madoda Mxakwe says former head of news Phathiswa Magopeni is a liar who refuses to take responsibility.
  • Magopeni was fired last month after being found guilty of misconduct.
  • She intends taking the matter to the CCMA.

SABC group chief executive Madoda Mxakwe has painted the broadcaster's former head of news Phathiswa Magopeni as someone who refuses to be held accountable.

In his 32-page response to a grievance by Magopeni against him, Mxakwe said it was suspicious how Magopeni raised issues about him after she was charged.

He claimed they had had a good working relationship up until that point.

Her grievance was penned four days after Mxakwe charged her with misconduct.

He wrote:

Her conduct demonstrates her character of refusing to take responsibility for her actions and/or omission and to be held accountable.

Last November, Magopeni was charged with misconduct after an interdicted Special Assignment episode was erroneously aired. She was taken to a disciplinary hearing headed by advocate Nazeer Cassim, who found her guilty.

Magopeni had claimed that political interference underpinned the charges against her.

She was fired last month and had indicated she would challenge her dismissal at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

No personal vendetta

In his letter, Mxakwe said he had to conclude Magopeni's disciplinary process before responding to her grievance letter. This, he said, was because her letter was filed after he had charged her.

SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini had also penned his response to Magopeni's allegations. He denied having a hand in her firing.

Mxakwe, like Makhathini, said there was no personal vendetta in charging Magopeni. He said she was charged because she didn't take reasonable steps to ensure the programme was not aired.

He said: 

I deny that I ever subjected Ms Magopeni to intense antagonism and vindictiveness, as I have no reason to do so, given the cordial and professional working relationship we had, as confirmed by her own messages.

In the letter, he attached a WhatsApp message from Magopeni which stated: "Without your regenerative leadership, I wouldn't be able to make the decisions I am able to make."

Mxakwe also denied Magopeni's claims of political interference.

Magopeni claimed she was confronted by ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte, who complained about the SABC's news coverage of the ANC during the municipal elections.

She also claimed the party wanted the SABC to interview President Cyril Ramaphosa. This, she claimed, was not scheduled.

However, Mxakwe denied this. He said Magopeni complained that Ramaphosa never availed himself for interviews with the SABC.

'Blatant lie'

The broadcaster met with the ANC on 7 October to remedy the situation.

On 24 October, said Mxakwe, he received a phone call from ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe informing him Ramaphosa would be in Polokwane. Mabe said the president would conduct an interview at a rival radio station and that the SABC was invited to sit in.

Mxakwe refused the invitation and said the broadcaster had studios in the province and would not go to a rival station. He also informed Mabe to discuss the interview with Magopeni, as she was the head of news. Mxakwe also told Magopeni of the conversation with Mabe.

He said: 

At no stage during my initial engagement with Ms Magopeni did she object to the interview with President Ramaphosa. We both agreed that the interview could not be held at the premises of our competitor. And we left it at that.

Later in the day, he said Mabe called to say the party would bring Ramaphosa to the SABC studios.

"Ms Magopeni informed me that all journalists were out in the field and that arranging such an interview would need a senior journalist and that it was not in their schedule. That is where I left the matter with Ms Magopeni.

"Like we have always done in dealing with many issues, I expressed my views, but not once did I bully, threaten or force Ms Magopeni to do the interview. That is a blatant lie."

Magopeni said she was preparing a response to the allegations.

"I am preparing a comprehensive response that will present what happened, what preceded charges against me and later my dismissal. All these processes were in various ways irregular and will be challenged in processes being initiated."

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