Cape Town - SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng must be suspended as soon as possible because he is a “toxic” influence, it has been argued in the Western Cape High Court.

A lawyer for Motsoeneng, however, has described the allegations against him as “alarmist” and “defamatory”.

Judge Ashton Schippers heard argument on Tuesday in an application by the DA in which it seeks urgent interim relief, essentially to remove Motsoeneng from his job pending a review of the decision to appoint him.

Outside the court building, meanwhile, a crowd of protesters sang, ululated and clapped. Some wore ANC and Ses’khona People’s Rights Movement T-shirts.

A few also brandished placards, one of which read, “Back off #Hlaudi, racist DA! Back off now!” and another that said, “Hands off! Leave #Hlaudi alone!”

The permanent appointment of Motsoeneng was announced in July by Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, who said he had been cleared of all wrongdoing by a legal firm before the decision was made.

This followed the release of a report on Motsoeneng by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela in February while he was acting chief operating officer.

She found his salary increased from R1.5 million to R2.4m in one year, that he had purged senior staff and misrepresented his matric qualifications to the SABC.

Advocate Norman Arendse SC, for Motsoeneng, told the court that the application was a “politically opportunistic” attempt that was designed to embarrass Motsoeneng and the SABC, and create a public furore.

But Motsoeneng came under fire from advocate Anton Katz SC, acting for the DA.

“He must be removed today if possible. He is a toxic element running through that organisation. It is urgent.”

Katz said the DA would not be satisfied with a disciplinary inquiry because his employees were scared of him.

The DA’s application focused on the “unlawful” process that the board undertook in its recommendation of his appointment, the rationality employed and the findings of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report.

Katz further alleged that not only did Motsoeneng lie about his qualifications to the SABC, he lied to the court about his reasons.

“He tells the court that he filled in on the form matric not with the intention of securing employment… why would he tell your lordship that?”

But Arendse said that to make the allegation that Motsoeneng had lied to the SABC, the court and the public protector was “an outrage”.

He said it constituted defamation, which Motsoeneng intended pursuing.

According to his argument, officials at the SABC had been fully aware that he did not have matric but that they did not believe it would be an obstacle to his appointment.

Advocate Ngwako Hamilton Maenetje, SC, for the SABC, its board of directors and the chair of the board, argued that there was nothing in the public protector’s report that stated that Motsoeneng had to be removed from the SABC because his presence was causing harm.

The decision to appoint Motsoeneng was justified. Maenetje is yet to complete his argument.

The matter continues on Wednesday.

Cape Times and Sapa