Cape Town - SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng must be suspended as soon as possible because he is a “toxic influence” who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, the DA argued in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday.
“We have seen what the eighth respondent (Motsoeneng) does when he is in the position of acting COO,” Democratic Alliance lawyer Anton Katz argued.
“He must be removed today if possible. He is a toxic element running through that organisation. It is urgent in that sense.”
The party was applying for an urgent interim interdict removing Motsoeneng pending a review of the decision to appoint him.
Motsoeneng sat stony-faced in the court bench, surrounded by his supporters, as he listened to proceedings.
Katz said the DA would not be satisfied with a disciplinary inquiry because his employees were scared of him and objectivity would be brought into question.
The DA's application focused on the “unlawful” process that the board undertook in its recommendation of his appointment, the rationality employed in the decision, and the findings of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's report.
In February, Madonsela released a report on Motsoeneng, while he was acting COO.
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. Madonsela recommended that a new COO be appointed at the SABC within 90 days.
In July, Communications Minister Faith Muthambi announced Motsoeneng's permanent appointment. She said he was cleared of all wrongdoing by a legal firm before the decision was made.
The DA then launched a high court bid to have his appointment set aside. Muthambi and the SABC filed opposing court papers.
SABC board chairwoman Ellen Tshabalala, in her court papers, reportedly rubbished Madonsela's report.
Tshabalala said the broadcaster knew from day one that Motsoeneng did not have matric.
She said he was not dishonest, had never misled the SABC, and was not responsible for any irregular spending.
“Dishonesty is dishonesty, wherever it occurs,” said Katz, reading from a 2012 Constitutional Court judgment.
That judgment found President Jacob Zuma's appointment of then national director of public prosecutions Menzi Simelane irrational.
Katz said the words in that judgment crystallised the DA's argument.
“The court will have to decide was there a lie? And if it was, it falls into a character of dishonesty. It doesn't matter whether anyone knew it was a lie.”
Katz said the only way to give effect to the Constitution and the rights of the public was for the court to order his suspension.
“Mr Motsoeneng will not be suspended, he will not be disciplined, unless your lordship so orders,” he told Judge Ashton Schippers.
The proceedings in court were drowned out at times by the loud singing of a large group of protesters outside.
The swelling crowd, estimated at 200 people, demanded that the DA “keep their hands” off Motsoeneng.
They ululated, clapped hands, and held placards.
Four public order police in riot gear blocked the court entrance with their shields.
A yellow police tape separated them from the crowd. Around 10 police officers stood close to them at the top of the court stairs. - Sapa