Chief Operations Officer of the SABC, Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Photo: Motshwari Mofokeng

Johannesburg - The DA said on Monday it was launching a high court bid to have the appointment of SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng set aside. 

"The process of serving papers on Communications Minister Faith Muthambi and the SABC board has begun, with the application to be made in the Gauteng High Court," Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille told reporters in Cape Town.

It was not clear whether the application would be made in the high court in Pretoria or Johannesburg.

Zille said the DA believed there was strong case to be made that Motsoeneng's appointment was irrational given Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's findings that he had acted in bad faith, lied about his qualifications, and abused his power by increasing his salary by nearly R1 million in a year.

She said the DA would make the case that the appointment was unsound because this was not taken into account, and no other candidates were considered. The public protector's report was released in February.

Muthambi has come under pressure for confirming Motsoeneng's appointment, and has countered that Motsoeneng was named by the SABC board after a law firm, hired to look into Madonsela’s report on the SABC, cleared him of wrongdoing.

Zille argued it was not possible for a law firm to trump the findings of a chapter nine institution.

"Only a court can do that," she said.

DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said the DA would demand a debate in Parliament on Motsoeneng's appointment as it had to oppose political interference at the SABC.

"It is critical that when you make decisions as to who gets to run the SABC, there cannot be a sense of political interference... the public broadcaster is not a state broadcaster or a party broadcaster, but in fact serves the people of this country."

He said the public protector's findings against Motsoeneng were "pretty damning" and there should be rationality in the board's decision-making.

DA MP Gavin Davies said in her report Madonsela had called for a disciplinary inquiry into Motsoeneng's conduct, but that one had not been instituted.

"We would like that to be actioned, that disciplinary inquiry to happen."

In the meanwhile, Parliament's portfolio committee on communications denied a press report that it would summon Muthambi to explain the appointment.

"We have at no stage resolved to summon the minister."

It added, however, that it would seek clarity from her after considering complaints raised about the state of affairs at the public broadcaster.

The ministry would not immediately comment.

Zille refuted a recent suggestion by Motsoeneng that she had at times called him to influence the news selection at the SABC as "absurd".

She said the only time she recalled speaking to him on the phone was to ask for clarity when the SABC banned DA election advertisements before the party took the matter to the Independent Communications Authority of SA, and when SABC reporters failed to arrive for DA media briefings on time.

"That is when I had discussions with him... I can't remember having discussions with him about anything else."