Johannesburg - SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng is back on the job barely a month after taking a leave of absence to await the outcome of his disciplinary hearing, which was cancelled this week.
This opens a whole new front in the war of attrition between Motsoeneng, the SABC and Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, on the one hand, and the DA, on the other, after the latter said on Friday it would seek a contempt order unless the public broadcaster reinstituted the disciplinary process.
The SABC said in a brief statement it wished to “clear up any confusion” created by the decision of Advocate William Mokhari to terminate the disciplinary hearing on Thursday, adding that Motsoeneng remained the COO, pending the “finalisation of the appeal process”.
This comes after the Western Cape High Court last week set aside Motsoeneng’s appointment as the permanent COO on the grounds it was irrational in light of damning public protector findings against him.
The SABC and Muthambi have said they will appeal the judgment.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela had instructed the SABC to discipline Motsoeneng, then the acting COO, after confirming allegations he lied about having passed matric in his job application, irregularly inflated his salary and purged senior staff.
However, Muthambi instead handed Motsoeneng a permanent position as COO, prompting a two-part legal challenge by the DA.
The first was an application, granted by the high court and upheld on appeal, for Madonsela’s remedial action to be implemented.
It was in compliance with this judgment that the SABC began the process chaired by Mokhari, while Motsoeneng went on a voluntary leave of absence.
The second part of the DA’s challenge was to have his appointment by Muthambi set aside, which was also successful.
However, Mokhari said the setting aside of the appointment rendered the disciplinary hearing against Motsoeneng academic.
This is despite the fact that the public protector’s instruction for him to be disciplined related to his term as acting COO, predating his appointment by Muthambi.
Chairman of the DA federal executive James Selfe said the two were entirely separate matters and the termination of the hearing had no basis in law.
“The legal position in this respect is clear and uncomplicated,” Selfe said.
It was astonishing that Mokhari had terminated the disciplinary hearing on the grounds that the setting aside of his promotion to permanent COO was a “material intervening factor”.
“It is utterly preposterous to suggest, as the SABC now does, that two separate judgments, both requiring serious and immediate sanction of Mr Motsoeneng, cancel one another out, having the result that he should return to work as COO,” Selfe said.
It confirmed the SABC was “hell-bent on ensuring that this disciplinary process is reduced to a sham”.
The DA’s lawyers had written to the SABC to demand reasons for “this mockery” of the Supreme Court of Appeal judgment, failing which the DA would urgently begin contempt proceedings against the SABC.