Communications Minister Faith Muthambi File picture: Phando Jikelo/Independent Media
Parliament – The battle for control of the SABC ahead of the ANC national elective conference took a nasty turn when Communications Minister Faith Muthambi wrote an explosive letter to Speaker Baleka Mbete indicating that she was taking the “irrational and unlawful” ad hoc committee report to a judicial review.

This comes after the report recommending that President Jacob Zuma fire Muthambi over her role in the crises at the public broadcaster was adopted by the National Assembly on Tuesday.

A disgruntled Muthambi wrote to Mbete on Wednesday, telling her to make an undertaking before close of business today that the “Parliamentary Ethics Committee residency will (not) commence the implementations of any recommendation made against me until such time that this matter is finalised in court”.

The minister effectively wants the courts to interdict the report’s recommendations from being implemented while the matter is under review.

In the letter, which The Star has seen, Muthambi said she was reviewing the report because it had violated her constitutional rights and was an abuse of the parliamentary process. She claims not to have been given proper notice of the allegations against her and as a result was “substantially prejudiced” in her ability to respond meaningfully.

Muthambi feels she was ambushed for political reasons when she was invited to Parliament as shareholder representative and witness, only to become "the suspect and victim".

Muthambi lambasted the ad hoc committee, which she characterised as a political witch-hunt, saying it was never given powers to either investigate or express any findings “on myself as the executive authority of the SABC”.

“The expression of findings against me is ultra vires, unlawful and is against the principle of legality. Section 15A (1) (b) of the Broadcasting Act, upon which the inquiry was based, did not empower the ad hoc committee to make any findings against me. To an extent they have done so is therefore contrary to the provisions of the Broadcasting Act and therefore it is unlawful,” she wrote.

The Star understands that Mbete immediately called ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu late at night, 15 minutes after she had received the letter. In turn, Mthembu tried several times to call Muthambi to persuade her not to take to the courts, as that could further divide the ANC.

Mthembu’s office released a statement following the report’s adoption, calling on the communication portfolio committee to act with speed in appointing an interim SABC board “to ensure that the recommendations of the ad hoc committee are implemented”.

But in her letter to Mbete, the minister said it was “clear in my mind” that some ad hoc committee members were conducting a “witch-hunt against myself in order to satisfy (the) political agenda of certain individuals”.

“I intend to deal with this alleged abuse of parliamentary processes by certain individuals in my review application,” she said.

During the inquiry, ANC MP Dr Makhosi Khoza received applause from across the political spectrum for “grilling” Muthambi with her no-holds-barred questioning style.

But the minister said the ad hoc committee, which she dubbed a travesty of justice, was at most about “political grandstanding” and that its outcomes could have been “crafted” before it even sat.

It was also “flawed in every respect, from the motive, the process, proceedings and selection of witnesses,” she wrote.

The Star further understands that Muthambi viewed the inquiry as having little to do with the fitness of the broadcaster’s board to hold office.

She believed that the ad hoc committee had been preoccupied with entertaining witnesses whose aim was to “throw mud” at her and former SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

Muthambi, who is viewed as belonging to a grouping within the ANC that supports former AU Commission chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma to take over from Zuma when he steps down as ANC leader in December, and possibly president in 2019, believed that what had “loomed large” in the inquiry was an agenda “that can at best be (described as) a battle for control” of the SABC.

The Star understands that if Muthambi was axed from the Communications Ministry, which oversees the SABC, campaigning for their preferred candidates would hit a snag as a new minister could throw a spanner in the works of their campaign using the public broadcaster.

When contacted for comment, Mthembu said: “I don’t know about any letter. I’m not the speaker’s PA (personal assistant). The best person to speak to on this matter would be the speaker, as the matter is now before Parliament.”

Mbete couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said they had not received any legal challenges since the report was adopted on Tuesday.

Muthambi could not be reached for comment.

The Star