Johannesburg - Lawyers representing suspended head of SABC news and current affairs, Phil Molefe, have accused the public broadcaster of misleading Parliament and Communications Minister Yunus Carrim when it claimed it paid Molefe a R2.4 million golden handshake in May.
The Sunday Independent can reveal that Molefe refused to accept what he describes in papers filed at the Johannesburg High Court as a “unilateral settlement” and is proceeding with his fight for reinstatement in a separate case due to be heard by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA).
Molefe’s Johannesburg High Court bid may also land SABC board chairwoman Zandile Tshabalala in prison for contempt of court after allegedly ignoring the fact that the veteran journalist is still pursuing his SCA case to be reinstated by paying the disputed settlement, according to court papers. The SABC decided to settle with Molefe after a meeting of the interim board, which Tshabalala also chaired, in May.
However, Molefe says he was never party to the settlement and describes it as unlawful, according to the court papers.
The SABC deposited the money into his bank account but Molefe asked his bank to return it.
The R2.4m settlement is now ring-fenced in Molefe’s bank account and his lawyers have instructed him not to use it, The Sunday Independent understands.
Carrim has denied he lied to Parliament, saying: “As is the norm with the state-owned companies in our portfolio, my reply to Parliament was what was given to me by the SABC.”
He said Molefe’s matter was addressed before he was appointed to this post in July and that he was replying to an outstanding Parliamentary question raised in April.
“Yes, I was aware that Molefe had not accepted the settlement. Hence in my parliamentary reply it was noted that Molefe has appealed the High Court judgment to the Supreme Court of Appeal,” Carrim said on Thursday. He said Molefe wrote to him about his concerns.
“I had a telephonic exchange with him and allocated a ministerial representative to assist in trying to settle the differences between the SABC and him,” Carrim explained.
However, the SABC felt that Carrim and his department were interfering in internal labour relations and their attempts could not be taken any further.
Carrim said he would still prefer that the SABC and Molefe settle the matter through negotiation rather than expensive and time-consuming legal action.
Last week, The Sunday Independent reported that Carrim said in a Parliamentary reply to Cope MP Juli Kilian, the SABC had paid Molefe R2.4m to settle the 18-month long dispute.
Carrim did not however confirm that the SABC paid Molefe R2.4m “after falling out with Mokhobo for flighting an extensive television interview with former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema”. He only confirmed the settlement figure in the Parliamentary reply.
Carrim also promised that Molefe’s position (group executive: news and current affairs) would be advertised and filled through a recruitment process.
Applications for Molefe’s position closed on July 10. But Molefe insists the SABC should not have advertised his position as there is the pending SCA case.
He also wants the Johannesburg High Court to force the SABC to resume paying his salary, which it stopped in June, after the disputed settlement.
Molefe also wants the court to allow him to use the R2.4m for his monthly salary should the SABC not resume paying his salary.
He was suspended on full pay. Molefe was paid R1.8m a year and had a R14 000 monthly car allowance.
Molefe’s troubles started when he was suspended in April last year for failing to provide his boss, SABC chief executive Lulama Mokhobo, with a news diary, refusing to accept her authority, bringing the SABC into disrepute and failing to allow former chairman Dr Ben Ngubane to address a news personnel meeting, according to his charge sheet.
Some of the charges were later withdrawn, according to Molefe’s application for leave to appeal.
He also came under fire for the airing of an hour-long television interview with Malema.
He was given the instruction to send Mokhobo a copy of the daily news diary after the Malema interview and she complained about “lack of balance in the newsroom”.
Molefe said: The daily news diary request was “interference with newsroom decisions” and “cannot possibly contribute anything to the improvement of balance in the newsroom”.
Molefe argues in his appeal that providing the daily news diary would result in “his own breach of editorial policies and thus be unlawful”. Mokhobo said she received a number of complaints after the interview was broadcast in March last year.
The SABC claims Molefe was distraught and disgruntled over Mokhobo’s appointment as chief executive. Molefe was among the three candidates recommended for the position.
“As for the opportunistic suggestion that I was or am a disgruntled employee, I wish to reiterate that I offered nothing less than co-operation and respect to Mokhobo and the SABC board,” Molefe said in his replying affidavit.
SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago said the public broadcaster could not discuss the matter because it is before court. “We want to allow the court process to take its course,” Kganyago said.
This week, President Jacob Zuma appointed Tshabalala, one of his black economic empowerment advisers as the SABC board chairwoman and Professor Mbulaheni Maguvhe as her deputy.