South Africa / 11 July 2016, 07:07am / Baldwin Ndaba and Samantha Hartshorne
Johannesburg - The future for one the SABC’s most senior journalists, Vuyo Mvoko, hangs in the balance on Monday - despite the temporary reprieve granted to seven of his colleagues, who together make up the #SABC8.
The Star understands that Mvoko, the most senior member of the eight-person group of journalists to speak out against the reign of repression and censorship being waged by SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, was served with a letter on Friday by the public broadcaster's human resources department to provide reasons why his contract should not be terminated.
Last week, in a scathing exclusive to The Star, Mvoko, a contributing editor and specialist anchor, told of the increasingly hellish working conditions for journalists at the SABC under Motsoeneng, who he described as an extreme version of former SABC supremo Snuki Zikalala, who Mvoko fought against in 2008.
Mvoko is at risk because, unlike Thandeka Gqubule, Foeta Krige, Suna Venter, Busisiwe Ntuli, Krivani Pillay, Jacques Steenkamp, and Lukhanyo Calata, he is neither a permanent staffer nor has union representation.
The seven were due to appear before a disciplinary hearing on Monday but their cases have been postponed indefinitely.
Despite corroborating versions about the impending termination of Mvoko’s contract, SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago was unequivocal that he was unaware of any letter or Monday’s deadline for Mvoko.
Kganyago also declined to respond to trade union Solidarity’s announcement that the disciplinary hearing against the seven had been suspended.
“This is an internal matter and we don't discuss employer/employee relationships with the media.
“Our internal processes will not be handled in the public space,” Kganyago said.
Solidarity, which represents three of the seven, also announced that it would approach the Constitutional Court in the coming week for direct access to test the constitutionality of the censorship instruction.
It also intends approaching the Labour Court to obtain an interdict against the SABC’s disciplinary process, pending the Constitutional Court case.
Responding, Kganyago said: “It is a free country - if they feel like doing this, they are welcome.”
On Saturday, the #SABC8 were collectively awarded The Nat Nakasa Award for courageous journalism by the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) at a function in Joburg.
Newly elected Sanef chairwoman Mahlatse Gallens, who is the SABC deputy political editor for radio, said: “As Sanef we will continue to support their cause and all who stand against tyranny.
“In this regard we again urge the SABC to lift their suspensions and end the disciplinary processes in order to begin the process to rebuild public trust especially ahead of the coming crucial local government elections.”
The hearings of Ntuli, Steenkamp and Pillay, who were charged after having sent a letter to Motsoeneng, objecting to the direction the SABC has taken, was also due to take place on Friday.
But this hearing, too, was postponed.
Those three have been charged because the contents of the letter were leaked to the media.
Solidarity chief executive Dirk Hermann said the upcoming elections made the hearings even more urgent, and the public had the right to know what was happening with the public broadcaster.
“The censorship instruction is clearly unlawful. It is in direct violation of the principles of freedom of speech and the public's right to know.
“The unlawfulness of the instruction makes the entire suspension unlawful. We cannot allow it that journalists who merely want to do their job remain suspended for having embraced South Africa's constitutional principles.”
Solidarity expects a ruling by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) on the SABC’s censorship decision this week.
“If the ruling goes against the SABC’s censorship decree, then the charges against and suspension of the employees must be revoked immediately. Hlaudi Motsoeneng must then be charged and suspended immediately,” said Hermann.
Meanwhile, Motsoeneng’s future was expected to be finalised at the ANC headquarters on Monday.
The ANC’s communication sub-committee under ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu has summoned Communications Minister Faith Muthambi to Luthuli House to explain the suspension of journalists at the public broadcaster for allegedly disagreeing with “imposed and new editorial policy”.
Muthambi was also expected to explain the “irregular appointments” of SABC senior mangers, the role of the SABC board, controversial decisions including the censorship of news at the public broadcaster and the suspension of several senior journalists who broke rank and questioned Motsoeneng’s decisions.