R1m defamation claim against Zikalala

By Edwin Naidu Time of article published Sep 7, 2008

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Snuki Zikalala, the controversial managing director of news at the SABC, is being sued for R1 million in damages by Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the Bloemfontein broadcaster accused of faking his curriculum vitae.

Motsoeneng wants an apology from Zikalala for defaming him, claiming Zikalala belittled him and portrayed him as a violent, uneducated person.

The R1-million summons was served on Zikalala a week ago, coinciding with the newsman's return to the SABC after his suspension in May for leaking SABC documents.

Zikalala told The Sunday Independent on Saturday that he would defend the action and that it was not true that Motsoeneng had been targeted because he was a Zuma supporter.

Neither was there any substance, said Zikalala, to allegations that he has a hotline to the presidency.

Asked if he were a supporter of President Thabo Mbeki, Zikalala said: "I am supporter of the South African constitution and, as such, believe the office of the president should be respected.

"I have said that the president of South Africa, who is democratically elected, should be accorded the same treatment as other heads of state," Zikalala said.

In court papers, advocate Michael Murphy said Zikalala had refused to provide his client, Motsoeneng, with the leaked documents on the grounds that these were privileged, private, confidential and not relevant to the disciplinary proceedings that had been launched against Motsoeneng two years ago.

In the papers, Motsoeneng said he was fired as Lesedi FM executive producer following a disciplinary hearing in 2006, but the doubt about his credentials was leaked by Zikalala in May, when Dali Mpofu, the suspended SABC group chief executive, suspended Zikalala.

Mpofu was suspended a day after his action against Zikalala.

After a series of internal inquiries and an application to a high court to order that an impartial arbitrator be appointed to hear an appeal against his dismissal, Motsoeneng got his job back.

As the Mpofu-Zikalala hostilities worsened, it emerged that Motsoeneng was the reason for Mpofu falling out with Zikalala.

The latest court action is another blow to Zikalala, whose return to the news hotseat was mired in controversy after it emerged that the board's claims that he had been exonerated in the labour court were false.

Kanyisiwe Mkhonza, the chairperson of the SABC board, issued a statement welcoming Zikalala back in which she said he had been "exonerated".

Later she conceded that the remark had been "an error of judgment on my part". She said Zikalala could still face disciplinary action for leaking documents.

Zikalala said on Saturday: "I am happy, and I was cleared by the CCMA , and an independent and senior counsel.

"I am not aware of divisions in the board. I believe our credibility has been dented by recent developments at the SABC - the best way of restoring our credibility is by the corporation focusing on our core business, broadcasting."

He said internal and external factors were adversely affecting staff morale at the corporation and within the news department, and steps were being taken to improve morale.

Hannes du Buisson, the president of the Broadcast, Electronic and Media Workers' Union, said Zikalala was suspended on serious allegations that he had leaked confidential information to people outside the SABC.

"The SABC has dismissed other employees for the same or lesser offences."

Du Buisson said Zikalala had been brought back without disciplinary proceedings and Mpofu should be recalled on the same basis.

"As a trade union, we cannot support what appears to be gross inconsistency and double standards."

And, in another twist, on Monday claims emerged that Zikalala had banned two political reporters from covering Zuma.

Zikalala said it was an editorial decision, but the reporters - Mzwandile Mbeje and Tshepo Ikaneng - claimed they were redeployed because of a division of loyalties in the newsroom.

Zikalala denied there was an anti-Zuma bias at the SABC.

"This claim is untrue and I will be defending it in the courts."

The South African Communist Party and Cosatu said the broadcaster was still being used to fight ANC factional battles.

"The SABC needs to replace Snuki and Dali before it can be restored to editorial health," said the Democratic Alliance's Dene Smuts.

Buti Manamela, secretary of the Young Communist League, said "as long as Snuki is at the SABC there will be crisis".

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