Thuli Madonsela to testify at SABC inquiry

Former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela will be one of the witnesses called to testify in the inquiry into the crisis at the SABC.

Parliament’s ad hoc committee‚ which has been tasked with holding the inquiry‚ met for the first time on Tuesday to finalise the programme and witness list.

The meeting took place as news emerged that two more SABC board members had resigned‚ leaving the board of the troubled broadcaster with just one member — chairman Mbulaheni Maguvhe.

Committee chairman Vincent Smith said the inquiry would continue as planned as it aimed to get to the bottom of the crisis at the public broadcaster. A total of 30 witnesses will be called in to give evidence‚ including journalists at the broadcaster‚ former board members and Communications Minister Faith Muthambi.

The committee will also be requesting various documents from the SABC group company secretary Theresa Geldenhuys‚ including minutes of meetings and reports.

The inquiry is set to begin on November 29 and the committee hopes to conclude its work by December 9 – when Parliament concludes its business for the year.

The DA and the EFF proposed that Madonsela be called in to give evidence as she had authored a report‚ When Governance and Ethics Fail‚ which details some of the issues at the broadcaster.

In the report‚ Madonsela found among other things that the SABC’s controversial former chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng had fabricated his matric qualification‚ purged staff members who disagreed with him‚ and had increased his salary irregularly‚ from R1.5 million to R2.4 million in one year.

The crisis at the public broadcaster is largely about Motsoeneng. He lost his job in September when the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed his application for leave to appeal against a ruling by the High Court in Cape Town setting aside his permanent appointment as chief operating officer.

The SABC then announced that it had reappointed Motsoeneng to his previous post as group executive for corporate affairs which prompted the resignation in Parliament in October of two board members — Krish Naidoo and Vusi Mavuso.

On Tuesday‚ the committee agreed that Madonsela should be invited to give evidence. Representatives of current public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane will also be invited.

The committee also agreed that the two board members who had just resigned – Nomvuyo Mhlakaza and Aaron Tshidzumba-should also be called in to testify. The committee also adopted the EFF’s proposal that Sophie Mokoena‚ a senior journalist at the SABC‚ should be added to the witness list.

EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said Mokoena was probably one of the most senior journalists at the SABC and therefore “it is important we hear from her”.

Witnesses called in to testify could be given the option to request witness protection and to provide evidence in camera. Reports of various incidents of intimidation and death threats targeted at SABC journalists emerged at the weekend.

The targeted journalists brought a Constitutional Court case against the SABC after being suspended for challenging the editorial policy of the public broadcaster. They were re-instated a few weeks later.

The ad hoc committee said it wanted to make sure that everyone was free to give evidence. The committee consists of 11 members – six from the ANC‚ two from the DA‚ one from the EFF and two from other parties. The committee on Tuesday also appointed Parliament’s legal adviser Mthuthuzeli Vanara as evidence leader.

The committee has to report back to the National Assembly by no later than February 28‚ 2017.

The inquiry will look at:

– The board’s ability to discharge its fiduciary duties;

– The financial status and sustainability of the SABC;

– The SABC’s response to the Public Protector’s 2014 report‚ When Governance and Ethics Fail;

– Court judgments by the High Court and rulings by the Independent Communications Authority of SA on the SABC’s decision to ban the broadcast of violent protests;

-The resignations of two SABC board members in October‚ and the implications thereof;

– Adherence to the Broadcasting Charter; and

– The public broadcaster’s overall ability to carry out its duties in terms of the Broadcasting Act.

Committee chairman Vincent Smith said that the inquiry was also about restoring the credibility of Parliament.

“It is about ensuring that Parliament takes its rightful place as an equal‚ but autonomous arm of the state… in the process the credibility of Parliament must be restored. We will work as a team‚” said Smith.

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