6 September 2017

South Africa: Former CEO Jimi Matthews Blamed for Wrongful Dismissal of SABC 8

Former SABC acting group CEO Jimi Matthews has been fingered as the man responsible to personally incur the legal costs for the wrongful dismissal of the SABC 8.

This was argued by former acting COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng's legal representative Advocate Thabani Masuku on Wednesday at the Johannesburg Labour Court.

Motsoeneng appeared in the Labour Court to explain why he should not be held personally liable for the wrongful dismissal of the SABC 8.

Judge David Gush said that he would deliver his judgment on Friday.

Masuku told the court that it was SABC's former head of news Simon Tebele who had signed off on the termination of the SABC 8 on the instruction of Matthews.

Masuku read out Tebele's affidavit in which he admitted that he was the decision maker and he oversaw the process.

"He tells you (the court) of meetings he held with officials and mentions a party that gave him a directive to terminate," Masuku argues.

Tebele was the front man in the axing of the SABC 8, the court heard.

Trade unions Solidarity and the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union (Bemawu) brought the matter against Motsoeneng, Tebele and the public broadcaster in March following the reinstatement of 7 of the SABC 8.

However during Masuku's arguments, he said there was no evidence to link Motsoeneng to the dismissal of the SABC 8.

'Moment of repentance'

He said Tabele had under oath, through his affidavit, testified that it was in fact Matthews who had given that order.

"Tebele writes that Matthews said journalists were acting in defiance with editorial decision. He said that Matthews issued a directive and I implemented that directive."

In June 2016, Matthews posted his resignation letter on Facebook in which he said that a "corrosive atmosphere" had impacted negatively on his moral judgement. In addition, he wrote that it made him complicit in decisions he "was not proud of" as reasons for his resignation, shortly after the eight were fired.

Motsoeneng's legal representation also argued that Solidarity and Bamawu were only relying on media reports and Motsoeneng's press conferences as evidence of why he should incur costs.

"They commend Matthews for having a moment of repentance and leaving the SABC. One must infer that one of the decisions he made that he repents for is the decision to terminate."

The SABC which was also been asked to give reasons why it should not pay costs, said that it was only responsible for 10% of the costs.

SABC's legal representative advocate Phillip Mokoena argued that the board had never indicated its support to the conduct of the individuals who terminated employment of the SABC 8.

"Nowhere does the board support reckless conduct by individuals," he said.

Mokoena added that the current interim board at the SABC had taken immediate steps to terminate employment of those individuals who were found to have acted illegally.

The board fired Motsoeneng and suspended former acting group CEO James Aguma shortly after it was appointed.

The eight journalists - The late Suna Venter, Foeta Krige, Krivani Pillay, Thandeka Gqubule, Busisiwe Ntuli, Lukhanyo Calata, Vuyo Mvoko and Jacques Steenkamp - were fired by the public broadcaster in July 2016 for criticising Motsoeneng's policy against the airing of footage of violent protests.

Seven of the eight journalists were subsequently rehired following a High Court ruling.

Source: News24

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