THE madness at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) continued when group CE Dali Mpofu was suspended for the third time and senior managers claimed they had also been suspended for demanding that the board be suspended.
The Johannesburg High Court has twice overturned the SABC board’s attempts to suspend Mpofu, who is once again consulting his lawyers after being informed of his suspension on Thursday night.
SABC board chairperson Khanyi Mkonza says Mpofu is facing “serious” charges and is “creating chaos” at the SABC.
Mkonza says the board’s investigation of Mpofu’s conduct has been completed and an inquiry will be held next week.
She says the board wrote to Mpofu on June 3, asking that he consider taking a leave of absence in light of the charges against him and that he explain why he should not be suspended.
The board met on Wednesday to discuss his response.
Mkonza denies that there are political motives for Mpofu’s suspension. “It’s purely a conduct and performance issue,” she says.
But calls for the board to resign are growing more strident. On Friday, 58 SABC senior managers signed a memorandum supporting a call by seven group executives calling on the board to stand down. Pickets were held outside SABC offices in five provinces.
The seven executives claimed they heard on radio news bulletins that they were suspended, but were unsure whether they had been suspended or not.
Mkonza says they are not suspended. She says the board has invited them to meet to discuss issues, but they have declined the invitation. “If we, as the board, don’t act, we are held liable. You can get a new board, but you will still have to account to the board.”
She says there is no basis for the board to resign.
A coalition of civil society organisations — including the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), the Media Monitoring Project, the Open Society Foundation and the Media Institute of Southern Africa — yesterday resolved to “reclaim our public broadcaster, the SABC, for the public”, independent from interference from the government and political parties.
FXI executive director Jane Duncan says that although there may be legitimate grounds for Mpofu’s suspension, the board lacks the moral authority to suspend him. For this reason, it is important that a commission of inquiry be held into the sagas at the SABC this year.
The coalition is drafting an SABC Act. It will also begin a policy review process for a new communications policy to reinforce independent regulation and public broadcasting principles.
Earlier attempts by the SABC board to suspend Mpofu failed when the Johannesburg High Court found that the board had not been properly constituted at the meeting at which the decision to suspend Mpofu was taken. Only nonexecutive directors had been invited and no executive directors were present.
This time, Mkonza says, both executive and nonexecutive directors were present — as well as Mpofu himself — and he was given the opportunity to respond.