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SABC sued for millions — again

The former acting chief executive of the SABC, Robin Nicholson, has issued a summons against the public broadcaster and is claiming R2.8-million, plus interest and the cost of his law suit, after he was ousted last month. The claim includes R1.5-million in terms of the six-month fixed-term contract offered to him and a restraint payment of R1.3-million.

Nicholson was swiftly replaced as acting group chief executive by head of news Phil Molefe after Communications Minister Roy Padayachie called a shareholders’ meeting to amend the SABC’s articles of association to facilitate the appointment of any employee to top management positions at the corporation.

Padayachie told the board members present that the proposed amendments were within his authority and there was no need for consultation or approval from the board for them to take effect.

Respected lawyer Peter Harris resigned from the board a day after the meeting following an outcry against alleged political interference in the governance of the public broadcaster.

The contract with Nicholson was drawn up after the board took a resolution on June 24 that his contract would be renewed for a further period of six months.

In a board document attached to Nicholson’s summons, the board resolved that, “upon acceptance of the contract by Mr Nicholson, a delegation of authority be offered to Mr Nicholson to continue the fulfilment of his acting role as group chief executive until such a time that the new group chief executive is appointed”.

Nicholson has also provided a copy of a fixed-term six-month contract given to him that was drawn up by board chairman Ben Ngubane, who signed it on June 27 before leaving on a business trip to Japan. The contract did not reflect the agreement reached in some areas with Ngubane, and Nicholson asked for it to be altered and did not sign it.

But the situation changed overnight, throwing the cash-strapped SABC into further turmoil.

The Mail & Guardian is in possession of a document from Justice Ndaba, acting group executive of human capital services, in an appraisal he did for the board of the events that led to Nicholson’s ousting.

“The board took a vote on the extension of Mr Nicholson’s contract, with nine directors supporting the decision to extend, two voting against it and one absentia,” he wrote. Ndaba was asked to ensure a “proper transitional handover” from Nicholson to Molefe.

“Since Mr Nicholson’s contract is ending today, June 30, and given the hostility that would be displayed by Mr Nicholson, noting the decision by the board that his contract would not be renewed, as well as the potential for external animosity from certain quarters, possibilities of legal battles etc, it will be difficult for us to convince Mr Nicholson to assist with the transitional handover,” Ndaba wrote.

He recommended that, because Nicholson might have a legitimate claim against the SABC to honour the terms of the contract issued to him, the broadcaster should pay him the contractual amount for the six months according to the offer made to him already, which had created a “legitimate expectation”.

Nicholson would then be expected to assist with the transitional handover and sign an agreement that should include matters of confidentiality. Ndaba could not be reached for comment.

The SABC confirmed it had received a summons from Nicholson. “The corporation is studying the summons and will respond accordingly to the court and not the media,” said spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago.

The M&G understands that the board was due to meet on July 29 and that Nicholson’s summons would be discussed.

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Glynnis Underhill
Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country.

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