Union siding with Motsoeneng could scare members

The Communications Workers' Union (CWU) dismissed concerns that its support of the SABC's controversial acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng would be detrimental to its other members at the SABC, who might fear that the union now sided with management.

Criticism of Motsoeneng's leadership style includes that he has purged the corporation of those he perceives as enemies, yet the CWU was adamant on Tuesday that he had none – at least not among its members. 

The CWU, under the banner the "Hlaudi Motsoeneng Coalition", addressed the media on Tuesday to dismiss the public protector's damning report into the SABC, which called for action against Motsoeneng.

Madonsela's resignation
Madonsela found that Motsoeneng's appointment was irregular, as were the three salary increases he received in one year. She also found that he had systematically purged dissenting staff members at the SABC, and his appointment at the SABC was irregular as a fake matric certificate was fraudulently added to his CV at the time.

She recommended that action be taken against him and other staffers.

On Friday, the Mail & Guardian reported that the board's chairperson, Ellen Tshabalala, did not want Motsoeneng to go.

The coalition called for public protector? Thuli Madonsela's resignation over the report, which it said was not binding on Motsoeneng or the SABC board.

'Subjective' investigations
CWU provincial secretary in KwaZulu-Natal Thami Mzileni accused Madonsela of "subjective" investigations that trumpeted the Democratic Alliance's (DA's) sentiments on issues.

"We just want justice in the interests of the working class. This is not about Hlaudi as an individual. This is about the extreme abuse of power to deliver a certain agenda," said Mzileni.

He accused Madonsela of being a mouthpiece for the DA.

Junior staffers at the public broadcaster have reportedly complained of victimisation in the past, and Madonsela's report found Motsoeneng guilty of purging the corporation of dissenters. In particular, Motsoeneng instituted disciplinary proceedings against staff members who testified against him at his own disciplinary hearing.

Such staff members would presumably want unions to be impartial, should they want to challenge alleged instances of victimisation. 

But Mzileni said the CWU's SABC members also supported Motsoeneng.

"What we were speaking about is not something that comes from us, it comes from our members. As far as we know the SABC members support us."

However, Mzileni could not say how many SABC staffers were CWU members.

Court review
This was the second attempt in as many weeks from Motsoeneng's camp that sought to discredit Madonsela and her findings.

At a briefing last week, Motsoeneng, through his lawyer, Zola Majavu, said he was considering asking a court to review Madonsela's findings. The SABC distanced itself from that briefing, although Motsoeneng's office confirmed knowledge of the CWU's briefing on Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, the Save Our SABC (SOS) Coalition told the M&G that while it respected the rights of any organisation to support Motsoeneng, this did not change the fact that the SABC board was obligated to suspend him, pending an assessment of the public protector's findings.

The SOS Coalition's acting co-ordinator, Sekoetlane Jacob Phamodi, said none of this changed the fact that the SABC board should suspend Motsoeneng.

"Our view is that the CWU and any other grouping are perfectly within their right to support anyone. However, Motsoeneng has been at the centre of too many controversies at the SABC. Our view is that the board must come to the fore and do the right thing. It must suspend Motsoeneng, if only on the basis of the public protector's findings, and if only so that due processes can be followed," said Phamodi.

Motsoeneng's defence
He said this was also true of the SABC board, which should investigate Motsoeneng "even if they are supportive of him". While the board is reportedly studying Madonsela's findings, it is also believed to be supportive of Motsoeneng.

Madonsela noted in her report

"I must indicate that in this regard I found it rather discouraging that the current SABC board appears to have blindly sprung to Motsoeneng's defence on matters that precede it and which, in my considered view, require a board that is serious about ethical governance to raise questions with him. In fact at times the board submission appeared more defensive on his behalf than himself."

The public protector's office could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

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Sarah Evans
Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics. 

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