SABC chair outraged by Parliament's public inquiry

SABC chair Ellen Tshabalala. (M&G, Delwyn Verasamy)

SABC chair Ellen Tshabalala. (M&G, Delwyn Verasamy)

Embattled SABC chairperson Zandile Ellen Tshabalala berated Parliament for discussing her academic qualifications, or lack thereof, in public.

In a strongly worded letter to Parliament’s oversight committee on communications, seen by the Mail & Guardian, Tshabalala complained about how the committee “arranged” for the media to broadcast its discussions about her qualifications and its recommendation that she be suspended as SABC chairperson.

“I am really disappointed and taken aback that you would allow such malice to ensue under your leadership and would like to understand the reasons and the intention behind this unjust act,” she wrote to the chairperson of the communications portfolio committee Joyce Moloi-Moropa.

Tshabalala is facing a parliamentary investigation over whether she possesses the university qualifications that she listed as having in her CV.

Open to the public
Tuesday is the first day of that parliamentary inquiry, which will be conducted by Parliament’s oversight committee on communications.

The committee decided on September 16 to conduct an inquiry into Tshabalala. It also resolved that she should be suspended during the inquiry “in order to avoid this compromising the integrity and image of the entire board and the national broadcaster”.

With the exception of the meeting of the joint standing committee on intelligence, which deals with state security intelligence, all Parliament meetings are open to journalists and the public.

The decision to suspend Tshabalala was overturned by one of the National Assembly’s chairpersons and an ANC MP, Cedric Frolick, who said it was the prerogative of the president to suspend an SABC board member and that a parliamentary committee could not take such a decision.

Tshabalala did not take kindly to the issue of her qualifications being discussed in the presence of media.

She wrote to Moloi-Moropa on September 17, the day after the decision was taken, berating her for discussing the issue in public.

Rules of natural justice
In her letter, Tshabalala then demanded to be given a hearing by the committee to give her reasons why she “should not be suspended, pending the alleged inquiry”.

“The rules of natural justice and the Constitution call upon you to give me a hearing,” she wrote.

She added: “Your decision to ask the National Assembly to recommend my suspension pending the inquiry to the appointing authority [the president] is a violation of my constitutional right and my rights to take an appropriate action under the circumstances are strictly reserved.”

Tshabalala copied Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and the director-general in the presidency Cassius Lubisi in on her letter.

Moloi-Moropa responded six days later confirming that her committee had taken a decision to conduct an inquiry into the allegations that Tshabalala misrepresented her academic qualifications to the National Assembly and the portfolio committee when she was nominated to serve on the SABC board in July 2013.

Moloi-Moropa pointed out that Tshabalala had failed to meet two deadlines to submit proof of her qualifications to the committee.

She also advised her that the National Assembly and its committees were constitutionally obliged to conduct their business in an open manner, in public.

No legal basis
Moloi-Moropa rejected the accusation that there was malice on the part of the committee. She also declined Tshabalala’s “demand” for a hearing as to why she should not be suspended, saying that it lacked a legal basis and was misdirected towards the committee. 

Tshabalala is facing two charges.

The first charge is that she committed misconduct by misrepresenting or lying about her academic qualifications in her CV submitted to the National Assembly while she was a member of the SABC’s interim board and during the nomination process for members of the current SABC board.

Tshabalala claimed that she possessed a bachelor of commerce degree and a post-graduate diploma in labour relations from the University of South Africa.

Tshabalala is also charged with lying under oath.

The committee claims that in an attested declaration made on July 23 2013, she made a false statement, knowing it to be false, by claiming that she could not furnish copies of her academic qualifications as she had lost them in a house burglary around 2001 or 2002.

The committee advised Tshabalala that it would continue with the hearing and conclude it in her absence if she failed to attend.

Missed deadlines
City Press newspaper reported in July that Tshabalala misrepresented her qualifications on her CV when she applied for a position on the SABC board in 2013.

Following the newspaper reports, and on request by the Democratic Alliance’s Gavin Davis, the portfolio committee asked Tshabalala to furnish Parliament with her response to the allegations in order for them to make an informed decision on the matter.

Tshabalala didn’t meet the first deadline of August 12 to respond to the committee by submitting copies of her qualifications.
She instead asked for an extension of the deadline. Parliament obliged and gave her until August 31 to do so.

In a letter dated August 11, she told the committee that she had engaged the services of a legal advisor to conduct an investigation with the academic institution involved in respect of the basis of their letter to the City Press, whose contents were published without her consent.

Her legal advisor would also investigate the status of the student records of that academic institution, to assess what they contained in relation to her academic relationship with the institution and to further clarify what the records said or revealed about the status of her academic credentials.

She also wanted the legal advisor to advise her of any appropriate steps that may be required to assist her in protecting her reputation and dignity and to assist in the protection of the reputation of institutions that had a relationship with her. 

Frolick recommended to Mbete that the inquiry into Tshabalala to be allowed to proceed on October 14, that Zuma be informed of its findings and decisions and that it then be left to the president to decide whether or not to suspend Tshabalala.

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