/ 14 October 2014

Inquiry into SABC chair’s qualifications postponed

Chairperson Ellen Zandile Tshabalala.
Chairperson Ellen Zandile Tshabalala.

The parliamentary inquiry into whether SABC chairperson Zandile Ellen Tshabalala misrepresented her qualifications has been postponed to Thursday to allow Tshabalala’s legal team to properly prepare for the matter.

It is unlikely, though, that the team led by well-known senior counsel, Advocate Norman Arendse, will be prepared – or even attend the inquiry when it continues on Thursday.

The committee spent almost four hours of its meeting on Tuesday discussing whether to continue with or postpone the hearing. This was after Arendse requested a postponement saying that he could not participate in the hearing as he had not had enough time to prepare.

Tshabalala is facing two charges.

The first charge of misconduct relates to Tshabalala 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 (Unisa).

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.

Legal team had various concerns
Tshabalala told the committee that the charges she was facing have been revised from the ones she received about three weeks ago, and that she was seeing the revised charges for the first time on Tuesday morning.

When the chairperson of the committee, Joyce Moloi-Moropa asked Tshabalala to plead to the charge sheet, Arendse objected saying they were not ready to proceed for a number of reasons.

He first revealed that he was only briefed by Tshabalala’s attorney late on Monday and hence he was not ready to proceed.

Arendse complained that Tshabalala only received documents [evidence] on Friday, and they had not had a chance to verify the evidence. He was also not happy to hear that Unisa’s executive director for legal services, Jan van Wyk, was present at the hearing as a witness.

Arendse was also concerned that hostile comments by MPs both in the inquiry and in public over the matter had raised a question of whether Tshabalala will get a fair hearing from the committee.

Lastly, the advocate was not happy about the complainant, Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Gavin Davis, who had complained about Tshabalala sitting in on the inquiry, saying this ran the risk of him being “judge, jury and prosecutor” all at the same time.

MPs incensed
MPs across the political party spectrum were outraged by Arendse’s comments. 

Congress of the People MP Willie Madisha said Arendse was wrong because the committee had been communicating with Tshabalala for months about the matter (since July).

“If he says that by hook or crook, he is unable to handle this particular matter … let’s give him them a chance, give them an hour to look into this whole thing,” said Madisha.

Another MP, the ANC’s Bigboy Kekana also responded angrily to Arendse, saying instead of questioning the MPs’ integrity, he could be producing Tshabalala’s qualifications. “There’s one thing that we want, why should we postpone to another day?”

Economic Freedom Fighters MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said if Arendse was only “briefed last night, you should be humble, come in front of public representatives and be humble”.

Ndlozi said the matter was simple: does Tshabalala have the qualifications or not, adding that a person who took her job seriously and wanted to have an honest government and honest institutions of the state would have answered that simple question, and not subject Parliament to a prolonged process, including an inquiry.

“But then you come here and say: we are not ready, in fact I want representatives and I don’t trust the people here because they are harsh,” he said.

The MPs did not want to grant Arendse the two week postponement he wanted; but after an hour long caucus meeting, agreed to a two-day postponement until Thursday.

Arendse unlikely to be at court
Arendse indicated that both he and the instructing attorney were unlikely to be present on Thursday due to prior commitments, but the committee decided on Thursday nonetheless.

City Press 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 DA’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.