SABC chair sets her lawyers on Parliament

SABC chairperson Ellen Tshabalala won’t be producing her qualifications just yet. Instead, she’s headed to the courts to stop a parliamentary process intent on suspending her, after months of evasions and requests for postponements. 

Tshabalala’s lawyers have lodged an interdict to stop a parliamentary inquiry that had resolved to recommend she be suspended for lying about her qualifications. 

The Mail & Guardian understands from sources close to the process that Tshabalala’s lawyers lodged the interdict with the high court in the Western Cape late on Tuesday night and early on Wednesday, just ahead of the inquiry resuming on Thursday. The court is yet to make a decision on whether to grant the interdict by Thursday, with Tshabalala’s legal team hoping for a decision in their favour ahead of the inquiry’s scheduled meeting for 2pm. 

The inquiry was set up by Parliament’s oversight committee on communication after City Press revealed in July that Tshabalala does not hold either the BCom or postgraduate degree from the University of South Africa (Unisa) she has claimed on her CV, the university confirmed. 

Parliament asked her to produce the degree certificates but she missed the first deadline on August 12 and a second one on August 31. She claimed that the certificates were in a bag that was stolen in a house burglary. It would take her a week or slightly more to obtain new certificates from Unisa, or just four hours to confirm her degree with the National Qualifications Register, according to one report

Instead the matter has dragged on for three months with no sight of the qualifications. With court action now involved, it could take much longer.

The inquiry was meant to start in September but Tshabalala requested a postponement to October 14 to give her an opportunity to prepare for the meeting. At that meeting, however, she walked in with top advocate Norman Arendse and, over the course of four acrimonious hours, negotiated another postponement. The unhappy committee, comprising members of the ruling ANC and opposition parties, agreed to meet again on October 23. 

The M&G understands that a Unisa official who was set to testify at the inquiry had to fly down from Pretoria on October 14 and again for Thursday’s hearing, which may now be interdicted. 

Tshabalala’s legal team’s argument for an interdict seems to centre on the fact that the inquiry is being held under Section 15 of the Broadcasting Act, which deals with the removal from office of board members. Her legal team has apparently argued that the situation constitutes a disciplinary hearing and thus requires certain procedures to be followed and guarantees of fairness to be met. 

Tshabalala’s legal team are understood to believe that the committee will not provide her with a fair and objective hearing given their statements made in public. A second argument seems to centre on the separation of powers between the legislature and the executive.

Zuma is thought to be protecting Tshabalala
President Jacob Zuma is thought to be protecting Tshabalala, along with SABC’s chief executive Hlaudi Motsoeneng – a close ally, who has also run into problems regarding claims of false qualifications.

Senior ANC leaders were shocked when new Communications Minister Faith Muthambi appointed Motsoeneng permanently to the position, despite a report by the public protector recommending against it. Muthambi has little clout within the ANC but is understood to be deeply loyal to Zuma. 

The communication portfolio committee initially recommended in September that Zuma suspend Tshabalala, but no action was taken and the presidency denied receiving the request. The inquiry was convened soon after. 

The same qualification is noted on the Transnet website – where she is also on the board of directors – and likely to be removed, according to Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown, if she does not have the qualifications. 

Tshabalala has a reputation for convening more board meetings than is usual, earning herself a hefty fee for each meeting. She earned almost R1-million in the past financial year for attending board meetings, according to a City Press report

Tshabalala was appointed chairperson of the SABC board in September 2013, having acted in the position for six months before the full time appointment.

The secretary of the committee was not available for comment. Motsoeneng said he could not comment on the matter.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Political interference mounts over SABC retrenchments

The SABC says it needs to cut R700-million to survive. But senior politicians have allegedly interfered to stop retrenchments from proceeding

What if Ramaphosa gets sick?

Senior South African politicians have not been spared the coronavirus. What happens if the head of state is not well enough to be at his desk?

SABC staff ready to join picket line

The national broadcaster has rejected claims that it did not follow correct retrenchment and audit processes

Reinstated Ingonyama Trust managers hit with retrenchment notices

The effect of Covid-19 and the land reform department’s freeze of R23-million because the ITB didn’t comply with budget submissions are cited as some of the reasons for the staff cuts

IEC ready for elections despite budget and Covid setbacks

The Electoral Commission of South Africa said next year's local government elections will go ahead despite the pandemic as it has plans in place to keep employees and voters safe

Labour minister paints four bleak scenarios for the UIF if layoffs go above 41%

The fund has been selling assets to make Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme payouts

Ingonyama Trust Board moves to retrench staff

More than 50 workers at the Ingonyama Trust Board have been issued section 189 notices

No proof of Covid-19 reinfection, yet

Some people report testing positive for Covid-19 after initially having the disease and then testing negative. Scientists are still trying to understand if this means that reinfection is possible

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday