SOS Welcomes Parliament’s Legal Opinion on SABC Board Purging
Yesterday afternoon, Parliament received and accepted a legal opinion on the powers to remove Board members of the SABC. The opinion was sought by the Portfolio Committee on Communications’ Chairperson, Joyce Moloi-Moropa, following the SABC Board’s unilateral purging of three directors, Hope Zinde, Rachel Kalidass and Ronnie Lubisi. Following their purging from the Board, the Minister of Communications was emphatic that the Board’s decision was lawful and, in fact, was consistent with the application of the Companies’ Act which trumped the scope of application of the Broadcasting Act.
As far back as the dissolution of the Ngubane Board in early 2013, the SOS Coalition has maintained that there is a clear systemic crisis within the SABC Board – both within the recent past and present. If this crisis is at all to be resolved, Parliament must conduct a full-scale inquiry to identify and root out the cause of the malaise.
On the basis of the principle of legality alone, which underpins the rule of law as a cornerstone of our constitutional democracy, yesterday’s opinion firmly states that
any removal of a SABC Board member that is not effected in line with the provisions of the Broadcasting Act […] is invalid and therefore unlawful
confirming, indeed, what the SOS Coalition has consistently maintained since March of this year, folowing Hope Zinde’s unlawful and demonstrably arbitrary removal from the SABC Board.
Parliament’s legal adviser, cited the following, amongst its reason for holding the welcome view that “the SABC has no legal competency to arbitrarily remove a Member of the Board”:
In terms of the Broadcasting Act:
- Only the President may remove an SABC Board member under two conditions:
- having used his sole executive discretion following the advice of the SABC Board having conducted an inquiry s15(1)
- having been obliged to on the recommendation of the National Assembly having conducted a due inquiry on 5 listed grounds s15A(1)
- In spite of the application of the Companies Act on the SABC as a law of general application and the conflict it poses against the application of the Broadcasting Act, the latter must prevail because of the concrete specificity with which it addresses the removal of SABC Board members which the former does not.
Parliament has agreed to refer the matter to the Minister of Communications for a response and, perhaps, summon her before the Committee to present her response.
While Parliament has taken the correct move to unanimously accept the opinion presented by parliamentary legal adviser, we are not convinced that the process outlined and adopted by the Portfolio Committee is adequate to arrest the pathological dysfunction that has plagued the SABC Board for years, now.
Parliament must play a far more rigorous role in its oversight function of the SABC. It is abundantly clear that, even though this ought to be the case in a healthy constitutional democracy in which public representatives are driven by a duty to public service instead of power, it is not enough to accept the reports tabled by the SABC and the Minister at hearings, such as it does. Our public representatives in Parliament must probe these reports and presentations with an informed and critical eye to ensure that integral public utilities such as our national public broadcaster, the SABC, truly are delivering on their mandate to the people of this country.
Read the full SABC Board Legal Opinion
The SOS Coalition represents a broad spectrum of civil society stakeholders committed to the broadcasting of quality, diverse, citizen-orientated public-interest programming aligned to the goals of the SA Constitution. The Coalition includes a number of trade union federations including COSATU and FEDUSA, a number of independent unions including BEMAWU and MWASA; independent film and TV production sector organisations including the South African Screen Federation (SASFED); a host of NGOs and CBOs including the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), SECTION27 and a number of academics and freedom of expression activists.
Sekoetlane Jacob Phamodi
076 084 8077