Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Picture: SUPPLIED
Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Picture: SUPPLIED

Former SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng has said the decision to order him to pay costs, for which he has been found liable, is "arbitrary and/or irrational."

Last week, Judge David Gush ordered that Motsoeneng, former head of news Simon Tebele, and the SABC be held liable for the costs, jointly and severally, in the applications made by trade unions Solidarity and the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union (Bemawu), which saw seven journalists being reinstated at the public broadcaster.

The journalists were fired after they spoke out against the controversial policy of not broadcasting protest action and the general culture in the newsroom under Motsoeneng's reign.

Motsoeneng has now filed an application for leave to appeal the cost order. In his application, Motsoeneng said it was clear from Tebele’s affidavit that he, and not Motsoeneng, had been instructed by former acting CEO Jimi Matthews to suspend the journalists from their positions. Tebele’s counsel had said the judge should disregard the affidavit in determining the cost order, and should make a decision based on the circumstantial evidence presented by the unions, which cited Motsoeneng as the decision-maker.

He said the judge had failed to regard the "incontrovertible evidence" in Tebele’s affidavit that Motsoeneng had played no role in the decision to terminate the journalists’ contracts, adding that the consequence of this was that "the learned judge had failed to properly exercise the discretion he has to order that the respondents be held jointly liable for the costs".

Motsoeneng quoted the judge’s reasoning for holding him liable, in which Gush found that "there can be no doubt that the second respondent was, if not the author, an enthusiastic proponent of the protest policy and its application in respect of the employees of the first respondent [SABC], so much so that the interdict applied to him personally".

Last year, the High Court in Pretoria granted an order interdicting the SABC from implementing or enforcing its censorship decision, after the Helen Suzman Foundation took the SABC to court over its no-protest policy. Motsoeneng, however, said that this does not apply to this case, as the application brought by the journalists was not done to force him to comply with the interdict, but to challenge the procedural and substantive basis for the termination of their employment.

With regards to Tebele’s about-turn on who is responsible for the decision, Motsoeneng said that another court, if it was acting fairly, would see Tebele’s deviation from the evidence as "sanctionable".

Anton van der Bijl, head of Solidarity’s Centre for Fair Labour Practices, said Motsoeneng is trying to delay the inevitable. "However, what he’ll soon realise is that he cannot tire us through litigation and that at the end of the day he will be accountable for all the damage he has caused to so many people. We look forward to opposing him in the (Labour) Appeal Court."

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