Distress signal: The SABC’s Auckland Park headquarters in Johannesburg.  Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Distress signal: The SABC’s Auckland Park headquarters in Johannesburg. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

Communications Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane has decided to appeal against a recent court ruling limiting her role in the appointment of SABC executives.

The High Court in Pretoria ruled in October that the executive members of the SABC had to be appointed solely by the board without any requirement of approval by the minister.

The ruling brought clarity on the roles of the minister and the president in the appointment of the SABC’s board, CEO, chief financial officer and chief operating officer.

An appeal by Kubayi-Ngubane against the judgment will probably be an acid test for the independence of the new SABC board.

DA MPs Gavin Davis and Phumzile van Damme asked SABC board members appearing before Parliament’s communications committee on Tuesday if they would oppose the minister’s appeal "to defend [their] independence".

Board members were prevented from responding when ANC MPs and the committee chairman quashed the DA questions, saying they were not necessary.

The SABC does not have permanent executives after former communications minister Ayanda Dlodlo refused to approve the candidates proposed by the interim board, saying they were not qualified.

Kubayi-Ngubane told MPs on Tuesday the judgment seemed rushed and contradicted the Labour Relations Act. She said it was not clear if it sought to amend the Broadcasting Act.

Kubayi-Ngubane said she did not necessarily oppose the ruling that the board appoint executives, but the board should at least consult with the minister.

"We did not want a situation where there are questions around people that are appointed … [the judgment] has consequences beyond the SABC [and could affect] other state-owned enterprises," she said. Kubayi-Ngubane was leading an SABC delegation in Parliament that included some members of the permanent board, to discuss the public broadcaster’s first-quarter report for the 2017-18 financial year.

The report revealed another quarterly loss. The public broadcaster, which is going through its worst financial crisis, ended the first quarter with an operating loss of R74.4m versus a budgeted loss of R103m.

ANC MP Mziwamadoda Kalako supported Kubayi-Ngubane’s decision to appeal against the ruling.

"For me, it’s not clearly giving us a guide on the separation of powers issue and the authority, especially on appointment of executives. Take that up [on appeal], it will help us in Parliament," he said.

Van Damme said: "The minister taking this judgment on appeal is a clear indication of her dubious agenda.

"This high court judgment finally puts power back in the hands of the SABC board. The minister — as she had publicly stated her intent not to interfere in the board’s affairs — should have welcomed this move."

SABC chairman Bongumusa Makhathini said on the sidelines of the meeting that the board was made aware of the minister’s decision to appeal only on Monday night.

The board would be studying the judgment and the minister’s grounds for appeal before it commented.

Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird said he was not surprised by the Minister's decision to appeal, "but deeply disappointed".

"The minister had an opportunity to move forward and give the SABC a chance. Instead she has opted to try destabilise the SABC. It’s disgraceful," said Bird.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za

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