December 10, 2018

SOS and MMA: “Why did the President accept resignations from SABC directors?”

The SOS Coalition and Media Matters Africa note the President’s acceptance of the resignations of four SABC Board members this week “with immediate effect”.

Section 15(2) of the Broadcasting Act, 1999 provides that “a non-executive member of the Board can resign by three-months written notice addressed to the appointing body [the President] provided that the appointing body may on good cause be allowed a shorter period. According to press reports, John Matisonn resigned and requested his resignation to be effective immediately. His reason for resigning is that he didn’t agree with the Board’s resolution on the proposed retrenchments. Mathatha Tsedu’s resignation, on the other hand, was occasioned by the lack of support from the government for the SABC.

SOS and MMA are of the view that disagreement with a Board decision/direction or disappointment over a lack of government support cannot constitute “good cause” for resigning immediately otherwise this would effectively require the SABC board to operate by consensus which is not provided for in the Broadcasting Act.

SOS and MMA are of the view that a three-month notice period is there for a reason – to stop a Board becoming inquorate in the normal course and to allow Parliament to fill any upcoming vacancies before they occur. For example, if the four resigning directors served out their statutory notice periods they would remain in office until early March 2019 – enough time for the now eight vacancies to have been filled by Parliament.

SOS and MMA have to query President Ramaphosa’s actions in accepting the resignations “with immediate effect” as a) there was no good cause shown and b) by doing so he effectively rendered the Board inquorate and unable to operate during a period recognised by every political party as a time of crisis. Indeed, unless the President can demonstrate the “good cause” then his acceptance of the resignations “with immediate effect” would be unlawful under the provisions of the Broadcasting Act. The President’s conduct leaves us with the inescapable conclusion that his actions were part of a deliberate, calculated strategy to collapse the SABC Board just prior to the 2019 elections. In this regard, SOS and MMA have instructed their attorneys to write to the President requesting written reasons in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, 2000, for accepting the four resignations “with immediate effect”.

SOS and MMA are of the view that what ought to have happened is that the Board members who resigned ought to have continued in office and attending Board meetings (the records can show they disagreed with Board decisions), as per their statutory obligations, for three months, during which time Parliament would have been able to fill the (now) eight Board vacancies.

Be that as it may, SOS and MMA call upon the remaining SABC Board members, non-executive and executive, to remain at their posts until Parliament carries out its statutory duty (now long-delayed) to appoint new SABC Board members to fill the existing and upcoming vacancies who must be people who serve as directors in the public interest and not as party-political deployees.

SOS and MMA are of the view that Parliament must take note of Board members who have resigned as Board members and query their fitness to hold such a position in future given their willingness to resign from an office which has statutory terms and which they willingly accepted nomination for in the first place.