Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Picture: BUSINESS DAY
Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Picture: BUSINESS DAY

AMID controversy over the SABC board's request to re-appoint former chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng in an acting capacity until December, the Presidency has said that the government respected court rulings and respects the judgment, which resulted in the controversial figure being removed from his post.

A statement from the Presidency on Friday morning noted the judgment by the Supreme Court of Appeals on Motsoeneng's position.

The statement follows one from Communications Minister Faith Muthambi saying she had not formally received a request from the board requesting the re-appointment of Motsoeneng in an acting capacity until December.

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The government appears to be in damage control mode after the leaking of a memo from group company secretary, Theresa Geldenhuys, to board members, proposing that Motsoeneng be appointed acting chief operating officer until December 2016.

The memo said the board resolved to approve recommending to the minister that Motsoeneng be appointed in an acting capacity as chief operating officer.

Motsoeneng is effectively an ordinary SABC employee after the Supreme Court of Appeal earlier this week dismissed his application for leave to appeal a ruling by the High Court in Cape Town, which set aside his permanent appointment.

The statement from the Presidency said the government met the judiciary last year and "reaffirmed" that it would respect court rulings.

"Government fully abides by that undertaking. The courts are the highest arbiters in disputes in society and all in our country must respect the courts and ensure that the Constitution and the rule of law prevail at all times," it said. Departmental spokesperson Mish Molakeng on Friday said the minister had not been formally asked to re-appoint Motsoeneng.

"As the shareholder representative, our duty is to wait for the SABC to engage us formally on this matter, in line with the mandate of the broadcaster," Molakeng said.

"Until such time, it would be highly in appropriate for the ministry to make public pronouncements."

Motsoeneng’s lawyer, Zola Majavu, reportedly sent a letter to the SABC board demanding an explanation about his client’s role at the state broadcaster. Motsoeneng was suffering from emotional stress, Majavu wrote in the letter.

According to the source with knowledge of the SABC board deliberations, Motsoeneng could land himself a "cushy job" at the broadcaster if the board members had their way.

The saga dates back to a 2014 public protector investigation which found that Motsoeneng had fabricated his matric qualification and increased his salary irregularly, from R1.5m to R2.4m in one year. He subsequently spent over two years fighting for his job in various courts, at the expense of the public — and with the support of Communications Minister Faith Muthambi and the SABC.

The decisions he has taken as chief operating officer have had a far-reaching effect on the public broadcaster. These include decisions described as censorship and which have contributed to the decline of editorial independence.

With Genevieve Quintal