The African National Congress (ANC) blocked the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) board from answering the Democratic Alliance's (DA's) questions about its independence during the new board's first meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Communication on Tuesday.
Communications Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane told the committee that she would appeal a recent High Court ruling that the appointment of the SABC's top executives should be made solely by the SABC board, without the requirement of approval by the minister.
She was referring to the High Court application that Media Monitoring Africa, the SOS Coalition and the Freedom of Expression Institute brought against the SABC, the minister of communications and others.
The organisations asked the court to declare invalid certain sections of the SABC's memorandum of incorporation dealing with the minister's ability to appoint or remove the SABC's top executives.
On October 17, the same day that President Jacob Zuma finally appointed the SABC board and shuffled Kubayi-Ngubane to communications, Judge Elias Matojane ruled in the organisations' favour in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg.
Matojane ruled that the board did not require the minister's approval to appoint executives.
Minister taking SABC 'back to the era of Faith Muthambi'
Kubayi-Ngubane criticised the ruling, saying it appeared rushed. She said while the board must appoint the executives, the minister should at least be consulted.
DA MP Phumzile van Damme expressed her disappointment with Kubayi-Ngubane's decision to appeal, and her DA colleague in Parliament Gavin Davis said "it seems the new minister wants to take us back to the era of (former communications minister) Faith Muthambi".
The ad hoc committee that investigated the SABC board found Muthambi "incompetent" and that she might have contravened legislation, including the Constitution. In his March Cabinet reshuffle, Zuma appointed her as minister of public service and administration.
Van Damme asked SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini about progress in the process to appoint the executives.
Van Damme said the court made it very clear that the process must be conducted in an open manner.
Davis asked if Makhathini would oppose the minister's court bid to protect the independence of the SABC.
Executives still being recruited
ANC MP Lerumo Kalako said Kubayi-Ngubane was correct to appeal the ruling.
On her decision to appeal, Kubayi-Ngubane said the Broadcasting Act allowed the minister to initiate a memorandum of incorporation with the SABC.
"I'm not looking to appoint executives, I want concurrence," Kubayi-Ngubane said.
Regarding the process to appoint the executives, she said she couldn't say who the candidates were, as the process was still in the recruitment stage.
"The process of appointment of executives will be communicated once it had been done," said Kubayi-Ngubane.
"She is not even supposed to be involved in the process!" Van Damme said in a point of order. "I asked the board chair, I'm sure he can speak for himself."
No response to questions about appointments
ANC MP Moses Tseli said: "I don't think she (Van Damme) is assisting the committee."
Kubayi-Ngubane said in terms of parliamentary rules it is the minister who tables the SABC's reports.
"I'm that executive authority," said Kubayi-Ngubane.
While Makhathini answered some questions, he did not give responses to questions about the appointment of the executives or on whether or not the board would oppose Kubayi-Ngubane's appeal.
Davis said: "I thought it was fascinating that the minister took it upon herself to update us on the appointment of the executive."
He pointed out that his question on whether the board would oppose the minister's court bid wasn't answered.
DA trying to 'destabilise the SABC'
Tseli said there was nothing to answer for. "We're just wasting time here," he said.
Kalako said the ANC was aware of the DA's "shenanigans" to destabilise the SABC.
"If the DA thinks they can come and bulldoze us, they must forget," he said.
Van Damme asked deputy chairperson of the SABC board Febe Potgieter-Gqubule for clarity on her relationship with the ANC, as she said when she was interviewed for the board that she would resign if she was elected to the ANC NEC.
Kalako said Van Damme should join the ANC if she is interested in the party's workings.
"You can't subject one person to an interrogation," said Kubayi-Ngubane.
'You report to the National Assembly'
She said she had requested board members to issue her with declarations of their interests.
"I want to request that she is allowed not to respond," said Kubayi-Ngubane to committee chairperson Humphrey Maxegwana.
Potgieter-Gqubule said: "I stand guided by the committee chairperson."
Van Damme said she was disappointed that Potgieter-Gqubule didn't answer the question.
"Perhaps the intention is to recapture the SABC," said Van Damme.
"You do not report to the minister, you report to the National Assembly."
Maxegwana adjourned the meeting without the questions being answered.