SABC board chairwoman Ellen Tshabalala faces charges of misconduct at a hearing in Cape Town on Tuesday. Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications, headed by MP Joyce Moloi-Moropa, will hear Tshabalala’s defence months after a City Press newspaper investigation found no evidence of her having the academic qualifications listed on her curriculum vitae. Correspondence between Tshabalala and Moloi-Moropa reveals escalating tension between the two. Tshabalala accuses Moloi-Moropa and the committee of “malice” while Moloi-Moropa says she’s just doing her job. It ends with the chairwoman saying she looked forward to seeing Tshabalala at today’s inquiry.
The road to the inquiry has been beset with drama from the start. Democratic Alliance spokesman on communications, Gavin Davis, led the charge in parliament, and the process leading up to Tuesday’s hearing was not easy, with Davis and chairwoman Moloi-Moropa clashing several times.
But ultimately, the committee, and parliament’s legal unit, agreed Tshabalala should answer the allegations against her, and in a letter to speaker Baleka Mbete, suggested Tshabalala be suspended for the duration of the inquiry.
According to the notice of hearing issued by Moloi-Moropa, the first charge is that Tshabalala “committed misconduct by misrepresenting and/or lying about your academic qualifications in your Curriculum Vitae submitted to the National Assembly and/or the Portfolio Committee on Communications, by representing that you possess a Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) Degree and a Post Graduate Diploma in Labour Relations from the University of South Africa (UNISA), when you knew or ought reasonably to have known that you did not possess the claimed academic qualifications”.
The second charge is that “in an affidavit, affirmation or solemn or attested declaration made on 23 July 2013 and before a person competent to administer an oath or affirmation or take the declaration in question, you made a false statement knowing it to be false by claiming that you could not furnish copies of your academic qualifications as you lost them in a house burglary around 2001 – 2002”.
Moloi-Moropa, in a letter to Tshabalala at the end of July, said the portfolio committee viewed the allegations “in a very serious light”. She asked that in the case of Tshabalala denying the allegations, that she provides the committee with information that would “enable it to independently verify your qualifications with the University of South Africa”. This should include her student number and the years and dates she was enrolled, as well as the dates when she received her certificates. Tshabalala was given until 12 August to respond.
In a letter on 11 August, Tshabalala said she wanted to give the committee a “high level personal perspective” on the matter. She said she needed time to “take all appropriate and necessary steps, available to me in law, to protect and redeem my reputation due to the damage that has been visited upon my dignity as a result of the actions that were taken by the parties in the genesis of the initial press report”.
Tshabalala said an investigation into the academic institution involved (Unisa) because of the contents of a “purported” letter to City Press was published without her consent. She said her legal representatives had “engaged” Unisa, which would “provide all the necessary answers to my concerns and questions”. She said the status of student records should be investigated to “assess what is contained in them in relation to my academic relationship with this institution” and that she needed advice on the legal recourse available to her to “protect” her reputation. She was given until 26 August to respond.
Then on 17 September Tshabalala accuses the portfolio committee and chairwoman Moloi-Moropa of treating her unfairly. In a letter, she writes that she would “like to register my apprehension in the manner in which I have been unfairly treated and vindicated (sic) by the portfolio committee under your chairmanship”. She accuses the committee of violating her constitutional rights by suggesting she be suspended. She says she provided the committee with her response to the allegations against her and that there was “no indication that my response was inadequate”. She said the committee allowed the media to “broadcast its discussions” on her qualifications and its recommendations that she be suspended.
But Moloi-Moropa was having none of it. In her response dated 23 September, she said Tshabalala had been given plenty of time to respond to the allegations, and that she’d been given an extended deadline to do so but that she to date has “failed and/or refused to furnish the committee with a written response… “
She said there was no “malice” in the fact that media and the public were at the 16 September meeting, adding that the National Assembly and its committees were constitutionally obliged to conduct business in an open manner. She said only President Jacob Zuma could suspend SABC board members.
The committees decision to suspend Tshabalala was overturned by Cedric Frolick who recommended that the inquiry proceed, and make its findings which should then be reported to Zuma who would make the decision on what to do. Frolick said it was Zuma’s “prerogative” to “suspend or not to”.