A big row is brewing about one of President Jacob Zuma’s latest appointments, this time the election to the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) board of Thami Ntenteni. Ntenteni is also up for a position on the council of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa). Glenda Nevill reports.
Ntenteni, alleges Democratic Alliance shadow minister for communications, Gavin Davis, spent several years in prison for culpable homicide, drunken driving and negligence.
“Mr Ntenteni was previously Thabo Mbeki’s spokesperson in the deputy presidency and headed up Radio Freedom prior to that. He was one of the three names recommended to the President by the National Assembly,” Davis told The Media Online.
“The MDDA Act stipulates that board members must be committed to freedom of expression, must be representative of a broad cross section of the Republic and must have expertise in media and broadcasting. The Icasa Act stipulates that Councillors must have experience in broadcasting and telecommunications,” Davis explained.
“Both Acts are very clear that any person sentenced to a year or more in prison without the option of a fine are ineligible to serve on the MDDA board and the Icasa Council. This is the basis upon which we are questioning this appointment,” he said.
“We need to ascertain for certain that Ntenteni is ineligible. This is why I have asked the chairperson of the portfolio committee to provide more detail around the vetting process that was carried out. The crucial piece of information we need is whether or not he was sentenced to a year or more without the option of a fine (as claimed in press reports). I have asked the chairperson to discuss this further at our Committee meeting tomorrow,” Davis said.
Davis said he had written to the chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications, Joyce Moloi-M0ropa, on 13 June in an attempt to establish facts such as whether the portfolio committee secretariat had commissioned a background check on Ntenteni; whether he had a criminal record and if so, which crimes he has been convicted of and if he spent more than one year in prison without the option of a fine.
But, so far, he’s had no response from the chairperson.
Davis has also written to Zuma. In the letter, he points out the section in the MDDA Act, which says: A person may not be appointed as a member of the MDDA Board if he or she has been convicted after the commencement of the Constitution of the Republic South Africa, 1993 (Act no. 200 of 1993) of a crime specified in Schedule 1 to the Criminal Procedure Act, 1977 (Act no. 51 of 1977), and has been sentenced to a period of imprisonment of not less than one year without the option of a fine.
“Culpable homicide is specified as a Schedule 1 crime in the Criminal Procedure Act,” Davis said in his letter. “ It is not clear whether you were made aware of Mr Ntenteni’s history prior to making the appointment on Friday.”
Davis asks Zuma to clarify if his office commissioned a background check particularly looking at whether he had any criminal convictions.
“… if Mr Ntenteni was sentenced to a prison term of one year or more without the option of a fine, on what grounds his appointment was deemed by the Presidency to be legally valid?” Davis asks.
Davis told The Media Online anyone appointed to the board of a state owned enterprise should undergo background checks. “Yes, as far as I know, they are carried out by the State Security Agency and include a check into any history of criminal convictions,” he said.
But Davis has listed a series of infractions by Ntenteni already in the public domain.
- On 30 November 1994Ntenteni was reportedly found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol. 
- In 1998, Ntenteni was reportedly again found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol and culpable homicide in 1998. 
- He reportedly caused an accident on the Ben Schoeman Highway in Gauteng in which a woman, Elizabeth Molefe, was killed and three people (Jane Dube, Doreen Mncube and Robert Zondi) were injured. They were witnesses in the court case that followed. 
- It was reported that the BMW Ntenteni was driving crashed into a Volkswagen Passat from behind. The BMW was allegedly travelling at high speed. Passengers in the Volkswagen were trapped inside the burnt out wreckage until emergency workers arrived, and were then taken to hospital. Mr Ntenteni was not injured. 
- It was reported that Ntenteni was arrested at the scene, but was later released from the Randburg Magistrates Court with a warning and no bail, which was deemed unusual. 
- It was reported thatNtenteni was sentenced to seven years in prison in the Randburg Magistrates Court on December 5, 1998. He effectively served five years of his prison term. 
- Another report suggests that Mr Ntenteni was “sent to jail for a period of three years” and “conducted himself exceptionally well in jail”. 
- Correctional Service department spokesperson Russel Mamabolo reportedly confirmed that Ntenteni had been released from prison on 3 September 2001. 
- It was reported that Ntenteni resigned from his position in Deputy President Mbeki’s office a few weeks before he was found guilty. 
“If it is found that Ntenteni is ineligible, then we will call on the President to suspend him with immediate effect while the National Assembly begins the process (set out in section 6 of the MDDA Act) to have Mr Ntenteni removed from the Board,” Davis said.
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