Axed SABC head of news Phathiswa Magopeni told parliament she was frogmarched out of the broadcaster’s buildings after her contract was terminated earlier this year.
“Basically I was frogmarched out of the buildings. I was in the company of security guards when I handed over all my equipment, meeting the deadline I was given,” she said.
Magopeni appeared before parliament’s portfolio committee on communications shortly after 9pm on Thursday night for her interview for a spot on the broadcaster’s new board.
MPs quizzed her about her controversial axing from the SABC in January.
“If I take it right at the point where the dismissal happened following a verdict that arose from the disciplinary process on the erroneous airing of an interdicted episode, the recommendation was for me to be given a warning. Linked to that recommendation was a clause, which was a paragraph that I was supposed to distance myself from that related to how the charges were phrased. I was supposed to distance myself from that.”
Magopeni told MPs she did.
“When I was dismissed the two things cited was I refused or failed to distance myself to that paragraph.”
She said this was “untrue” because within hours of the verdict being issued, her lawyers wrote to the chair of the disciplinary hearing and copied SABC lawyers, not only distancing herself from the paragraph but withdrawing it from the final report the lawyers had submitted that was to inform the verdict.
She was also fired because she refused to present her mitigating circumstances to the SABC, saying these were supposed to be done to chair of the disciplinary process, and not the broadcaster, which was also an applicant in her matter.
“In terms of the disciplinary policy and code of the SABC, mitigation is done to the chair of the disciplinary hearing, not outside the disciplinary process.
“ Post the verdict being issued, the SABC via human resources (HR) sent me a letter saying the SABC is presenting to me its aggravating circumstances, and I was supposed to submit mitigation.”
This was at odds with policy, said Magopeni.
“It meant I had to submit mitigating circumstances to the applicant who was submitting to me aggravating circumstances. On that basis, through my lawyers it was indicated it falls outside what is prescribed in the disciplinary code.
“Failure to comply with those two is what led to my dismissal. It was indicated as a breakdown in trust and I was dismissed on that basis,” she said.
Magopeni said group CEO Madoda Mxakwe wrote to her indicating her services were terminated with immediate effect and she was supposed to return all the equipment of the SABC within a stipulated time.
“It’s something I did,” she said, adding she was in the company of security guards when she handed over the equipment within the deadline she was given.
When asked by ANC MP Mike Basopu why she wanted to go back to the broadcaster, Magopeni responded there was a lot of work that s needed to be done within the SABC in terms of how the institution functions and serves citizens.
“Having done the work around the news division and also how I view the role of the SABC in how it should support democracy, I believe I’ve got a role to play. I’ve got a contribution to make, to make sure the SABC does what the public expects it to do as a public institution.”
“That’s basically the reason I want to go back. My acceptance of the nomination is informed by that.”
Basopu had also asked how she would prevent the recurrence of what happened at the broadcaster during the state capture years.
Magopeni responded there were enough policies, processes and systems in place at the SABC, before, during and after the state capture period.
She said policies were not an issue but human behaviour was the problem.
“There is something we cannot prevent. It’s how individuals conduct themselves. No policy is going to stop, constrain or prevent how individuals conduct themselves.”
She said her dismissal was an example of how people would deliberately flout processes in place that are meant to prevent arbitrary decisions and would do what they want to do.
She said it was up to the board to constantly exercise its oversight role effectively, and ensure it asks the right questions and does not leave things until they deteriorate to the point where nothing could be done.
“I think a proactive approach should be taken by the board rather than waiting for the executive to report during a reporting cycle,” she said.