Court finds for me­dia

CityPress - - News - SIPHO MA­SONDO sipho.ma­sondo@city­press.co.za

It was a vic­tory for the me­dia at the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg on Fri­day, which ruled against at­tempts by gov­ern­ment to pre­vent it from re­port­ing on the dis­ci­plinary case of 12 pub­lic works of­fi­cials who took the fall for the R246 mil­lion spent on up­grad­ing Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s Nkandla home.

The me­dia were de­nied ac­cess to the dis­ci­plinary hear­ings of 11 of the 12 em­ploy­ees, prompt­ing Me­dia24, Times Me­dia Group and the Mail & Guardian to go to court in Fe­bru­ary to be granted ac­cess.

Judge Piet Koen ruled on Fri­day that the me­dia should not have been de­nied ac­cess. “The me­dia are du­ty­bound to re­port with vigour, courage, in­tegrity and re­spon­si­bil­ity on the Nkandla up­grades, in­clud­ing the dis­ci­plinary pro­ceed­ings.”

The court ac­tion was due to Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela’s 2014 re­port, which re­vealed that the pres­i­dent and his fam­ily had un­duly ben­e­fited from the up­grad­ing of Zuma’s home.

The pub­lic works depart­ment ini­ti­ated dis­ci­plinary hear­ings against 12 em­ploy­ees for their in­volve­ment in the scan­dal.

The hear­ings fol­lowed a probe by the spe­cial in­ves­ti­gat­ing unit, which fin­gered th­ese em­ploy­ees – even though the re­port found that none of them had ben­e­fited per­son­ally.

The hear­ings were sus­pended, pend­ing Fri­day’s rul­ing.

Judge Koen said the pub­lic na­ture of the Nkandla up­grades de­manded that the pub­lic be given the full facts, to make in­formed choices, in­clud­ing whether or not the dis­ci­plinary hear­ings in­sti­gated against the em­ploy­ees were prop­erly founded.

He re­jected ar­gu­ments from the re­spon­dents that the dis­ci­plinary hear­ings were a pri­vate mat­ter be­tween em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees.

Ad­vo­cate An­drea Gabriel SC, who rep­re­sented the me­dia houses, ar­gued that there was a dis­cernible pub­lic in­ter­est in the hear­ings, con­sid­er­ing the up­grades had been spon­sored by the pub­lic purse.

The pub­lic works depart­ment had not op­posed the ap­pli­ca­tion, and said it would abide by the court’s rul­ing.

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