Court finds for media
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.