Cape Town – The leadership of the SA Clothing and Textile Workers' Union (Sactwu) as well as Hosken Consolidated Investments [JSE:HCI] were surprised to hear of allegations that “political interference” is behind the suspension of the executive chairperson of HCI, Marcel Golding.
HCI, which owns broadcaster e.tv and a stake in hotel and gaming group Tsogo Sun [JSE:TSH], announced on Thursday that it is suspending Golding over “gross misconduct” and that disciplinary proceedings are scheduled for Monday October 27 2014.
But Marcel Golding turned to the Labour Court in Cape Town on Friday with an urgent application to overturn his suspension.
Sactwu is HCI’s biggest shareholder with a 32% stake and HCI controls Sabido, the holding company in which Johann Rupert’s Remgro is a one third shareholder. Golding is Hosken's second-largest shareholder with around 7% of the company, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Fin24 approached Remgro for comment, but CEO Jannie Durand responded that there is "no comment".
“We are taken by surprise regarding allegations of editorial interference,” Andre Kriel, general secretary of the SA Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu) told Fin24 on Friday.
“I have known Marcel for many years and it is a very sad moment in my relationship with him. This is the first time such an accusation has been raised in our relationship spanning three decades.”
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Kriel emphasised that, as the largest shareholder in HCI Sactwu is entitled to have seats on the Sabido board.
“Yet we never insisted on it as we value and understand the issue of editorial independence,” said Kriel.
“What puzzles me is that now, in the light of serious misconduct allegations against Marcel, these interference allegations come through. We simply don't ask for special treatment.”
He did mention as an example, that e.tv has only attended two of the last ten Sactwu press conferences.
“I don't want to get into a public smearing campaign with Marcel as I still have high respect for him. I met with him and our Sactwu president Themba Khumalo about three weeks ago to hear Marcel’s side of the story,” said Kriel.
“In the discussion there was not one incident where he mentioned any interference in editorial content. Now it surfaces in court papers out of the blue. I am saddened, that is all I can say.”
Kriel did not want to comment on the disciplinary proceedings.
Application to lift suspension
Golding has launched proceedings to uplift his suspension, to stay the disciplinary inquiry and to seek other relief. HCI intends to oppose such an application.
According to the charge sheet, Golding has been charged with purchasing shares worth R24m in JSE-listed electronic and technology company Ellies “without proper authorisation from the board”.
Golding claims political interference is behind his suspension from the company, reported City Press, claiming he was being targeted because he “wouldn’t bend to the will of Sactwu”.
“The disciplinary hearing has been launched after months of attempts to get me to relinquish the chair of the board of [HCI] and resign as CEO of [Sabido Investments] and [e.tv] as a result of my refusal to permit the main media asset of the group of companies, e.tv, to be used for political purposes by a trade union that is invested in the group,” said Golding, according to City Press.
Golding claims, for instance, that a representative of Sactwu tried to get prime time coverage for President Jacob Zuma opening a dam - four days after the Public Protector’s report into Nkandla was made public.”
The chief operating officer declined the request, with Golding’s support, leading to a dispute between Golding and other shareholders, according to City Press.
HCI has stated said in a statement that any allegations by Golding that the institution of disciplinary proceedings has been motivated by “ulterior, political purposes namely, to interfere with the editorial independence of e.tv by HCI shareholders is fallacious and is denied by HCI”.
HCI said that in the fifteen years that HCI has held its significant interest in et.v, it has never been suggested by either Golding or any other party that HCI, or any of its shareholders has interfered, or attempted to interfere in the editorial independence of e.tv.
The company claims the allegations now made by Golding in this regard, which emerged following the recommendation of the HCI board’s sub-committee to refer the matter to a disciplinary enquiry, are also regarded by HCI as “purely opportunistic” on his part.
“HCI wishes to reaffirm that it and its shareholders have always respected the editorial independence of etv, and will continue to do so. As soon as circumstances permit, a further press announcement will be issued by the company,” HCI said.