Appeal Decision: Prof Phendla Thidziambi vs Sowetan

Decision: Application for leave to appeal

Applicant: Phendla Thidziambi

Respondent: Sowetan

Matter No: 328/2013

DECISION: Application for Leave to Appeal to the Appeals Panel

1.The  Applicant was once employment by the University of Venda as a professor. The Respondent reported in its various publications that Applicant had been dismissed by the University for, amongst others, corruption. The reports were in 2011 and 2012, and were put on the internet by the Respondent. The Applicant lodged a complaint with the office of the Ombudsman, that the coverage was jeopardizing her employment prospects and should therefore be removed from Respondent’s website. The Ombudsman dismissed the complaint, hence this application, which is being opposed by the Respondent.

2. In his Ruling, the Ombudsman held that he could not hear the matter because, at the time the stories were put on the internet, the mandate of his office did not extend to matters on the internet; that is he had no jurisdiction or competence to order the Respondent to do what Applicant wanted him to do. Secondly, the Ombudsman held that in any event, the complaints were devoid of any merit. The Ombudsman’s reasons are given crisply, and there is really nothing to add. He says the following: “The reports in question were published in 2011 and 2012. The mandate of this office did not extent to the internet at the time of publication (even though these are still reflected on the publication’s website).”  Secondly, the Ombudsman says that in any event, the complaints are devoid of any merit. I agree with the Ombudsman on both aspects, and there is nothing for me to add. Applicant now contents that the Ombudsman took his decision without providing the Applicant with the relevant documentation. Firstly, Applicant does not specify as to which documents she is referring to. Secondly, assuming that she had identified any specific documents, it would still have been necessary for her to go further and show the relevance and materiality of such documents to the issues before the Ombudsman. The need to identify specific documents allegedly not provided to her was important, given the fact that it is standing practice at the office for the Public Advocate to supply all the parties with the relevant documents, including responses to each other’s submissions. Besides, the crux of the complaint was about an issue (dismissal for corruption) on which the parties had been engaging each other over a long period of time. Furthermore, Applicant ought to have had the papers for the disciplinary hearing, the findings thereof, and of course copies of the stories complained of. In light of all the aforegoing, to state that the Ombudsman did not provide Applicant with some documents, without stating which documents, amounts to speculation. In any event, given the fact that it cannot be disputed that the dismissal was on the basis of a finding of corruption, the appeal to the Appeals Panel would not have any prospects of success.

3. For the reasons given above, Applicant’s application for leave to appeal to the Appeals Panel against the Ruling of the Ombudsman is dismissed.

Dated this 8th day of Mach 2014

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel