Pretoria – The already cash-strapped SABC was ordered on Friday to pay a former SABC rugby commentator R989 408 in damages for terminating his contract after a colleague accused him of racism.
Pieter van den Berg turned to the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, where he said the SABC simply terminated his services, without hearing his side of the story.
SABC technical producer Musa Msomi claimed that Van den Berg, during a Sharks vs Hurricanes game at Kings Park in May 2016, told him that “all blacks are incompetent.” Msomi subsequently laid a charge of racism against him with the SABC.
Van den Berg vehemently denied that he had uttered these words and said he simply told Msomi to do his job correctly.
Acting Judge E van der Schyff found that on the probabilities and after listening to all the witnesses from both sides, Van den Berg did not utter the words “ all blacks are incompetent”.
He claimed R1 million in damages from the public broadcaster after his contract was terminated, although there was about a year left on the contract.
Van den Berg denied that he had uttered these words.
The SABC, on the other hand, said Van den Berg had breached the terms of his agreement. It said he was frustrated with the preparations made for the broadcast of the rugby match that day and took it out on Msomi.
According to the SABC, Van den Berg took out his frustrations on Msomi in front of the other media and told him “all blacks are incompetent.” This amounted to racism and hate speech and the utterance was made to humiliate Msomi, the SABC said.
Msomi testified that Van den Berg uttered these words “at the top of his voice” and “almost hysterically” and in front of the other media. He said he was hurt and humiliated. He called a witness to testify that he too, heard the “slur”, but this witness said he either didn’t hear it or have forgotten it.
In an email to the SABC in which he complained about Van den Berg, Msomi only referred to his angry outburst, but never said anything about any racial remarks. He also told a colleague that Van den Berg was a “prima donna”, but also remained mum about the alleged remarks.
The judge said she found this strange. She said there was simply no evidence to collaborate his version regarding the offending remarks.
She said it is indisputable that racism is a burning issue in the South African context, but Msomi’s evidence in court simply did not correspond with the version he had set out in the pleadings of the case.