South Africa: Row Rages Over Fate of Media Body CEO

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The embattled Media Advertising, Printing, Publishing and Packaging Seta (Mappp-Seta) faces a shaky future as the ongoing legal dispute over its suspended CEO, Melanie Bernard-Fryer, further exposes a split between constituents and the board. According to a letter received by Bernard-Fryer's attorneys, she has been advised that her suspension has been lifted.

She was suspended in March after allegedly blowing the whistle on financial mismanagement in Mappp-Seta. However, according to the Mappp-Seta chairman Martin Deysel, Bernard-Fryer will not be reinstated.

Dimitri van der Westhuizen, who is representing Bernard- Fryer in the matter, said yesterday he had received a letter from Leppan Beech attorneys stating, "we hereby advise that your client's suspension is lifted with immediate effect".

Leppan Beech would not comment on the matter, as it was ongoing. Deysel said "Bernard-Fryer was supposed to attend a grievance hearing (on Tuesday), which she did not attend".

He said the Mappp-Seta was still pursuing the charges brought against her which dealt with financial mismanagement. Last week saw the last of 19 charges in favour of her suspension dropped by the Mappp-Seta. She was advised that she would not be reinstated as CEO, as there would still be a grievance hearing.

Van der Westhuizen said that, according to Leppan Beech's statement, Bernard-Fryer could resume her duties. Regarding the report that Bernard-Fryer allegedly handed over to the National Prosecuting Authority, Deysel said that Bernard-Fryer's earlier allegations of financial mismanagement within the Seta were "total rubbish".

For the time being, Mappp-Seta is without a leader as Deysel said the acting-CEO, Gerhard Kemp, also the acting-chief financial officer at Mappp-Seta, had stepped down because he "can't handle both jobs".

Opposing constituents are reaching boiling point in their frustration with slow transformation within Mappp-Seta. "We will issue a letter of demand (today) requesting a date to be set for an AGM within 72 hours. We call for the overhaul of the board and the election of a new chairman. We also request that the meeting be chaired by the labour department because we have lost all confidence in the current authority," said South African Screen Federation general secretary Nicola Rauch.

She said the chairwoman had not been legally elected according to the National Skills Act, which superseded the nomination process used in the Mappp-Seta's constitution. She had been supported by four of the seven chambers that fall under Mappp-Seta's control, namely advertising, film and electronic media, arts and culture and publishing.

Business Day Johannesburg, 3rd May 2007