It is a turbulent time for the troubled national broadcaster, as the SABC reels from one disaster to the next. As a result of perceived inaction to deal with the enormous breadth of issues confronting the public broadcaster by the chairperson of the SABC board, Dr Ben Ngubane, civil society collective, the Save Our SABC (SOS) Coalition, with its powerful voice, has finally lost patience with the chairperson.
In a letter addressed to the SABC Board, the SOS Coalition said: “The SOS Coalition sent a letter to the Chair of the SABC Board on October 25, 2011. We asked the Chair to get back to us within a week (i.e. by Tuesday 1 November) with written replies. We did not receive a reply. Then on November 3, 2011 Mr. Phil Molefe, the SABC’s GCEO, sent the Coalition an email replying to some of our questions relating to the employment of Mr. Justice Ndaba and the R20m car scandal.
“He stated that the issues were being investigated. Mr. Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Group Executive Stakeholder Management and Provinces, then attended our SOS working group meeting on November 3. At the meeting he promised that the Chair would get back to us in writing. We thank SABC management for this engagement. However we still have not received any answers of substance or any date as to when such answers will be provided.
“Given the growing seriousness of the reported maladministration, an emergency SOS working group meeting was held yesterday afternoon (November 7). At this meeting the Coalition decided to call collectively for the resignation of Dr Ben Ngubane,” the SOS Coalition said in a statement.
This followed the clamour for his head by other organisations. The South African Communist Party said “Once more, instead of focusing on the core functions of the SABC and delivering on the turnaround strategy, the SABC has been turned into a war zone and a cash cow for other people”.
The South African Screen Federation has added its voice to the melee. “The minister must urgently appoint a caretaker administration, publicly nominated from the public sector, which will take financial, editorial and administrative control of the national public broadcaster until such time as the SABC’s finances are returned to profitability [and] local-content quotas are restored to their legal minimum requirements,” said Thandi Brewer.
The Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union (BEMAWU) has also demanded the resignation of Dr Ngubane. It was reacting to the scandal about Ndaba, a man appointed by “an SABC Board Member in the Corporation’s Turnaround Planning Unit (TPU) on a one-year fixed-term contract. This was done outside of the SABC’s approved governance structures and recruitment processes”.
The SOS Coalition has now sent all the original questions to Dr Ngubane to all board members, the Parliamentary Portfolio on Communications, and to new minister, Dinah Pule, and has requested that they reply by November 15.
– What was the process followed and the reasons for the delays in the appointment of the new CEO, COO and CFO?
– Why did the SABC employ Justice Ndaba to run its critical turnaround strategy despite the fact that his qualifications could not be verified, he had a credit default judgement against him and had business interests that conflicted with his SABC employment? Also, SOS needs clarity as regards the employment status of Mr Ndaba including whether he was employed as a full-time employee or as a consultant. Finally, in light of recent media reports, SOS would like full disclosure as regards the role of the Chair in this appointment.
– The plans the SABC has put in place to ensure the turnaround strategy is effectively managed in future – SOS members have raised their unhappiness around the employment of Mr. Sipho Sithole given his previous record at the SABC and allegations of conflict of interest. Also, SOS member BEMAWU alleges that no contract exists between the SABC and Deloitte consulting leading the turnaround. We would like this issue clarified.
– Why the company secretary was suspended without a Board resolution and what the allegations are against her? The Coalition fears a situation where there may be further fruitless and wasteful expenditure if it is found that the Board has not followed correct labour law procedures.
– Explanations as regards the R20m car scandal, including reasons why inappropriate luxury vehicles were secured, not utilised and not insured. In particular why the Board, when it came into office did not deal with the outstanding tender as regards this issue as a matter of priority?
– Why the SABC has been involved in further wasteful and fruitless expenditure on items such as leather notepads (R93 000) and laptop bags (R84 000) purchased for a Departmental workshop in March 2010, and its expenditure on golf clinics of R85 000.
– Finally and most importantly why the SABC has refused to use its “Request for Proposals” Book to transparently commission new local content? The 2009 interim Board requested that the 2010 Board prioritise this. The 2010 Board then promised the Book would be released in June 2010, however only limited proposals were released. To date no full book of RFPs have been released with no explanations and no apologies. This system was an important marker in the transformation of the SABC, opening the Corporation to pursue its stated strategy of promotion of plurality and diversity of voice.
The SOS Coalition sent the letter to the head of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications, Eric Kholwane, requesting him to ensure the Board complied with SOS’s request. “As our public representatives we would like the Portfolio Committee on Communications to assist us in obtaining these answers. Our request is that you hold a special parliamentary hearing into the matters raised above – or that you ensure that the SABC timeously answers these questions in another way that you feel is appropriate.”
Whether the Board will respond to the pressing questions as outlined by the SOS Coalition remains to be seen. But it is unlikely that civil society will rest until the public broadcaster is transformed into exactly that: a PUBLIC broadcaster.
PHOTO: Cape Town TV march. By Mike Aldridge