The public spat this week between the SABC chairman and one of his board members has highlighted the complete lack of leadership at the top of the beleaguered broadcaster.
The first rule of chairing a board is to allow all directors the freedom to raise whatever they wish inside the boardroom, but outside a common, motivating front should be presented. Not scrapping like two pre-pubescent pupils at a playschool.
Once again aunty SABC is in a state of crisis. And if I define “crisis” in the same way that some literacy-challenged speaker at the recent Cosatu did − “a crisis is a catastrophe that cannot be solved” − then I reckon the SABC is in a crisis.
It is nothing new, of course. I have been writing about the national broadcaster for almost half a century and it has always just wandered from crisis to crisis with gay abandon.
The common denominator through the decades has been that the SABC is owned by the state. And frankly, when it comes to manipulating the leadership of the SABC, I reckon that the ANC and the apartheid governments are pretty much all-square.
With a few exceptions, people who have had very little, if any, experience in chairing boards or running big companies have also led the SABC over the decades.
It is almost as though the SABC’s political masters believe that being the chairman of an organisation requires no training or skill.
As chairman of two media companies, I have found that it takes considerable training and even more skill to get the job done. Chairing companies is a profession in itself − not just the result of a decision made by the winner of political ching-chong-chai.
Frankly, I cannot see the SABC ever becoming genuinely sustainable until such time as its political masters lower their pie-in-the-sky expectations and the SABC itself develops a testicle or two.
Of course, it’s awfully difficult to have the balls to stand up to the pressures of party politics when the hand that is steering the ship is part and parcel of party politics.
It must be extremely frustrating for the people who work for the SABC. They keep getting told that neither government nor the majority party in parliament has any direct influence, because they know that is complete rubbish.
So much so that I am convinced that the SABC sometimes kow-tows to political demands even when no such demands have been made.
Which makes parliament − actually for parliament read ‘ANC − get quite frustrated.
I remember about as decade or so ago when the SABC board couldn’t make up its mind about a new CEO, a clearly exasperated communications minister, Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, asked the acting CEO if a certain person was on the list of candidates and when she was told that he was indeed among a dozen or so nominees, she instructed the chairman to have the man appointed and stop messing about.
It is always tough finding the right person because heading up or chairing the SABC are by far the worst media jobs around today.
The problem, of course, is that every stakeholder and pressure group in the country from parliament to the Wolwefontein blue rinse consumer brigade believes they own a piece of the SABC. And actually, they do.
Which means that an effective, successful CEO has to be someone very special bordering on an outright miracle worker.
Because, if one delves into the SABC’s licence conditions, which insists on literally being all things to all men, women and children, a CEO has to be a Eurocentric Africanist to pander to the information needs of the impecunious traditionalist masses and the immovable demands of the global village people in this country who also hold the advertising revenue purse strings.
The ideal chief exec will pitch up at work wearing the top half of a pin-striped business suit, a loincloth covering the nethers and wearing veldskoens with a comb sticking out of the top of his long khaki socks.
Aspirant CEO’s should be apolitical political apologists to survive − impossible of course but that’s what the regulations demand − and if that isn’t tough enough, they will have to be capable of exuding the public image of a devout capitalist socialist. With a bit of hard-line communism tossed in as well.
They’ll need the mediation skills of a saint to pander to the myriad control freaks among the new black consciousness workers and white PW Botha era old guard employees who battle day in and day out for internal control of the SABC.
But most of all, anyone heading up the SABC needs to have wisdom beyond even Solomon’s wildest dreams to create what amounts to a pie-in-the-sky balance between economic survival and the outrageously expensive demands of local content programming.
And if that wasn’t enough, just to be on the safe side, the CEO will ideally be neither male nor female but some sort of heterosexual, pro-gay rights, macho soccer loving, rugby playing feminist with the patience of Job, the charisma of Archbishop Tutu and the business wiles of Donald Trump.
That few SABC CEO’s have ever lasted out their contract periods is testimony to the thankless frustration of what is one of the most stressful jobs around.
The thing is though, that the CEO is not the person who ultimately makes the SABC tick or not tick.
Success or failure of the SABC in terms of being financially sustainable is the chairman of the board.
When the board chairman is a deployed ANC cadre the chances of any of the other board members making any sort of impact or contribution is virtually nil.
I believe that advertisers are not getting value from the SABC these days. I don’t believe that viewers are getting fair value from the SABC these days.
I believe that South Africans need to know one way or the other whether the SABC is a commercially sustainable enterprise or just a very expensive political toy.