“I have the idea that in our society today we are being subjected to competing one- dimensional theses. One is that of the ANC and its allies that treats with suspicion and with hostility any ideas or processes that do not reinforce their own stereotypical view of reality. Therefore, Zapiro and the Spear, and indeed it would now seem these days even Julius Malema, must be silenced, banned, imprisoned.” Barney Pityana speaking at the Dr Neil Aggett memorial lecture, 24/9/2012
On 27 December last year Phil Molefe, the former SABC acting chief executive, lost his court bid to force the public broadcaster to reinstate him. His application to the South Gauteng High Court to have his suspension and pending disciplinary hearing declared unlawful was dismissed.
Eight months previously he had been placed on ‘special leave’ by the ANC’s newly-deployed CEO of the SABC, Lulama Mokhobo.
If newspaper reports are correct the two salient points in dispute are that Molefe refused to give Mokhobo a copy of the daily news diary – where I would argue that he was wrong – and that he also ignored pressure from the ANC’s Zuma faction to blacklist Julius Malema, where I would argue that he was right.
What is disturbing is the time-line between the deployment of Mokhobo (to replace Solly Mokoetle, the ANC’s previous deployed cadre who left the SABC several million rand richer after a completely unproductive and acrimonious two-year tenure) and when she placed Molefe on special leave.
17 January 2012 – Mokhobo is appointed as the SABC’s new group chief executive officer. She previously chaired a mining company, Miranda Minerals, in which controversial Thai billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra played a role and which went into meltdown.
Communications minister Dina Pule announced Mokhobo’s appointment as the SABC’s new chief executive – a day after she had quit Miranda’s board …
A Mail & Guardian investigation on 3 August 2012 reveals that Mokhobo is the aunt of businessman Phosane Mngqibisa, the constant travelling companion of Pule and her alleged “romantic interest”. Two of the Mail & Guardian’s sources said that Pule had known that Mokhobo was the aunt of Mngqibisa and had pressurised the SABC board to appoint Mokhobo.
29 January 2012 – Twelve days after assuming the position of SABC CEO, Mokhobo places an internal advertisement for the post of chief operations officer. It immediately becomes clear that the recruitment process is being gerrymandered to ensure that Hlaudi Motsoeneng, a deployed cadre who does not have matric but whose qualifications and commitment as an ANC imbongi are unrivalled and unquestioned, gets the job.
The post is not advertised externally, only three working days are allotted for the filing of applications and, by cosmic coincidence, the advertisement emphasises that a matric is not required for a post which remunerates the incumbent with R2.2 million a year. It has obviously been specifically structured to suit Motsoeneng and there is an immediate outcry about this cynical, SABC board-approved manipulation.
The scam is so nauseatingly brazen that government gags and tells the SABC to try again.
10 April 2012 – Mokhobo places Molefe, on ‘special leave’. She promises that a meeting will be held between them to sort the matter out but, thereafter, constantly pleads illness which she says prevents the meeting from happening. Her illness does not, however, prevent her from attending board meetings, meetings in parliament with the portfolio committee on communication or with the SOS Save our Public Broadcaster coalition. Ten months later Molefe, whose net salary probably exceeds R125 000 a month, is still sitting at home providing nothing of value to the SABC and he unsuccessfully seeks redress through he courts.
There seems to be a perception that Mokhobo got the SABC post because she would allow the ANC more direct control over the state broadcaster than the less compliant Molefe and that the advertisement skulduggery was an unscrupulous but convenient means to an end – to pave the way for Motsoeneng to join her at the top of the SABC’s management hierarchy.
Clearly, by going to such lengths, Luthuli House and its deployed cadres at the SABC must feel that Motsoeneng will more faithfully and reliably serve and promote ANC interests than Molefe – but is there evidence to support this?
Makhudu Sefara, now the editor of the Star, wrote an article in City Press on 12/5/2008, headlined “In the eye of the storm” which seems to provide the answer and it is worth quoting in full: “City Press has established that Motsoeneng hails from Thababusiu in QwaQwa. He attended Metsimatshu High School, where he allegedly struggled academically.
“Apparently, Motsoeneng was spotted at a talent show and recruited to work for the SABC as a Chappies Little League sports announcer on a freelance basis in the early 1990s.
“He is not very sophisticated, but a guy who takes initiative,” says the source. “Once he had access to the SABC, he volunteered to write them news stories from QwaQwa and surrounding areas as they did not have reporters in that area. It worked for him. The next thing he had gone to Bloemfontein as a reporter.”
“But those who worked with him in Bloemfontein say his rise was meteoric – uninhibited by his lack of qualifications. They say he enjoyed a friendly relationship with Zikalala and then head of radio, Pippa Green.
“In 1999, when then deputy president Thabo Mbeki went to QwaQwa ahead of the elections, Motsoeneng was praised by the municipality as a journalist who had put the area on the map, at a function to open the Nelson Mandela Hall at the University of the North, QwaQwa campus.
“At this event his star started to rise. During his stint at Lesedi FM, Motsoeneng allegedly made friends with many politicians in the Free State, including Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, who once was a premier in the province.
“SABC employees who spoke on condition of anonymity said Motsoeneng was the only employee who could get Zuma on radio at short notice – almost without effort. He apparently boasted to staff about his political connections to ANC treasurer Mathews Phosa, Zuma, Matsepe-Casaburri and others.
“He is very abusive of power. He is the kind of guy who does not have news sense. He will tell you about his political connections, nothing else,” says an SABC source.
The key sentence there could be: “… Motsoeneng was the only employee who could get Zuma on radio at short notice – almost without effort.”
That perception seems pervasive in Auckland Park where Motsoeneng is known as Zuma’s “conduit” and it could well be the reason why he is now so fawned over by board members and senior news managers despite an unequivocal Press Council ruling that he had lied about his educational qualifications and that the SABC had nefariously tried to cover this up.
That Motsoeneng is a political appointee/deployed cadre is common cause and a matter of repeated record and the extraordinary lengths he went to in order to stifle debate and silence dissenting voices in the weeks before the ANC’s Mangaung conference in December 2012 is tangible proof of that and was to be expected. What was also to be expected was the supportive silence from his fellow executives and the SABC board.
Cartoonist Zapiro describes him as the “ultimate nutcase deployment” …
…City Press editor, Ferial Haffajee describes him as someone obsessed with his own image and the first news manager in SABC history to employ, at taxpayers’ expense, a full-time bodyguard …
… and the editor of the Star, Makhudu Sefara, describing Motsoeneng as “thick”, said his censorship insulted the memory of the Struggle.
Racism, dishonesty, intimidation
In September 2006 Motsoeneng was charged by the SABC with racism, dishonesty, disruption of relations, intimidation and contravention of the SABC rules – specifically his penchant for promoting women without following due process (you can draw your own conclusions about that) – and he was dismissed in 2007.
From the start of his career Motsoeneng had assiduously used his media influence to promote the ANC and politicians like the then-premier of the Free State, Dr Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri. Accordingly, in April 2008, then-SABC CEO, Dali Mpofu, came under intense pressure from the Zuma faction of the ANC to re-instate Motsoeneng. It was said that Mpofu had switched allegiance to the Zuma camp and, in the hopes of defending his own beleaguered position against a hostile pro-Mbeki SABC board, he capitulated and informed Michael Murphy, Motsoeneng’s lawyer, that Hlaudi would, indeed, be re-employed. Mpofu’s singular role in this process was confirmed in parliament on 27 August that year when, in response to a question put by Dene Smuts, the DA’s shadow communications minister, the then Minister for Communication, the late Dr Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, wrote: “… the appeal was conducted by the Group Chief Executive Officer (Dali Mpofu) in his capacity as the Accounting Officer.”
Eyewitness News, quoting Molefe’s court papers, cites two ostensible reasons for his lengthy exile:
- That he had been asked by Mokhobo to provide her with a copy of the daily diary but had refused because this, in his view, amounted to interference in the editorial process.
- That he had allowed an interview to be conducted with Julius Malema on the Interface programme without the presence of an ANC representative to provide balance.
The first is the most clear cut, the one where he is most vulnerable and the one which will doubtless see the maximum-available sanction being applied against him.
In an ANC discussion paper in 2003, the party pointed out that the SABC’s upward referral policy which makes the CEO the editor-in-chief and thus the ultimate arbiter of what is broadcast is, in fact, based on the editorial principles and practices espoused by the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
(The most recent manifestation of that policy at the BBC was the resignation on 10 November last year of the director general, George Entwistle, in the immediate aftermath of a television programme which wrongly implicated Lord McAlpine, a former senior Tory politician, in a story about paedophilia.)
In its submission at the time, the Freedom of Expression Institute said of the adoption of this policy by the SABC: “It is our considered opinion that at the end of the day this suggestion is about ensuring that the South African Broadcasting Corporation does not broadcast news that can be deemed to be of potential embarrassment to those in power, whether political or economic” and it suggested that instead of contentious news matters being referred to the CEO, they should rather be considered by the corporation’s legal department, the standard approach in newspapers and independent broadcasting companies – but that’s another debate.
Mokhobo like Entwistle is, by virtue of her position, editor-in-chief and thus ultimately responsible for all content and everything that is broadcast. Accordingly, there can be no doubt that she should be provided with the daily news diary.
In practice, she should have easy and unlimited access to it.
Each afternoon between three and four pm the SABC’s radio and television news departments draw up a diary of scheduled events for the next day and this is discussed again at line talks the following morning. By eleven in the morning, a firmer running order has been established and this is posted on the SABC’s 20-year-old Dynatech NewStar newsroom computer system.
(Newsroom personnel wistfully fantasise about replacing it with the Associated Press ENPS system, an industry standard which would reduce their work load and improve productivity. Unfortunately much of the money which could have been used for this purpose was stolen or spent on tickets for the 2010 Soccer World Cup, overseas trips, Johnny Walker Blue, R40 000 a month petrol claims, golf days for the ANC’s rich and powerful, buying tables at ANC functions, grandiose extensions to the Auckland Park foyer, tender scams by conflicted cadres and Snuki Zikalala’s ‘African Al Jazeera’ fantasy – otherwise known as SABC International – that, world-wide, could only be watched by a few thousand people at most, attracted no advertising revenue, and which cost half a billion rand before it was closed down after just two and a half years without producing anything of substance or consequence.)
Having previously worked at the SABC, Mokhobo must know that all she needs to do to access the daily diary on the antiquated NewStar system is to ask the IT department to create a sign-on for her. Furthermore, there can be no objection to her perusing the daily diary – problems would only arise if she vetoed certain stories or tried to move them up or down in the running order. The latter would be pointless, however, because, in terms of the SABC’s ‘developmental journalism’ policy, (which, ironically, was formulated by Molefe and based entirely on ANC-promoting principles) news of the party dominates and overwhelms each and every news bulletin and President Jacob Zuma, like Thabo Mbeki before him, is usually the lead story anyway.
Of the second charge against him, Molefe says that he did invite the ANC to send a representative to the Interface interview with Malema but it was declined.
Molefe was placed on special leave in April and, in July, in case there are any deluded news room staffers who might still harbour naïve and principled ambitions of neutral and objective reportage , Blade Nzimande issued a less-than-subliminal instruction to the SABC to deny Malema airtime.
Speaking at the SACP’s national congress in Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal, Mr Nzimande said he was “ashamed of the public broadcaster” for feeding the public a “breakfast, lunch and dinner” of news about “people who have been expelled” from the ANC.
“Auckland Park is a shame!” he said. “Sooner or later, we will have to tell them enough is enough, because we are the (SABC’s) listeners.”
Describing the likes of Mr Malema as enemies of the SACP, Mr Nzimande said that instead of working to “unite our people as a whole”, the SABC “runs with renegades.” [BDLive]
By September it became clear that those in charge of the TV and radio news departments, with the complicit and acquiescent support of an SABC board replete with deployed cadres, had taken Nzimande’s “runs with renegades” attack to heart and were acting on it regardless of the fact that this was unconstitutional, illegal and unethical.
On 13 September Wits University media professor, Anton Harber, writes on his The Harbinger blog: I have now had three accounts of interventions at the SABC to pull back on coverage of Julius Malema as the rogue ANC Youth League leader does the rounds to stir up trouble and revolt.
There have been two newspaper reports: one in the M&G last Friday of a confrontation between unhappy political staff and head of news Jimi Matthews about his interventions to limit Malema coverage; another in the Star yesterday about MetroFM managers preventing an interview with the expelled leader.
I had a third report direct from a senior staffer who told me that they had to remake a news bulletin 10 minutes before going on air because the blunt order came down to remove Malema.
A day later there was further confirmation when the union with the biggest membership at the SABC, BEMAWU, issued a public statement condemning what it said were explicit, indeed extraordinary, instructions by news management to reporters to deny Malema coverage.
BEMAWU said the “… instruction went as far as to say that even if he is assassinated, or he dies in any other manner, it should not be reported on any SABC platform until top management has instructed otherwise.”
Ironically, while the Luthuli House mandarins and those at the SABC who genuflect to them were no doubt indulging in high fives to celebrate the success of ‘Operation Silence Malema’, Fiona Forde’s ‘Inconvenient Youth’ (Picador Africa, 2011) was being interviewed by CNN”s Christiane Amanpour in her nightly programme which has a global reach and an audience of millions.
All this happened while Molefe was on ‘special leave’ and it seems to lend credence to his contention that he was sidelined because he refused to be bullied by the Zuma faction into blacklisting Malema. As Molefe pointed out in his court papers, Julius Malema is a very newsworthy person and, at the time that he was put on special leave, Malema had just been declared the news maker of the year.
Whatever the outcome of Molefe’s disciplinary hearing, two things seem likely – that Motsoeneng will, regardless, be found to be the most suitable candidate for the COO post and that, if Molefe is allowed to stay, his future career at the SABC will not be very pleasant. If he is wise he will follow Mokoetle’s example and allow himself to be deployed by the ANC to a lucrative, tax payer-funded sinecure elsewhere.
As 2013 dawns and with Cyril Ramaphosa as deputy president we wonder what is to become of the SABC and its blatant and unashamedly corrupt news coverage.
In this regard it is worth revisiting what Ramaphosa said about the public broadcaster in 1992: “If the SABC is to play a constructive role ahead of our country’s first experience with democracy, informing the electorate rather than attempting to persuade them to vote for a particular political party, it is necessary to replace those who currently control the SABC with others who are committed to democracy and to an electorate empowered by accurate and impartial information.”
Twenty years later can he sincerely and truthfully say that those ideals have been achieved?
And, if not, what is he going to do about it?
Ed Herbst, an award-winning reporter, worked for the SABC news department for 28 years leaving, like so many others before and since, in 2005 without other employment in prospect because of the pervasive news and general corruption – which still prevails.