The SABC board, through the public broadcaster’s spokesman, has denied it is undermining the public protector’s report after a newspaper quoted its chairperson, Zandile (Ellen) Tshabalala saying controversial acting COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng would stay in his job despite Thuli Madonsela’s finding that he abused his power and lied about his qualifications.
Spokesman Kaizer Kganyago said the Mail & Guardian had “twisted statements made by the chairperson around this issue, with the aim of painting a picture that the chairperson is undermining the report released by the public protector”.
The Mail & Guardian reported Tshabalala dismissing the findings against Motsoeneng as “historical matters” and quoted her saying, “I would absolutely want him to stay in his post. What he really does is get the job done”. She said the job was what Motsoeneng had been “groomed for and promoted over a very long time. There are many similar cases like him in the country”.
The public protector found Motsoeneng’s appointment was irregular, as was a 63% escalation in his salary over the period of one year, rising from R1.5 million to R2.4 million. He also increased the salaries of certain staff members, and “purged” others (particularly those who had given evidence against him in a disciplinary hearing) leading to the broadcaster having to fork out over R29 million in labour dispute cases.
The newspaper asked Tshabalala if the board supported Motsoeneng, despite Madonsela’s investigation. She said the board had no doubt on his ability to deliver and that they wanted him to stay. Tshabalala now disputes this. Kganyago said the report created the impression that the board had already discussed the public protector’s report in detail and reached a decision on the action it would take.
He insisted the only official comment from the board was delivered via a statement last Thursday in which it said it had “committed itself to reviewing the results” of Madonsela’s investigation.
“The board has received the public protector’s report and has committed to review it further, seek legal advice and also consult all relevant parties before taking any action in this regard,” it said. “It must be noted that the current board is new and needs to acquaint itself with all the facts in order to allow itself to apply its mind accordingly.”
“We would like to assure the public and all our stakeholders that the SABC is not in a crisis and that we will continue to fulfil all the obligations that we have committed to,” said Tshabalala said, asking the public to “give them space to go through the review processes as speedily as possible”.
Tuwani Gumani, general secretary of the Media Workers Association of SA (Mwasa), a union highly critical of the SABC’s employment practices and newsroom ethics, said it believed the Mail & Guardian’s version of the story.
“Glynnis Underhill, journalist of 30-years and currently writing for the Mail & Guardian has confirmed in a telephonic interview with the GS of MWASA, that her story regarding the reported unequivocal statements by SABC board chair, Ms Ellen Tshabalala ‘…is accurate, balanced and factually correct…’ and ‘…she stands by her story!’” Mwasa said in a statement.
Gumani said the union noted that in the context where the public was made to understand that the SABC board was giving specific due consideration of the Public Protector’s report, the chairperson had “effectively acted without the mandate of the board-collective on this issue. The so-called ‘official statement’ issued by SABC on Thursday is nothing but spin and must be rejected. We are not idiots. This is how the SABC has always operated. Ngubane behaved like an executive director and operated as an individual alien to the board collective,” he said.
Guwani said the union was concerned by Ms Tshabalala’ assertion that “there is no crisis at the SABC”. “…the SABC is in real trouble despite the fervent denialism and spin. Ineffectual CEO Lulama Mokhobo has resigned and leaves the SABC in a few days and yet Tshabalala and her board is yet to advertise the vacancy. There are rumours that she is very keen to fill the position of CEO herself. This is a crisis in any language and by any definition”, Gumani claimed.
In the meantime, pressure mounted on the board and the communications minister Yunus Carrim to deal with the issues exposed by the report.
The Economic Freedom Fighters welcomed the report, and accused the SABC of sheltering Motsoeneng, because he’s an “agent of the ANC”. In a strongly worded statement, EFF said it was “sickening” how Motsoeneng had abused his position to enrich himself through a series a big salary increases, purged those opposed to him and lied about having a matric.
“EFF has been at the bitter receiving end of Motsoeneng’s micro management of the SABC to fight factional political battles of the ANC and Zuma,” it said. “The EFF has on several occasions requested the SABC, Hlaudi Motsoeneng in particular, for a meeting to speak to the fact that EFF is excluded and marginalised on the people’s television institution, SABC without any success.”
The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) said the public protector’s findings had “exposed the deep-seated rot that has plunged the SABC into a systematic and permanent crisis over years. The ugly or scandalous affairs at the SABC can be partly attributed being used as a vehicle by the political elites inside and outside the State to dispense political patronage by rewarding certain powerful individuals with lucrative positions,” the union said in a statement.
Numsa said that in order to “cleanse the rot”, the SABC’s articles of association should be amended by removing the responsibility of appointing Group Chief Executive Officer (GCEO), Chief Operations Officer (COO) and Chief Financial Officer (CFO), from the government. “We strongly believe that the appointments of individuals in these key positions should be the competency of the Board, since the current arrangement violates the Broadcasting Act, which requires the Board to be in control of the SABC affairs,” Numsa said.
It said the decision to give Motsoeneng editorial control was “bizarre”. “The canning of popular Big Debate anchored by Siki Mgabadeli, censoring of Numsa’s President Andrew Chirwa’s call during our Special National Congress for President Jacob Zuma to consider resigning; and so-called “70 percent positive news” as spearheaded by Mr Hlaudi Motsoeneng illustrates the dangers of appointments made on the basis of one’s political allegiance or buddy system, rather than on the basis of their commitment to public broadcasting,” said Numsa.
It called on Carrim to pay “urgent attention” the SABC so as to ensure it “serves all our people, especially the workers and the poor”.