Civil society has made a resounding call for current SABC board chairperson, Ellen Tshabalala, to step down after she was reported to have exhorted voters in KwaZulu-Natal to not to vote for opposition parties as they “do not know where they are going”.
TV with Thinus’s Thinus Ferreira broke the story earlier this week. Tshabalala, on Human Rights Day, addressed an event in KwaMashu at which she was reported to have said South Africa had too many political parties, which was “confusing” in terms of the upcoming elections. She told them “the government knows where it is going”.
SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago attempted to clarify her utterances saying Tshabalala had simply “reminded those that were present around the importance of voting and was trying to create awareness around that and was not campaigning for the ANC”.
He said the SABC, as a public service broadcaster, had a “social responsibility to educate the citizenry of this country around importance of voting, and the SABC will never influence the public to vote one way or the other”.
But civil society and opposition parties remain skeptical. The SOS: Support Public Broadcasting coalition says members of the group – comprising civil society, unions, independent film and TV production sector organisations, NGOs and CBOs – believe Tshabalala “crossed an important boundary of safeguarding the independence of our public broadcaster – a strong perception has been created that she was campaigning for the ruling party”. It said if the SABC want the public to trust it, it must “expressly distance itself from party politicking”.
Democratic Alliance communications spokeswoman, Marian Shinn, said Tshabalala must immediately resign over the “ANC-partisan speech she made” in KwaMashu. “Her reported remarks seriously undermine the political neutrality of the public broadcaster, which she heads,” Shinn said in a statement.
Shinn and SOS believe Tshabalala has revealed her unsuitability for the post in other ways too. These include her support for controversial acting COO, Hlaudi Motsoening, named in the public protector’s report on the SABC called ‘When Governance Fails’ and her refusal to implement Thuli Madonsela’s recommendations in the report.
Shinn added that Tshabalala “automatically leapt to the defence” of SABC’s executive management exposed by skills audit conducted by PWC as being without the required qualifications, experience and strategic management skills for their posts.
“Instead of taking the skills audit findings seriously, she publicly stated that the report should have been ‘doctored’ before it was presented to Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications,” Shinn said.
SOS said the SABC “must be left alone and allowed to confine itself to doing its job which is to educate and inform us without bias, without fear and without favour”.
It said that for the troubled organisation to begin functioning as it is supposed to, “four simple things need to be implemented with immediate effect”.
· The chair must resign;
· The SABC Board must publically distance itself from any form of electioneering;
· The SABC Board must move for the adoption of the Public Protector’s Report and the urgent and immediate implementation of its recommendations; and
· The SABC Board must once and for all publically reject the outrageous call for “70% good news”.