At 10 am today the public protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, will hold a media briefing at Public Protector House in Pretoria and reveal the findings of her investigation into the “allegations of maladministration, systemic governance deficiencies, abuse of power and the irregular appointment of Mr Hlaudi Motsoeneng by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).”
The investigation has taken almost two years and it vindicates concerns I expressed on this website a year ago.
This is a sordid tale of a once financially viable public institution that greeted the dawn of democracy with so much hope, so much promise – and so many promises from the African National Congress. The ANC has repeatedly reneged on those promises and its venality has turned the SABC into just another dysfunctional trough populated by a transient group of incompetent and routinely corrupt wastrels known as deployed cadres. All are part of the “collective” which means that no one ever takes responsibility and there is never any sanction for corruption, wasteful expenditure or incompetence. For the politically-connected few there are, however, spectacular rewards running into millions of rands.
This particular chapter started in 1995 when, at the behest of senior news executives at the SABC such as Pippa Green and Alwyn Kloppers, Hlaudi Motsoeneng was appointed at the SABC’s Bloemfontein office.
The fact that he did not have the required academic qualifications was of no consequence to Green and Kloppers and they seem not to have been subsequently concerned about the fact that not only did Motsoeneng not have a matric certificate but that he lied about this and that the SABC then sought to cover up these lies.
Contrary to the assertions of Green and Kloppers, Motsoeneng did not provide inspirational leadership. Indeed, his arrival at the Bloemfontein news office of the SABC was massively divisive and, in one instance, eventually fatal.
“A confidential SABC audit report into problems at the SABC in Bloemfontein dated August 17, 2006, paints a picture of a man who is a bully, who has no regard for procedure or rules and a man who is more given to associating with power than with ordinary people.
“The report said Motsoeneng was appointed executive producer of current affairs at Lesedi FM in June 2003 even though he ‘did not meet any of the required criteria’ for the post.”
His generally abusive behaviour and threats against a colleague, James Barkhuizen led to Barkhuizen leaving the SABC. After being unable to get suitable alternative employment, Barkhuizen (46) committed suicide in October 2009 leaving a widow and two teenage orphans. He had worked for the SABC for 24 years.
Among the things that Barkhuizen was concerned about was Motsoeneng’s vehement objection to him covering a spate of fatal farm attacks against white farmers in the area and the fact that Motsoeneng was going to broadcast, in its entirety, the inauguration ceremony of an ANC mayor in the region. “Motsoeneng allegedly told Barkhuizen the mayor had paid for the broadcast.”
As a result of a Deloitte & Touche forensic investigation Motsoeneng was dismissed at a time when he was news head at Lesedi FM, a station that has an audience of 3.7 million. This distressed the then premier of the OFS, Dr Ivy Matsepe Cassaburri because the station had, at the behest of Motsoeneng, become her mouthpiece and she was guaranteed constant coverage.
As she was now missing this profile-raising coverage, she then pressured the CEO of the SABC, Dali Mpofu, to re-employ Motsoeneng. Mpofu, (a deployed cadre) accordingly instructed the then head of news, Snuki Zikalala (another deployed cadre) to give effect to her order and re-employ Motsoeneng who then, in effect, became another deployed cadre – a common example of how ANC political pressure constantly affects, in the most adverse way, what should be an apolitical public broadcaster.
When Zikalala refused to bow to this pressure, an explosive internecine legal war was unleashed between the SABC board, Mpofu and Zikalala that drained the public purse and cost the SABC millions of rands in legal fees at a time when it was effectively bankrupt because of looting, maladministration and wasteful expenditure.
On 4 March 2008 labour lawyer Puke Maserumule wrote a memo to the SABC, expressing concern about the demand by Mpofu that Motsoeneng be reinstated after an instruction to this effect from the Free State premier. “In the absence of objectively justifiable reasons for his (Motsoeneng) re-instatement, it will become almost impossible for consultant (SABC) to discipline or dismiss other employees who commit similar offences to those committed by Motsoeneng, Their morale will in all probability be negatively affected by his re-instatement, and this may be worse if he returns to Bloemfontein and more so if those who testified against him are required to report to him.”
On 7 September 2008 the Post revealed Motsoeneng’s threat to sue Zikalala for defamation. Nothing came of the threat because the last thing any ANC deployed cadre wants, needs or can tactically afford is to take the stand, testify under oath and be destroyed under cross examination.
Luthuli House instruction
Motsoeneng returned to the SABC in 2009 and, given his ANC connections, the astonishing tempo of promotion thereafter of Jacob Zuma’s “conduit” was predictable.
“A few months after his return to the SABC, Motsoeneng was appointed as the general manager responsible for board and stakeholder relations in the group chief executive officer’s office in February 2011, a position which paved the way for him to attend board meetings despite not being authorised to do so. Nine months later, in December 2011, he was seconded to act in the COO’s office.
‘In a year he was promoted three times. What instruction, which we as SABC staff do not know about, does the board have from Luthuli House?’ an official asked.”
The board was dissolved in July 2009 and it was only replaced six months later. This was the first of two occasions in which Motsoeneng was the catalyst in the destructive, embarrassing and hugely expensive implosion of SABC boards – thesecond was in March last year.
Among the concerns that have been a constant factor in Motsoeneng’s career has been the irregular promotion of women without following due process – for reasons which have never been explained and can only be guessed at.
Thus, in an article, ‘The man behind the row’ by Makhudu Sefara in City Press on 5 December 2008 we read of a forensic report on Motsoeneng’s somewhat dubious appointment in the Bloemfontein office and the chaos he created there: “On irregular appointments, the Group Internal Audit – Forensic “established that Ms Dimakatso Motsoeneng (not related) was interviewed and appointed to the position of senior producer by Mr Motsoeneng without the involvement of the Regional Editor, Mr James Barkhuizen. Group Internal Audit – Forensics could not locate the advertisement for the said position and records of the interview”.
An article by The Star reporter Baldwin Ndaba was even more specific about why Motsoeneng promoted his namesake: “He was a Lesedi FM executive producer before he was fired by the SABC for allegedly giving salary increases and promotions to women close to him.” There is no evidence that Motsoeneng ever disputed this “women close to him” allegation or sued Ndaba for defamation or took this damning allegation to the Press Ombudsman.
And then, as an encore to Ms Dimikatso Motsoeneng’s apparently dubious promotion, Motsoeneng, now having moved to Johannesburg, happily increased the salary of Ms Sully Motsweni by a paltry R51 000 a month promoting her, overnight and without due process from manager to executive and a total monthly salary of R130 000 a month. (Nothing surprising there given that Motsoeneng’s salary was increased from R1.4 million to an annual R2.7 million in just a year – apparently illegally – at the behest of [former] board chairman, Dr Ben Ngubane .)
Incredible salary increases
According to City Press, the public protector has decried these incredible salary increases in her provisional report entitled ‘The Blame Game’ as “unlawful”. Furthermore, her report apparently recommends that Motsoeneng face disciplinary action and pay back irregular salary increases, and that his position should be filled by a “qualified” person.
The extent to which Motsoeneng has damaged not only the SABC and its reputation but the reputation of the country as a whole is difficult to comprehend and impossible to define and quantify but, by any standards, the damage is huge and irreparable.
I refer specifically to the deliberate illegal, unethical and unconstitutional decision late last year by Motsoeneng, acting head of news Jimi Matthews and Nyana Molete to silence the voice of the people by censoring the booing of President Jacob Zuma at the Nelson Mandela memorial service at the FNB stadium in Soweto and by not interviewing Thamsanqa Jantjie.
The City Press report on these abuses was followed up by all the major news agencies in the Western world and communicated to an audience of hundreds of millions. This stands as an enduring monument, a sort of media Ozymandias, to the overweening hubris of the African National Congress in its relentless goal of taking control of all means and mediums of mass communication in South Africa as part of its role in the vanguard of the National Democratic Revolution – and by using deployed cadres like Hlaudi Motsoeneng to achieve these objectives
Motsoeneng’s recent moronic comments decrying university qualifications make one understand the chagrin and the shame of those who have earned their rightful place in our media hierarchy through hard work, talent and a commitment to the historic ideals of the profession rather than through obsequiously pandering to politicians.
At the launch of the SABC’s 24 hour news channel in August last year Motsoeneng eulogised himself: “You know the reason people are so afraid of this channel is because we cross to New York, we cross to Zimbabwe, and we cross to provinces. You know, newspapers shall quote SABC, we shall not follow newspapers. They shall follow us. We should dictate. No-one should dictate for the SABC.”
Today the newspapers will not be quoting the SABC, they will be quoting Thuli Madonsela – and the way in which they reflect the public protector’s report on the various and continuing forms of corruption by the state broadcaster will be just another damaging but unheeded blow to the ANC and the farcical claim that it values and promotes media freedom and independence.
The chances of him being dismissed are, however, minimal – ask ANC parliamentarians like Dina Pule and the Travelgate gang – they’ll tell you.