South Africans are united in their outrage at the appointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng to the position of chief operating officer of the SABC. Everyone, that is, except the board of the public broadcaster and communications minister Faith Muthambi.
Motsoeneng has been acting COO for nearly three years. In an investigation, pubic protector Thuli Madonsela found Motsoeneng had lied about his qualifications for the job, gave himself three salary increases in one year (he now earns R2.4million a year), purged employees who disagreed with him forcing the SABC to pay millions in compensation, and presided over an organisation that received a disclaimer from the auditor general. Viewer numbers and ad spend is down.
But public broadcaster’s board believes he’s the right man for the job. In a statement issued by the SABC’s spokesman, Kaizer Kganyago, chairperson Ellen Tshabalala said the board trusted that “he’ll continue to contribute positively to stabilise the SABC”.
Others aren’t convinced. “The Coalition is stunned by the announcement of Mr Motsoeneng’s appointment. When Minister Muthambi expressed her commitment to ensuring that due process is followed in all things SABC in order to restore stability and credibility in our public broadcaster, we truly believed that we would finally see change. It was astonishing to see her participation in what we believe is a clearly irregular appointment process,” said Sekoetlane Phamodi, from the SOS Coalition.
“Her predecessor, Yunus Carrim, committed to us an open and transparent appointment process for the senior executive positions which had acting incumbents, last year,” Phamodi told The Media Online. “He expressly stated that once the Mvuso Mbebe impasse, which has held the SABC to ransom in the appointment of the SABC for years, was resolved, the post would be advertised and all people including Mr Motsoeneng, would be open to apply, be vetted, interviewed and the best candidate would be appointed from that lot. Instead, what has happened is a complete about turn on that commitment.”
Union Bemawu has demanded that the appointment be reversed and due process be followed “failing which we will legally challenge the recruitment process”.
The media union said the appointment was clearly unprocedural. “According to our records and understanding, this key position was not properly advertised and no proper recruitment process was followed. This position was advertised internally at the SABC in January 2012 – 2 years and six months ago at a time when a court interdict was in place prohibiting the filling of the position,” said spokesman Hannes du Buisson
“Subsequently on 25 November 2013 the then Minister of Communications, Yunis Carrim told the Cape Town Press Club the position will soon be advertised and Motsoeneng and everyone else would be free to apply.” De Buisson says the union could not find any record of these adverts.
DA spokesman on communications, Gavin Davis, told The Media Online it was “unclear that the deadlock with Mr Mbebe has been resolved. On Friday, the Minister told Parliament that she would be in contempt of court if she were to fill the position, so one must assume it has been resolved”.
Phamodi said far from providing stability, Motsoeneng’s appointment would further destabilise the broadcaster. “Mr Motsoeneng has the dark cloud of the findings and recommendations made by the Public Protector in her report ‘When governance and ethics fail’ hanging above him. The SABC is yet to undertake any of this recommendations against Mr Motsoeneng for his misrepresentations and misconduct as per the report, particularly the requisite disciplinary process in terms of the SABC’s own disciplinary policies,” he said.
The Mail & Guardian reported that Motsoeneng had forced the minister to appoint him. It said Muthambi called an emergency board meeting on Monday night after board chair Tshabalala received a letter from Motsoeneng’s lawyers in which they demanded he be appointed on the grounds of “legitimate expectation”. Muthambi is said to have resolved the Mbebe issue, although no one knows how this was done in such a short space of time.
“Following this appointment, the organisation now needs to focus its energies on its operational efficiencies. The appointment will assist in moving the organisation forward, as we create further stability and move towards meeting the deadline for digital migration,” Tshabalala said in the SABC statement.
The appointment flies in the face of the public protector’s report. In an interview on eNCA, Advocate Thuli Madonsela said Motsoeneng had lied about his qualifications, something that he’d admitted to her during her investigation and that she’d made a recording of that conversation. Responding to questions from The Media Online, Madonsela’s spokesperson, Kgalalelo Masibi, said, “Adv Madonsela was surprised to learn that Mr Motsoeneng has been permanently appointed as she was still waiting for the Minister of Communication and the SBAC Board to submit implementation plans indicating how the remedial action will be implemented.
“The Public Protector will call a meeting with the Minister of Communications and the SABC Board as soon as possible to hear from them in what way is the appointment in line with the remedial action she took in terms in terms of the powers she derives under section 182(1) (c) of the Constitution. The Public Protector will await an explanation by the Minister of Communication and the SABC Board before deciding on the next course of action,” Msibi said.
The Economic Freedom Fighters said it was “distraught” over the appointment, calling Motsoeneng a “liar and a thief”. “Either the Minister is weak or intentionally misled the public about making sure to restore the public confidence on the leadership of SABC. Motsoeneng’s appointment is a reward for being a faithful servant. He is being rewarded for for turning the SABC into a state broadcaster that worships and serves the interests of the ruling party,” said EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi. He said the EFF would take the issue to court.
Davis said Motsoeneng had been “given a renewed mandate to continue his reign of terror at the public broadcaster. We can expect more surveillance and purging of SABC staff, more clampdowns on editorial independence and more ‘happy news’ that reflects positively on the governing party”.
For once, even the South African Communist Party agreed. In a statement, spokesman Alex Mashilo said his appointment “constitutes gross disregard of a series of investigations and audits into the SABC relating to governance and administration” and called on Muthambi to review her decision. “The SACP holds the board accountable for its actions which amount to misleading the minister, who should have been given sufficient information and all relevant reports to apply her mind thoroughly,” the SACP said.
The ANC said it was “surprised” by the news, and told EWN, “Nobody told us about the appointment. Anybody who is appointed to a position must meet the basic requirements.”
This story was updated with comment from the Public Protector.
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