The South African Broadcasting Corporation’s board chairwoman, Ellen Tshabalala, will appear before parliament’s portfolio committee on communications on Tuesday. She faces allegations that she misrepresented her qualifications. Ed Herbst gives background to the qualifications saga playing out at the SABC.
“The disarray in the SABC is the direct outcome of unsuitable and unqualified personnel in key positions, as well as internal interference by these forces in editorial policy. The SACP calls for drastic intervention by the government and relevant authorities.” – South African Communist Party press release 6/10/2014
This morning the chairwoman of the SABC board, Ellen Tshabalala, appears in parliament to defend herself against allegations that she misrepresented her academic credentials during interviews for the post.
But did she not mislead parliament on another matter, the fitness for office of the hugely contentious chief operating officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng?
On Friday, 4 July, Tshabalala, told the parliamentary portfolio committee on communication that she and the board had the fullest confidence in Motsoeneng: “We [SABC board] don’t have a basis for suspension because in our case he performs. He has even gone to a role which isn’t his role of raising funding for the SABC”.
She subsequently said that not only did he “perform” but he also “brought stability” to the SABC
With reference to the concerns about Motsoeneng expressed by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela in her report, ‘When Governance and Ethics Fail’, Tshabalala said: “If the Public Protector produces any suspicious information about any individual or business, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s Bible.”
To make sure we got the message the SABC posted two video clips on its website on 9 July The first is what was broadcast on the news and the second is a five-minute, incredibly unprofessional interview with Tshabalala which looks as though it was shot during an earthquake. The sound quality on the interview is so poor that you cannot glean much from it.
Quite how well Motsoeneng has performed was subsequently revealed when the SABC submitted its annual report to parliament at the beginning of this month. It revealed a massive decline in viewership figures and a disturbing financial situation – and both are a tangible reflection of how the public feels about Motsoeneng’s inspired leadership.
The figures were subsequently set out in a Saturday Argus article by Craig Dodds headlined ‘SABC TV viewer numbers plummet – Senior manager admits bad publicity is denting the broadcaster’s image’.
The article has not been posted on the IOL website so I have taken the liberty of transcribing the relevant sections:
“Even before it canned Generations – its most popular show – SABC TV was shedding viewers at an alarming rate, its latest annual report shows.
“Its share of all adult viewers for the past financial year was 48.6 percent, a plunge of 4.4 percentage points on the 53 percent audience share it commanded in 2012/13.
“Even worse, the trend accelerated after the public broadcaster lost 4 percentage points the previous financial year, dropping from 57 percent in 2011/12, to 53 percent in 2012/13, bringing its total audience losses to 9.4 percentage points in two years.”
Significant financial problems
The annual report also revealed that Motsoeneng’s performance had resulted in significant financial problems:
“While it reported a profit after tax of R651 million, and saved R34m in interest after repaying its government-guaranteed loan ahead of schedule, it received a qualified opinion from the auditor-general, and racked up irregular expenditure of R1-billion in the past financial year, bringing total irregular expenditure to R3.376-billion, including the amount carried over from 2012/13.
“Fruitless and wasteful expenditure stood at R54.6-million.
“The SABC’s total wage bill was R2.5-billion for the past financial year, R335m over budget, after effective salary increases of 9 percent. The broadcaster had budgeted for just a 5.65 percent increase.”
Now Tshabalala cannot have been unaware of these facts when she told parliament that Motsoeneng performs and when she told the nation through the public broadcaster that he “brought stability”.
I say that because on 12 October the Democratic Alliance shadow communication minister, Gavin Davis, revealed that Tshabalala had earned almost R1-million for attending an average of three meetings a month – one every 10 days – at the SABC and about the SABC in the past year. He also revealed that this was twice as much as her predecessor, Dr Ben Ngubane, had been paid.
City Press revealed at the weekend that these endless meetings had earned Tshabalala R78 000 a month or R27 000 per board meeting.
She must, therefore, have been aware of the disturbing decline of viewership numbers and the disturbing financial figures all of which occurred on the watch of Motsoeneng.
And if she was not aware of these facts then could the almost R1-million she was paid for attending these meetings not only be described as wasteful expenditure but as grossly irregular expenditure? I ask the question because on 10 December 2005 Noluthando Gosa resigned from the SABC board. One of her concerns was that unnecessary board meetings were being held so that the remuneration of board members could allegedly be unjustifiably increased.
Her concerns were ignored, the SABC subsequently acknowledged that it was bankrupt and hundreds of people in the film industry were driven out of the profession because the SABC could not pay them for programmes already broadcast and did not commission new ones. Gosa was vindicated when a R1-billion bailout was required to sort out the mess – will that happen again?
Tshabalala’s claim that Motsoeneng has brought stability to the SABC is patently absurd. Conflict, chaos, multi-million rand loss of revenue and constant scandals have been defining factors of Motsoeneng’s SABC career as I set out in an earlier article, ‘The SABC’s toxic cocktail: Mokhobo, Motsoeneng and Molefe’. That article has been repeatedly vindicated since its publication, not least in the recent shocking golden handshakes awarded to two of the people referred to in the headline.
The chaos mentioned in in that article continues unabated. This brings into question how Tshabalala could, with a straight face, tell parliament that the ethically compromised Motsoeneng had “brought stability” to the Corporation. (Motsoeneng was described by UCT law professor Pierre de Vos as a “dishonest, bumbling scoundrel” “a liar, a cheat and a confidence trickster” and someone guilty of “prima facie criminal behaviour.”)
I refer in particular to the recent City Press revelation that as a result of the recent Generations soapie debacle – which Motsoeneng played a major role in causing – the SABC stood to lose more than R140 million in advertising revenue.
At a media briefing on 22 August the SABC promised that Generations would not be taken off air. A month later, on Friday 19 September, the SABC reneged on that promise and the cast of South Africa’s favourite drama programme blamed Motsoeneng. They claimed he had defaulted on promises made to them about three-year contracts and improved working conditions.
At a media briefing on August 27 Eugene Mthethwa, general secretary of Creative Workers Union of South Africa, indicated that he did not share the SABC board’s sanguine view on Motsoeneng. “I will share emails which shows that Hlaudi is a liar, a pathetic liar. He’s corrupt. If you want me to show you the corruption, I have evidence.”
At the weekend City Press revealed that the replacement programme for Generations, Skeem Saam, had seen 1.4 million viewers migrate to other programmes with 200 000 of them moving to e.tv – all of which had financial implications for the SABC in terms of lost advertising revenue.
What an extraordinary own goal, but the R2.2 million a year Motsoeneng and the R27 000 a meeting Tshabalala cannot take all the credit. This was a team effort and among those taking a bow at all those board meetings was Nomvuyo Mhlakaza. Her previous professional experience was in the ANC Youth League which splurged R100 million on a youth festival and was then declared bankrupt when it could not pay its debts. Interns at Luthuli House were used to vet membership of the current board and what must have weighed heavily with them in choosing Mhlakaza is that she is married to ANC MP, Buti Manamela.
And just when you think that the situation cannot get any worse, cannot sink any lower – it does.
On 6 October it was revealed that the cast of the SABC’s second most watched drama series, Muvhango, which has 4 million viewers, had not been paid their September salaries – and they blamed the SABC.
That chaos extends into every aspect of the SABC’s operations. Just when you think the situation at the SABC cannot get any darker – it does. On the weekend of 4-5 October there was complete meltdown when all SABC TV channels and broadcasts went off air for two days in a row. The South African Communist Party succinctly articulated the crisis being caused by the deployed cadres at Auckland Park.
Black on air
“What happened at the SABC over the weekend is known in international broadcasting as ‘black-on-air’. ‘Black-on-air’ is indeed often seen a symptom of deep structural and systemic crisis in a broadcasting entity. This calls for serious action as it should be a cause for concern to all those committed to public broadcasting.
“The disarray in the SABC is the direct outcome of unsuitable and unqualified personnel in key positions, as well as internal interference by these forces in editorial policy. The SACP calls for drastic intervention by the government and relevant authorities.”
In part the blackout reflects the complete absence of an ethos of preventative maintenance which bedevils the country as a whole. SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago promised an investigation but, predictably, a week later he has not seen fit to take to take the public into his confidence.
Nobody believes Tshabalala’s statements about Motsoeneng’s fitness for office because they are not credible. She is to broadcasting what Riah Phiyega is to policing and Tina Joemat-Pettersson is to sea fisheries and nuclear energy. They were appointed not because they have any experience in these fields but because they are Zuma loyalists.
But the negative fallout as a result of their actions has been damaging to the ANC.
When a respected journalist like Makhudu Sefara says that the SABC under Motsoeneng has become an insult to the Struggle, when a revered actor and playwright like John Kani likens the Generations debacle to apartheid and says that it embarrasses our democracy, then you have to ask why Luthuli House ignores such poignant cries from the heart.
There can be no doubt that Motsoeneng’s appointment as permanent COO of the SABC, contrary to the edict off the Public Protector, has been immensely damaging to the ANC. When the party of Pixley ka Isaka Seme, of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu sets its face against increasingly anguished calls for Motsoeneng to be removed from office then rational analysis, logic and the usually immutable dictates of realpolitik no longer apply and you have to look elsewhere for answers. And all that is then left is the metaphysical.
We are indebted to Martin Welz and his noseweek team for the following information contained in an article ‘Daddy. The power that drives Motsoeneng’s rise’, which was published in the September issue of the magazine.
The article starts with the following sentence: South Africans are trying to ﬁgure out the secret hold Hlaudi Motsoeneng has on his position as Chief Operations Ofﬁcer of the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
The article then goes on to supply what its authors regard as the answer: One SABC insider said the “key connection” was that Motsoeneng’s father was a “powerful spiritual leader”, with whom the president consulted in “spiritual and ancestral matters”.
If it is true that having a father who provides ancestral expertise to the President trumps all else, Motsoeneng has good reason — for now — to sleep easy.
South Africa is, however, a secular society and such considerations are unlikely to weigh heavily when Judge Anton Schippers hands down judgement in the Cape High Court in the recent application by the Democratic Alliance to have Motsoeneng’s appointment as COO by the SABC board – subsequently confirmed by communications minister Faith Muthambi – set aside.
While that judgment is awaited, the fate of Tshabalala could well be decided in parliament today. Will she, like Dina Pule, disappear from the public stage? And if she does, what would that portend for the person she has so stoutly supported and defended, Hlaudi Motsoeneng?
IMAGE: South Africa’s parliament / Wikimedia
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