Neither the communications minister Faith Muthambi nor her deputy, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, were on hand to welcome opposition communications spokesman, Gavin Davis, to the department after extending an invitation to him “to be oriented on the actual work of the ministry, it’s department and entities”, Glenda Nevill reports.
The invitation to be “oriented” was issued after Davis called the minister out on a number of issues from advertising spend at The New Age to her interference in the SABC board. In a statement, she accused Davis of being out of his depth and in persisting with “thinly veiled personal attacks rather than bringing matters of substance for public debate”.
In her statement, Muthambi thanked Davis for accepting her invitation, and said, “Tsiwana i laiwa ndilani”, which translated means, “An orphan receives guidance along the pathway”.
Davis told The Media Online that while he didn’t find “guidance” to help him with his job, he was impressed with a number of things during his visit.
“I was impressed with the lively interactions with staff members working at the department of communications. They are doing some great work in a tough environment where there is a great deal of uncertainty around the restructuring of the department,” he said. “They also have excellent media-buying software that uses audience demographics per media outlet to accurately reach the target market for any given campaign.”
But he was disturbed by the director general and other senior managers attempts to “explain away the disproportionate R10m expenditure on The New Age on the basis that they were supporting ‘new entrants’. This was a shift from the previous argument that The New Age has a large ‘footprint’ (with a mere 153,000 readers), but it is just as laughable,” he said.
Davis said Muthambi had only met with the full staff complement once since she was appointed and that was on 2 October. “The staff complain that there is no communication with them about the restructuring of the department and the GCIS. The irony that there is little communication within the department of communications was not lost on them,” he said.
Davis said the visit gave him a great insight into the workings of the dpartment. “We were also briefed on how the splitting out of the GCIS is going to work,” he said.
“I got the distinct impression that there is a disjuncture between the minister and the staff in her department (including the senior management team). Her absence on the day spoke volumes,” said Davis.
He was concerned by comments from a representative in the minister’s office told him that “a key challenge was that the Minister does not have enough power to intervene in the SABC and that provisions in law need to be made to give her more power in this regard. He said that we must remember that the SABC is not a chapter 9 institution, it is a state-owned company”.
“I reminded him that the SABC is a public broadcaster that derives its independence from the Constitution and must be managed by an independent board, not a minister,” Davis said. “In response he told me not to worry and that the Minister takes the independence of the SABC seriously, but that she needs to ensure ‘it fulfils its mandate as a public broadcaster’.
“It was clear to me in that moment that this is the pretext that will be used to give the minister new and far-reaching powers to turn the SABC into a state broadcaster.”
Muthambi has been repeatedly accused of being out of her depth. She was supposed to become the cabinet spokeswoman, but that task has since been passed on to minister in the presidency, Jeff Radebe.
But she’s come back fighting, saying in her statement that,“To be tasked with overhauling Governments communication portfolio is hardly a vote of no confidence”. She said she’d spent the last seven months “refining our guiding policy in line with a new communications paradigm as set out by the President in his vision for an invigorated government communications capability”.
IMAGE: Cabinet spokesman and minister in the presidency, Jeff Radebe / Dept of Communications
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