Onkgopotse JJ Tabane
Onkgopotse JJ Tabane

SABC circus in town again

Lough out loud on Saturday

SABC circus back in town again.

I preferred the board led by Khanyi Mkhonza and Christine Qunta. At least they were able to tell the government where to get off and knew when to acknowledge that “they sucked”. I preferred Dali Mpofu — at least he was not found to be corrupt by a forensic audit. The current board was destined for failure. Any board that takes kindly to a CEO being imposed on them by their predecessor — an interim predecessor for that matter — was destined for this kind of mess. All indications were that Solly Mokwetle was allegedly as corrupt as hell, given the huge forensic audit conducted — that saw him leave the SABC in the first place for the ill fated Telkom Media. He went to Telkom Media, it failed to make it take off and then as has become typical, was rewarded with another public-sector job where he can go and claim 2% prematurely — something that clearly had nothing to do with his leadership but everything to do with dedicated SABC workers and journalists who are embarrassed by what is going on at the SABC. The R100-million so-called profit claim, when the damn place made a R1-billion loss just last year ,boggles the mind. It sounds as insanely insincere as creating 500 000 piece jobs and claiming you have exceeded your target for job creation. Its as insincere as claiming you are fighting corruption while on the other hand you engineer directly or otherwise for your next of kin to be overnight millionaires in the name of BEE — yes, it is that insincere. As insincere as a witchhunt against one executive director at SAA who is said to have squandered funds and was let off the hook. It’s all a bit insincere. But I digress. Frankly Ben Ngubane was a wrong choice for chairperson in the first place. When being questioned about why his entire board including his deputy where not in on the appointment of the head of news, he seemed all too baffled that the matter was even arising.

After all, he has a direct line to President Zuma and if uMsholozi is OK with his unilateral appointment of Molefe as head of news, who are we to question his motives? It really it’s all a bit insincere — he must have thought to himself. So baffled was he about all this needless questioning of his capability — but largely his integrity — to run a mere public-sector board that he quoted his “success” at the Land Bank, the that institution so corrupt that board members had to be fired by Cabinet, etc … Well he seems happy enough with his stint that he had to make us all research his excellent track record there. So what is the fuss all about? He must have wondered following all the uproar. Under his nose, all 11 other board members voted to essentially fire the CEO. Yes he is fired. Very few CEOs can ever survive the loss of confidence by their board. But in South Africa things are never what they seem. We saw Maria Ramos arrive at Transnet and essentially fire the whole board a few years ago.

We have seen the previous SABC board’s attempt to fire Dali Mpofu and ended up being fired themselves by Parliament and pay Dali R14-million for daring to get him to take them seriously. So the story may not end here. I mean the fellow has already mobilised the war veterans to back him up, much to the annoyance of the ANC Youth League — I mean these war Vets did not come out in defence of Malema when he was wrongfully accused of favouring Mbeki over Zuma. So how dare they seek to use their good names and the graves of so many cadres who died for freedom to protect some unknown number like Mokoetle, who is so thin skinned as to be annoyed by a couple of hundred emails form a bored board of directors? They can’t possibly be serious.

This is also a bit of a climbdown from inviting Kadar Asmal to the nearest cemetery and threatening to topple the Western Cape government because the ANC lost elections there — I would have thought broadcasting wouldn’t rank so high! Indeed, this saga has revealed so much about our democracy. Who would have thought that Vadi — that clumsily bearded chairperson of the portfolio committee on communications — would do so much to make sure that the SABC does not wash its dirties in public? So much as to flaunt the constitutional requirement that Parliament’s meetings must be open to the public. This is the same Vadi who was so gung-ho about dragging the previous board to a slaghuis-type tribunal not so long ago in full view of TV cameras … the dirties of that board did not bother him hanging from Parliaments highest washing line — after all they were appointed by the pipe–smoking ghost that everyone would rather pretend was not the chief for the last two decades. Today he wants to hide. It’s all a bit insincere really. If SAA can hang its bloodstained dirties in public and tell us everything including the fact that a CEO hired some suites at stadia for R3-million when apparently he has no power to do so in a R21-billion company and the Denel can tell us about its belligerent CEO and the gender commission can tell us about all the rot that has hung about there, why so much secrecy about the SABC board?

Thanks to Mondli Makhanya and Sanef, they cut through the nonsense by going to the nearest court so we can all know what’s going on there. It’s all an omen of what is ahead, is it not? The whole Phil Molefe appointment saga smacks of ruling party machinations. Why was it so important to bypass the board and illegally appoint someone so senior and whose appointment is the preserve of the board? (Don’t get me wrong, Phil is a fine fellow. I used to enjoy his recitation style of presenting a TV programme “view from the house” or whatever it was called then, a few years ago). I also don’t blame him for instructing his news team to cover his appointment and not the natural controversy that followed: the fact that the board did not really appoint him unanimously. Everyone should know by now that the SABC has a totally different scale they use to determine newsworthiness than ordinary newspapers. The man bites dog theory does not apply at the SABC. Even if an ANC person bites a dog it won’t make it to an SABC bulletin. If a dog bites an ANC person it may make headline news and an angle of service delivery could even be found. So Phil in a sense continues the fine traditions started by Snuki Zikalala. That is why banning Mbeki was so newsworthy as it was a dog bites man situation. It was really no different from banning commentators a few years ago by Snuki Zikalala. It underlines the power of the SABC to make u appear or disappear. So Snuki, I mean Phil made the board disapproval of his appointment disappear this past two weeks.

One has to give it to this board to try and be a bit principled by standing their ground given this obviously wrong choice for head of news . No, sorry, this is the wrong procedure for appointing a head of news. Even with the most charitable of explanations you can’t explain away the uselessness of the chairperson if his entire board somewhat thinks he is a bit on the senile side of things on this matter. Now surely we should all be curious about what informed the chair to collude with the CEO to take the SABC back into the circus ring for all to laugh. I think there is a phrase I should be using here … something like it would be funny if it was not so tragic. Now when you look at this and then have the ruling party wanting to bring this madness to the print sector where they can have their fingers all over the pie of freedom of expression you know is all so insincere … Patricia De Lil of the DA/ID put her finger on it when she said this week: “there is no honest reason for the introduction of the Information Bill …”

I must echo that: there is no honest reason for:

  • The appointment of the current SABC CEO behind the back of the current board
  • The refusal of Vadi to allow the board to present its woes in broad day light
  • The appointment of Phil Molefe behind the board’s back
  • The presentation of a minority report by the chairperson to parliament; and
  • No honest reason for the war vets to back Solly Mokoetle as there was no honest reason for the ANC Youth League — they who want journalists jailed and treat journalists like dogs after inviting them to their conference — to feel particularly aggrieved by the mindlessness of the vets.

It runs in the family really. Awaiting the next episode of the Bold and the Beautiful of the current Generations of Auckland Park. I am watching you SABC — you clearly are not changing!