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Politically savvy teens don’t need no education

Many sniggered at activist Julius Malema’s underwhelming matriculation results. But that much-derided F he got for woodwork proved to be no impediment in his stellar rise to multi-millionaire status by his mid-twenties.

Alas for young Julius, the tax man has since bankrupted him and corruption charges make the future murky. However, the lesson is clear: the less book knowledge, the more space in the cranium for incendiary slogans. Clear, too, the implications: that for the politically savvy black teen, a gilded world of tenderpreneurship and cadre deployment lies waiting.

So briefly imagine yourself as a typically loutish male teen in post-liberation Phutaditjhaba. You hate school and you’d hate your teachers, except that they’re never around anyway – either on strike or running businesses on the side.

What to do? Soldier on to emerge with a matric certificate that no potential employer takes seriously or get onto the African National Congress’ fast track cadre deployment programme?

It’s a no brainer, so one cannot blame a certain Hlaudi Motsoeneng for in 1995 slinging his Metsi Matsho High School book-bag into the bushes and setting off in search of a powerful patron. And there he is today, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) – theoretically number two, but insiders claim that he effectively rules the roost – and earning R200 000 a month more than does President Jacob Zuma.

Not that it was all smooth sailing. Motsoeneng inevitably fell foul of one or another of the SABC’s endlessly warring factions, one of which in 2003 publicly claimed that he had fibbed on his curriculum vitae about having a matric.

This sparked a Deloitte & Touche investigation, which found that he had in fact failed matric twice, and unkindly assessed him as “semi-literate”. However, while Motsoeneng might not have matric, he does have plenty of mojo. Instead of being fired, he was promoted to an executive office.

According to Kroll Background Screening, there were at least three more inquiries into Motsoeneng’s muddy CV, culminating in him being fired in 2006. But one can’t keep a connected man down and he was soon back, and in 2012 catapulted into the R2.8-million a year COO position.

In February this year he was suspended at the behest of the majority of the SABC board. This was immediately countermanded by the chair, Ben Ngubane, with the co-operation of Communications Minister Dina Pule – herself since fired for impropriety – and he immediately bounced back into his old job, albeit in an acting capacity. Soon afterwards he had the satisfaction of watching the entire SABC board being fired.

The SABC then formally advertisted the COO position – but only internally – with the previous minimum academic requirements carefully deleted. To no one’s surprise, Motsoeneng was appointed.

Replying to a parliamentary question, Communication Minister Yunus Carrim this week said that the minimum requirement for the SABC’s COO job was a “relevant degree/diploma and/or appropriate qualification”. And, presumably, the backing of the ANC’s head of cadre allotment.

As ANC scandals go, this is nothing much unusual. What makes it drolly ironic, however, is that the latest brazen machinations around Motsoeneng hit the news at the exact moment that the ANC chose to explain its latest blueprint to eradicate local government cronyism.

According to Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Lechesa Tsenoli, senior municipal positions will be open only to candidates with the necessary “skills, expertise, competencies and qualifications”, reports The Times this week. Municipal managers will need a degree or matric plus six years of tertiary study, as well as eight years of work experience. Any senior manager guilty of dishonesty will be banned from municipal employment for 10 years.

It’s such a typical ANC story: impeccable intentions, execrable execution. It actually isn’t such a big deal to curb cronyism, nepotism and corruption. Just implement the laws that already exist. It’s not rocket science. In fact, you don’t even need a matric.


  • This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day. Follow @TheJaundicedEye.