The enduring SABC soapie – Ed Herbst’s ‘Heroes and Villains’

If you’ve been following the shenanigans at the SABC now (or at any time in your life), this context-setting contribution by former staffer Ed Herbst, in advance of Friday’s resumed Parliamentary ad hoc committee hearings is as informed as it gets. Read in the full purview of this retrospective, the SABC’s Group Executive of Human Resources, Mohlolo Lephaka’s, calling the parliamentary committee a “Kangaroo Court,” during his testimony is totally understandable. That’s because Lephaka and a long string of turnstile executives and board members have grown arrogant with the backing of two presidents in an unconstitutional relationship that chiefly serves the ruling party’s interests. Becoming an executive member of the SABC is a fruitful exercise if the millions previous incumbents have walked away with is any yardstick. Reward perhaps for ensuring blatantly propagandistic news coverage on radio and television, vicious treatment of any journalist showing any independence or wanting to depict anything negative about service delivery, plus staying silent about insider abuse and corruption in SABC service contracts. Vocal testimony to the kind of broadcaster it could have been is evident in the now globally-famous former news presenters, anchors and journalists who once worked there. Many readers are unaware of the Zupta-fication of the corporation now emerging, and its links to Eskom – the repulsive incest goes on and on. Thanks to stalwart questioning from the ad hoc committee members, those people currently managing the SABC are finally being called to account – and they don’t like it one little bit. – Chris Bateman

By Ed Herbst*

Just how far we have strayed from this promise is well known to every reader of this newspaper, who reads with either anger or resignation of a rogue, clearly delusional, chief executive at the SABC, encouraged by an enabling minister, or a Gupta feeding frenzy at the same corporation or serial mis-governance at any number of other state-owned companies. – Tony Leon Business Day  14/12/2016

Since 2005, organised chaos has reigned at the SABC with eight CEOs coming and going. State capture has become a blinding reality. Trust has been lost in the SABC by those of us who can afford to opt out. But giving up on the idea of the SABC becoming a pillar of a more democratic South Africa would be akin to digging our own collective grave. – Rehad Desai City Press 10/1/2016

Veteran journalist Ed Herbst

As 2016 became 2017, the readers of the Sunday Times unanimously voted Hlaudi Motsoeneng as their Mampara of the Year, Time magazine rated President Jacob Zuma as a singular world risk, The Economist  rated our education system as one of the worst in the world and the maggots in the rotting leg of a patient in a Port Elizabeth state hospital aptly symbolised two decades of African National Congress corruption and mismanagement.

On Friday the parliamentary ad hoc committee investigating SABC corruption and mismanagement resumes its work after the festive season break and I recall an article I wrote for the Media Online website three years ago, this month.

It was headlined The SABC’s toxic cocktail: Mokhobo, Motsoeneng and Molefe

And three have since left the SABC, becoming multimillionaires in the process.

That’s how the ANC rolls.

But is the ‘Toxic Cocktail’ being decanted?

Here’s my ‘Heroes and Villains’ summary of yet another chapter in the enduring SABC soapie. As specialist television industry reporter, Thinus Ferreira puts it:

It’s no secret that the beleaguered South African Broadcasting Corporation is the problem child sitting in the back of the class struggling to keep up.

Heroes

The avuncular but firm way in which Vincent Smith chaired proceedings was praiseworthy as was his empathy for the bewildered and exploited former chairman of the SABC board, Prof Mbulaheni Maguvhe.

I am sure a multitude of fists across the nation punched the air when Smith demanded an apology from the SABC Group Executive of Human Resources, Mohlolo Lephaka who, in his hubris, had condemned these parliamentary proceedings as a ‘kangaroo court’. I know my exultant “Yes! Yes! Yes!” must have deafened my deaf neighbours in the retirement home where I live.

More magic work available at www.jerm.co.za

In the rest of the cast, the DA Shadow Minister of Communication, Phumzile van Damme shone brightly.

She enthralled a 90-year old neighbour who enthused; “She’s so feisty. I just love her!”

Indeed.

There were solid performances from everyone on the committee but, aside from van Damme, the other people who most impressed me were ACDP MP Steve Swart, ANC MP Juli Killian and the UDM’s Nqabayomzi Kwankwa.

In a week of testimony there was more than ample evidence presented about how, under the Zuptas, the SABC has become even more of a cesspit, even more of a moral and management morass, than it was in the Thabo Mbeki era.  It was on the watch of Mbeki’s deployed cadres like Dali Mpofu, Snuki Zikalala and Christine Qunta, that the SABC was looted into bankruptcy and had the news credibility built up when Zwelakhe Sisulu  was in charge, destroyed

In my subjective opinion the bravest and most cogent testimony came from the SABC’s news staff, Krivani Pillay, Thandeka Gqubule, Lukhanyo Calata and Vuyo Mvoko.

I was fascinated by Mvoko’s testimony of how the SABC joined Eskom to financially shore up the media empire of the Zuptas and how Hlaudi Motsoeneng was a facilitator in this process.

Jimi Matthews

I was unsurprised by Calata’s testimony that Hlaudi Motsoeneng and Jimi Matthews would not allow the specialist team at parliament to produce and edit inserts which would reflect badly on the Snouting Faction of the ANC. Unsurprised because that is exactly what reporters at the Sea Point news office of the SABC endured for more than a decade under its regional editor, Jeffrey Twala. This was something which Matthews was made aware of from the start but which he ignored because it was not in his professional interest to intervene.

At 27 minutes and 14 seconds of his presentation, Calata specifically mentions Twala as playing a significant role in the Censorship Cabal that has persecuted SABC journalists of integrity since the start of the Mbeki era – Zikalala, Matthews, Motsoeneng et al.

My sympathy vote goes to former company secretary Theresa Geldenhuys. She courteously kept her cool and held her own in the face of hostile questioning from some of the committee members. She confirmed relentless obstructionism and persecution from former board chairperson Ellen Tshabalala and Nomvuyo Mhlakazathe, the wife of ANC MP Buti Manamela. The brazen nepotism which the board appointment of Mhlakazathe represented was a proud advertisement by the African National Congress of the extent to which it has abandoned ethical governance. Tshabalala and Mhlakazathe made the life of Geldenhuys so unpleasant that she resigned but she was persuaded to accept a sideways move which will enable her to mentor others. That is commendable because a 2014 PricewaterhouseCoopers skills audit showed that two decades of ANC cadre deployment had left the SABC  bereft of management skills.

Villains

President Jacob Zuma has likened the origins of the ANC to the birth of Jesus Christ but the ‘Broad Church’ has morphed into a whited sepulchre and it has discovered a formula for producing spiritually ugly people on an industrial scale.

That much became evident in the testimony of one of the SABC 8, Thandeka Gqubule.

Gqubule told parliament that she had been called at night to the SABC after the then Transnet boss, the Sobbing Sage of the Saxonwold Shebeen, Brian Molefe, had been asked questions about yet another deployed parasite scandal in the ANC’s Tsunami of Sleaze which has now been officially acknowledged.

The questions were put to him by Francis Herd. She became the SABC Business News anchor in 2013 after filling the same position at eNCA for years. She has an MBA so she speaks with some authority on business matters. She is always cogent, always calm.  She is yet another example of the quality of female news people the SABC has produced over the years. Take Al Jazeera for example where former SABC staffer Heather Allan is Senior Vice President of News Gathering for Al Jazeera America and Jane Dutton is a senior news presenter. Herd is in that class.

Brian Molefe

The questions that she put to Molefe related to the PRASA locomotive scandal which Naspers journalists Pieter Louis Myburgh and Leanne George were uncovering at the time.

Said Gqubule:

“He (Molefe) had his finger in Francis Heard’s face, asking if it was the shape of his nose that warranted such a line of questioning.”

That this repulsive churl could address Herd in that manner speaks to the enduring patriarchy of the African National Congress, a patriarchy which eases the path to power of men like Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

Hlaudi Motsoeneng has been aptly described as the Idi Amin of South African broadcasting and the evidence of Thandeka Gqubule spoke to his delusional Big Vegetable hubris.

When the SABC 8, quoting the Constitution and the Broadcast Act, openly challenged the illegal policies demanded by Motsoeneng and Jimi Matthews, he arrived in the newsroom surrounded by bodyguards to threaten them.

What possible physical threat did Motsoeneng face within the precincts of the SABC building in Auckland Park, Johannesburg that justified the presence of bodyguards?

Nothing remotely like this happened at the SABC during the apartheid era.

One is surprised that he did not lobby his il Capo dei Capi mentor for a blue light convoy.

The former Group CEO of the SABC, Lulama Mokhobo tried hard to paint herself as a victim of the never-ending, ANC-created chaos in general and the bullying of the Red-Eyed One in particular.

Cry me a River

She has made a habit of not completing her contracted term, having previously left the SABC in June 2010 months before her contract as group executive: public broadcasting services (PBS) expired.

No reasons were provided when she broke contract for a second time in February 2014 but, as specialist television industry reporter Thinus Ferreira pointed out:

Lulama Mokhobo is jumping ship before the release of an extremely damaging final report by the public protector’s office into widespread problems, corruption and mismanagement at the SABC.

In her report, Thuli Madonsela said that Mokhobo had approved one of the irregular salary increases for Hlaudi Motsoeneng – who once described himself as an “intellectual lecher”. Mokhobo claimed that, while her signature was on the relevant document, it was not the approving one. My understanding is that by countersigning, she de facto and de jure approved the increase.

Hlaudi Motsoeneng

Mokhobo placed Phil Molefe on special leave in January 2012 after he had refused a direct and publicly-issued instruction from that great champion of media freedom, Blade Nzimande to stop giving airtime to Julius Malema.

Here’s what I wrote in the Toxic Cocktail article about her subsequent actions:

29 January 2012 – Twelve days after assuming the position of SABC CEO, Mokhobo places an internal advertisement for the post of chief operations officer. It immediately becomes clear that the recruitment process is being gerrymandered to ensure that Hlaudi Motsoeneng, a deployed cadre who does not have matric but whose qualifications and commitment as an ANC imbongi are unrivalled and unquestioned, gets the job.

The post is not advertised externally, only three working days are allotted for the filing of applications and, by cosmic coincidence, the advertisement emphasises that a matric is not required for a post which remunerates the incumbent with R2.2 million a year. It has obviously been specifically structured to suit Motsoeneng and there is an immediate outcry about this cynical, SABC board-approved manipulation.

The scam is so nauseatingly brazen that government gags and tells the SABC to try again.

We would all love to bail when the Boss from Hell makes the kitchen oppressively hot but it is only in ANC-controlled organisations that you can become an overnight multi-millionaire in the process.

As the Democratic Alliance pointed out at the time, Mokhobo was paid R5.6 million after working, very ineffectually, for just 11 months.

Faith Muthambi

Communications Minister, Faith Muthambi has been enormously damaging to the African National Congress and the way in which President Jacob Zuma  removed Yunus Carrim, respected for his honesty, efficiency and commitment  and replaced  him with her provides a telling example of how the Zupta kleptocracy operates.

Minister of Communications Ms Faith Muthambi

What incensed me was the evidence in room E249 of how Muthambi was responsible for a working journalist being fired for no justifiable reason other than he had annoyed her. Limpopo SABC journalist Kgaogelo Magolego was dismissed for having ‘brought the SABC into disrepute’. This was because he had shown ‘disrespect’ by questioning Muthambi – during an SABC interview – about the delayed digital migration process.

Describing this intervention by Muthambi as “… cruel and callous, unlawful and unconstitutional” Thandeka Gqubule says at 25 minutes and 23 seconds of her testimony:

His rights, the freedom of expression and journalistic practice guaranteed in the Constitution and Bill of Rights were flagrantly flouted. His life was destroyed and his career unjustly lies in tatters.”

She added: Kgaogelo is not alone. There are many Kgaogelos in the (SABC) regions of South Africa.

Amen to that.

The dismissal of Kgaogelo Magolego at the behest of a government minister is unprecedented in SABC history – a significant if utterly inglorious first and all part of the ANC’s ‘Good story to tell’.

The ad hoc committee heard evidence from the SABC 8 about the way in which, on the watch of Hlaudi Motsoeneng and Jimi Matthews, ethical journalism was, in contravention of the Constitution and the Broadcast Act, utterly abandoned.

Perjury?

Playing a significant role in that nefarious process was the SABC head of news, Simon Tebele.

In July last year, Ferial Haffajee, then the editor of City Press investigated SABC censorship and reported:

Tebele, for example, is said to have ensured that no visuals of violence or damage to property during the recent Tshwane protests were aired.

In addition, according to staff, political editor Sophie Mokoena kept journalists from covering the running battles.

In August last year, Tebele submitted papers to the Labour Court in which he stated that he, of his own volition, took the decision to suspend seven of the SABC 8 journalists.

The ducking and diving Tebele, desperately trying to avoid paying legal costs himself, fingered the contemptible Jimi Matthews and, bizarrely, claimed that he was acting in the best interest of the state broadcaster:

“I acted in the belief that what I did was what was legally correct. In some instances, it was clear that, or I believed that, I was acting in the best interest of the organisation and not in my personal capacity.”

Testifying in parliament and under oath Thandeka Gqubule effectively said that Tebele perjured himself in so saying. At 20 minutes and eight seconds of her testimony she says:

“When the head of news (Tebele) called us in to tell us that we were in being suspended, I told him that what he was doing was unlawful, it was incorrect and unjournalistic  and he said to me: ‘I have my instructions’.

“Now I understand that he later in court says he was acting of his own volition and that he did not receive instructions to dismiss us and to suspend us.

“But I guess that’s moot now.”

It is not moot – perjury is a crime.

Hell will freeze over before the utterly corrupt SABC investigates let alone takes action on this but hopefully the ad hoc committee will do something and hopefully the same goes for Anton van der Bijl, head of Solidarity’s Centre for Fair Labour Practices and the lawyer who represented the SABC 8.

Ethnic inclusivity abandoned

It has been years  since an ANC-manipulated SABC board included a white person or, more importantly, an Afrikaans-speaking person.

One can understand the former, from an ANC point of view, because President Jacob Zuma, evoking the cockroach motif of the Rwandan genocide, has described his white fellow South Africans as snakes.

Afrikaans, however, is spoken as a second language by more South Africans than any other and lies third behind Zulu and Xhosa as the most spoken language in the country.

Nelson Mandela’s dream of nation building through reconciliation so that the country could benefit from everyone’s strengths and skills has been emphatically abandoned by the ANC – as the composition of the last SABC board indicates.

Now, it’s all about ring-fencing the trough.

On Friday two former chairs of the SABC board, each equally destructive, will face the committee.

Dr Ben Ngubane and Ellen Tshabalala have much to account for and each has a link to President Jacob Zuma.

  • Ed Herbst is a retired veteran journalist who writes in his own capacity.
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