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By Ed Herbst
‘Over seven full days, more than 20 witnesses painted a picture of widespread impunity, irregular finances, board divisions, staff purges, editorial interference and employee fear at the broadcaster since at least 2011.’ Paul Herman News 24 15/12/2016
The SABC is a microcosm of South Africa, when all that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing. How did this happen?” Fana Moekoena of the EFF – Room E249 parliament – 12/12/2016
Room E249 in parliament was the venue for the ad hoc committee of the Parliamentary Communication Committee’s investigation into the state capture of the SABC and its pervasive corruption which started in the Mbeki era and has continued unabated and unchecked ever since.
At the close of business for the year on December 15, Phumzile van Damme, Democratic Alliance shadow minister on communication, summed up some of the most important events in a week of sordid revelations about an organisation which the ANC’s Snouting Faction has long held by the throat as it squeezed out every available drop of corrupt patronage that it could:
- The SABC brought in the State Security Agency to investigate and intimidate staff (something which never happened under the National Party government);
- The SABC 8 continued to receive death threats, with no action from the Minister of Communications, the SABC board and management;
- The Gupta-owned New Age attempted to take over and “re-brand” the SABC’s news division;
- The SABC paid for the New Age’s breakfast briefings, an effective laundering of public money for the benefit of the Guptas;
- Hlaudi Motsoeneng appeared to have protection from President Jacob Zuma and threatened staff with an authority located in Pretoria;
- The SABC Chairperson, Mbulaheni Maguvhe, appeared to be completely oblivious of the major issues facing the SABC;
- Minister Muthambi interfered in the coverage of news and in the affairs of the board; and
- There was explicit and unprecedented bias in news coverage towards the ANC during the most recent local government elections.
Here are some of the quotable quotes from the hearing:
Vincent Smith (ANC)
“To me, it is an attack on Parliament when members of society are invited to give evidence before Parliament to assist Parliament with its oversight responsibilities, and then there are people out there who intimidate those who are helping to advance democracy – that is an attack on Parliament itself.
“I urge those who are intimidating witnesses to stop.”
Fana Mokoena (EFF)
“We need to send out a message that the SABC is not a playground for people to loot and do as they please. This Hlaudi needs to go to jail. I’m strongly of that opinion.”
Makhosi Khoza (ANC)
“Minister. There is a public outcry about how SOEs, including SABC, are run. Now minister, there has also been an outcry that the ANC leadership, which includes all of us, have become arrogant. This was admitted by the SG of the organisation. Indeed this is not a figment of the public imagination.
“I’m very disappointed about the minister. I think the minister ought to have become humble before South Africans. I honestly think she was extremely arrogant. The fact that she was standing outside the meeting [on July 7, 2014] and soon after that she just came in to endorse what the board had decided, to me it’s just an indication of how covert she was in terms of exerting her own influence. I have a strong feeling that the minister misled us and misrepresented facts.”
Phumzile van Damme (DA)
“You turned a blind eye when the SABC 8 were dismissed. You did not lift a finger. You turned a blind eye when SABC money was being used to prop up the Guptas, you turned a blind eye when State Security agents came into the SABC and infringed the rights of employees. We thought things were bad but we didn’t realise things were this bad. I think we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface.”
Krish Naidoo, former SABC board member: “
“Why were so many educated professionals so beholden to a high school dropout?
“Here we had someone who had no right to be at a national key point. In fact, he was squatting at a national key point.”
Phil Molefe, former acting CEO (quoting Hlaudi Motsoeneng)
“Chair, I told you this is not our man, so I am going to Pretoria tonight.”
Lukhanyo Calata, political reporter
“It’s an open secret. Our understanding is that Mr Motsoeneng has the support of the president. Also, Mr Motsoeneng has lived up to it, because he has behaved in a manner that none of us can explain, other than to say surely he has the protection or support of someone who is very important, who is very powerful.”
Thandeka Gqubule economics editor
“An independent media is not a luxury. It is not an extra that can be dispensed with when the executive arm of the state wills it.
“The practices of journalism … have been subverted at the SABC, and under Mr Motsoeneng’s leadership, supported by the board, this state of affairs has been exacerbated.
“Public service journalism is dying at the SABC … the ‘protest policy’ is the straw that broke the camel’s back…. I have decided to say no to the reign of terror by Mr Motsoeneng and his cohorts.
“The sum total of all of it is that the Broadcasting Act is no more. We live in a situation where rule books, the Constitution, have been torn up and we rule by might and might alone.”
Krivani Pillay, SAFM current affairs producer
“Parliament failed us – when the board sat here and told you stories and called us names, you accepted it. Parliament failed us. Jimi Matthews failed us. Hlaudi failed us. The board failed us.”
Vuyo Mvoko, SABC contributing editor:
“What SABC executives haven’t informed you about is they have allowed SABC money to be used to build a rival channel – ANN7.
“Yet, the money the owners of TNA make, none of it – not a cent – goes to the SABC. From the millions they make through sponsorship, to the tables they sell at those breakfasts – they do not take any of that to the SABC except, perhaps, to the people who make things happen for them.
Someone is being enriched further at the expense of the public broadcaster. Corruption is taking place; the public broadcaster is being destroyed from within.”
Professor Bongani Khumalo, former SABC board member
“He (Motsoeneng) is what you can call a type-A personality gone wrong”
Jabulani Mabaso, former SABC group executive of human resources
“If you were to put it that way, yes, he (Motsoeneng) is very powerful man, powerful if he cannot be called to order by the board. Former [acting] CEO Mr Jimi Matthews used to say, ‘You know, we are all adults’, in a way to say, you know where the orders are coming from. We all knew where the power was.”
Sipho Masinga, former SABC chief technology officer
“It (Gupta proposal document) was talking about rebranding SABC News, that TNA will not pay any rental, that the SABC will provide resources and journalists, TNA will retain advertising revenue. That, right there, was enough to understand the context of the meeting.
“I couldn’t believe it. The New Age wanted to take over and manage SABC News with the SABC that has to supply the staff. The New Age tried to take over SABC News and rebrand it.
“I knew if I opened the door (to the Guptas) that we were going to have problems.”
William Bird of Media Monitoring Africa commenting on Hlaudi Motsoeneng getting a R30 million commission for selling of the SABC archives to Multichoice for a risibly low price:
“That’s the equivalent of rewarding a paedophile by giving him access to more children.”
Duduetsang Makuse of the Save Our SABC coalition:
“Ultimately the SABC belongs to the people of South Africa, considering that seven million of the 12 million TV-owning households rely solely on the SABC.”
Micah Reddy of R2K:
“Part of the problem with the SABC at the moment is because Mr Motsoeneng has such unrivalled control of editorial content. And through him the state and the ministry have unacceptable levels of control over content.
“Her (Muthambi’s) conduct has seriously damaged the broadcaster and media freedom, and she is not suitable for her position.
“The (Muthambi) amendment gave two individuals unprecedented power at the SABC, and we describe this as state capture.”
After proceedings were concluded for the year in Room E249, Belinda Bozzoli, Democratic Alliance Shadow Minister of Higher Education and Training, revealed that ‘bogus’ might be too kind a word to describe the PhD of Mbulaheni Maguvhe and it became known that the SABC’s lawyer, Lucky Thekisho, was recently convicted of making fraudulent representations.
The remains of Emily Hobhouse are interred in the National Women’s Monument in Bloemfontein and the words she wrote at the turn of the last century still resonate today:
‘In this South Africa of ours, true patriotism lies in the unity of those who live in her and love her as opposed to those who live on her but out of her. The patriots and the parasites’.
The Room E249 investigation into the SABC cesspit – so assiduously created by Luthuli House for the past two decades – provided us with telling examples of both.
- Ed Herbst is a retired veteran journalist who writes in his own capacity.
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