Who should go to jail for milking SABC? Fingering more suspects – Ed Herbst

Ben Ngubane

The SABC is an organisation close to Ed Herbst’s heart. After giving his best years to the public broadcaster, Herbst – now independent and working voluntarily as a journalist – spends much time analysing developments at the SABC. In this piece, he picks up on the inquiry into the SABC board’s fitness for office. Parliamentarians have already heard a range of astonishing allegations, including that there has been consistent political interference in the affairs of the public broadcaster by several parties – the ANC, the DP and the SACP. Also in the headlines have been questionable deals involving licence fee-payers’ money flowing from the SABC to the Gupta-owned The New Age. Most prominent of all in the scandals dogging the SABC has been colourful propaganda czar Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who continued to work at the SABC in defiance of a court order and has mesmerised the nation with his mad rants about his god-like status. SABC critics would like to see the SABC board dissolved and a new one installed and given the mandate to probe all irregular and wasteful expenditure. They would like action be taken against those behind the expenditure and steps taken to recover the money. In this piece, Herbst highlights areas where SABC watchers might want to read between the lines with a view to apportioning blame. – Jackie Cameron 

Dr Ben Ngubane: a former SABC board member responds

Ngubane came to the inquiry with a weird sense of entitlement of the elite who have arrogated to themselves the role of milking the state-owned enterprises they are deployed to.

Thanks to the ad hoc committee chair Smith and his colleagues, Ngubane was made to see the error of his ways.

Don Makatile Sunday Independent 15/1/2017

Members of Parliament will be calling for a forensic audit into the SABC’s finances; dereliction of duty charges against board members and executive directors who failed the broadcaster; as well as perjury charges against those officials who may have misled Parliament during its inquiry.

Andisiwe Makinana City Press 15/1/2017

Ed Herbst

By Ed Herbst

As I pointed out in my article, The malevolence of Dr Ben Ngubane, former SABC board member, Suzanne Vos submitted two damning memos about the way in which Dr Ben Ngubane, with threats and bluster, repeatedly sabotaged good governance of the SABC board while he was chairman from 2010 to 2013.

I asked Ms Vos, who watched the live televised proceedings of the parliamentary ad hoc committee’s inquiry into pervasive and endemic malfeasance at the SABC in recent years, to give me her subjective opinion of what she experienced as an SABC board member at that time and how that relates to the parliamentary testimony of Dr Ben Ngubane.

This is important because, addressing Dr Ngubane, the chairman of the inquiry, Vincent Smith, said that there were too many inconsistences between his evidence and that of previous witnesses. “”Somebody has misled Parliament, somebody has not taken us seriously and they will pay the price for it. There can’t be such grave contradictions, it’s just too scary for us not to take it up.

“Everyone who spoke here spoke under oath and I think somebody must go to jail,” Smith said.

Here is the response of Suzanne Vos and it seems to justify the concerns of Vincent Smith.

I am of the view that Dr Ngubane was less than honest in his parliamentary testimony about the appointment of Mr Phil Molefe as head of news and current affairs at the SABC.  I repeat, as I have done for many years, that it is a FACT that Dr Ngubane (in collaboration with then CEO Mr Solly Mokoetle) initially illegally appointed Mr Molefe to this position without board approval. 

This was made a matter of public record in May 2010 when the SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago said in a statement: “The SABC board resolved that the purported appointment of the group executive news and current affairs head, Mr Phil Molefe is null and void and has no legal effect.”

Six years later – in parliament on 13 January this year, Dr Ngubane admitted Ministerial interference in that the then Communications Minister (Siphiwe Nyanda) had intervened and had persuaded board members to settle the matter (i.e. regularise/make legal what was illegal). Most board members (but not me!) were aligned to the ANC in many ways so they capitulated and, thereafter, at a formal board meeting, the majority approved the appointment of Mr Molefe as head of news and current affairs.

Minutes of that meeting will show that I voted against the appointment of Mr Molefe (as I recall, so did some other board members). I (and I am sure, others) would be prepared to swear under oath that Dr Ngubane initially appointed Mr Molefe illegally and that, as the Sowetan article indicates, cannot now be disputed by him.

In my opinion Dr Ngubane again misled the committee on 13 January with regard to the SIU report on alleged 2010 Soccer World Cup irregularities – which I have never seen.  This report, in many ways, triggered the collapse of the board. With Titus Mchunu of Mchunu Attorneys sitting behind him in parliament, Dr Ngubane claimed that a legal opinion – with regard to the SIU report – had implicated board members  in criminality and was apparently so damning  that he had decided that it had to be escalated to the then Communications Minister, Dina Pule.

To the best of my knowledge it was Mchunu Attorneys who prepared this legal opinion claiming board members were somehow implicate with regard to FIFA Soccer World Cup / SABC outdoor viewing tender processes.

Board members were not shown this legal opinion, apparently prepared by Mchunu Attorneys. I most certainly was not given a copy. Furthermore, board members were also not shown the SIU report – which we had been instructed to present to parliament a few days later.

I have noted that the SABC was ordered by parliament to submit all relevant documents to the ad hoc committee prior to the start of the current investigation into the SABC. It did so on the eve of the start of the inquiry, something that ad hoc committee members described as ‘malicious compliance because they were given too little time to peruse the more than 400 documents submitted.

Has the ad-hoc committee, I wonder, received a copy of the SIU report and the legal opinion (from Mchunu Attorneys?) which Ngubane claimed in parliament on Friday implicated board members to such a degree that the matter had to be escalated to then Communications Minister Dina Pule without them seeing it?

What should be noted in this context and in the context of Ngubane’s under-oath testimony is that no member of that board that I know of has ever been charged with impropriety, let alone investigated in this regard.

I am willing to testify under oath that Mr Hlaudi Motsoeneng phoned me at home late one evening (about the SIU report) and said “Madam, you are implicated, but I will protect you.” I cut him short and told him that if I was indeed ‘implicated’ I would defend myself. I did not require his protection.

Last Friday Dr Ngubane yet again dissembled about the board meeting which was held with the specific purpose of removing Mr Motsoeneng from the position of Acting COO. Dr Ngubane was told that the majority of board members had decided to have him removed from the position he then held.

This was after the board meeting fracas when Mr Motsoeneng refused to provide board members with the SIU report and the legal opinion pertaining to it.

Dr Ngubane told parliament that this meeting was not legal. 

The meeting was definitely legal. It was held strictly in terms of the Broadcasting Act.  The fact is that Dr Ngubane refused to attend. The (then) Company Secretary, Ms Theresa Geldenhuys, can provide parliament with the minutes of that meeting and all records including a report to the Minister.

The board meeting was held in Cape Town as we were to report to Parliament the next day. On that evening, prior to the board meeting, the chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communication met with board members at the hotel where we were staying and he was told by us that we could not present on the SIU report as we had been denied access to it.

Dr Ngubane insisted that Mr Motsoeneng attend board meetings. Board member Ms Cawe Mahlati first raised the matter and objected to his presence. I do not recall, as Dr Ngubane claimed in Parliament, that there was a vote and/or that there was a board resolution to the effect that he (Motsoeneng) should be allowed to attend board meetings. Again the Company Secretary should be requested to provide proof of this assertion.

Matters pertaining to the former CEO Ms Lulama Mokhobo need further inquiry. In my opinion, she is not without fault! When it came to the attention of the board that she had signed off an SABC payment of more than R1million with regard to the ICT Indaba which was steeped in scandal from the start, she was confronted in a board meeting (Minutes will be available) and asked for proof that the Executive Committee had approved of this payment – which it had not!

She then blamed the CFO (Ms Gugu Duda) and accused her of ‘lying’ and ‘misleading’ her. She claimed that Ms Duda had told her that the Executive Committee had approved the payment. 

I later learned Ms Mokhobo¹s son was employed by a television production company to work at the conference.  When, sometime later, I was drafting a board statement about the matter of the SABC¹s ICT conference payment and referred to matters pertaining to Ms Pule¹s involvement (as was later revealed) I showed Ms Mokhobo my draft.  She then snatched my laptop away from me and deleted any reference to Minister Pule. She then cried out to me: “Show Ubuntu Suzanne, show Ubuntu!”

Finally, it is my opinion that appointing an Interim non-executive board and, six months thereafter, a full non-executive board will not be able to fix up the crisis at the SABC.

No matter what the exceptional skills and competencies of the new board members they will NOT, by statute, be able to intervene, where necessary, in operational issues. They will not be able to rely on the accuracy of information brought to the board by SABC bureaucrats. The rot is deep. The skills deficits within the Executive and Management are dire – as testified by an independent skills audit produced for parliament. Corruption, indolence, arrogance and mismanagement are systemic and endemic. (There are, of course, SABC employees of honesty and integrity who possess the necessary skills and show commitment.) Union pressure and often hostility is a reality which needs skilful negotiation. The entire SABC organization has layer upon layer of deployed ANC cadres in all departments and regional offices who, in DA parlance, are not “fit for purpose”.

The SABC needs an executive board.

This will, however, require Ministerial / Cabinet approval and Parliament to amend the Broadcasting Act. 

I can¹t see that happening.

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