Ed Herbst: Planet SABC, rainmaker Hlaudi and bankrupting Radio Lotus

By Ed Herbst*

The public broadcaster has historically been a highly contested space, but under its current leadership, it has slipped beyond legitimate contestation to downright lunacy. – Natasha Marrian – Business Day 29/9/2016

“The ANC has not deployed Hlaudi.” – ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu Business Day 29/9/2016

Veteran journalist Ed Herbst
Veteran journalist Ed Herbst

I don’t know whether the medicinal concoction invented in Tennessee in the 1850s by Jasper Newton Daniel causes long term memory loss but I was puzzled by Jackson Mthembu’s suggestion to reporters in parliament on 28 September that Hlaudi Motsoeneng is not a deployed cadre.

Technically, I suppose, he might be right, but Motsoeneng was deployed by proxy by an ANC deployed cadre, Dali Mpofu, at the behest of Ivy Matsepe Casaburri to the distress of another deployed cadre, Snuki Zikalala.

This turned into a farcical, multi-million rand legal imbroglio, the sort of thing at which the ANC excels – to your cost and mine.

In suggesting that the ANC had not deployed Motsoeneng, “Jack Daniels”, as Julius Malema is known to call him, directly contradicted what Lindiwe Zulu said in September 2013 when she openly acknowledged that Luthuli House decided who would be deployed to the SABC board. And, as a Sunday Times editorial pointed out at the time – see below – Mthembu’s personal assistant played a singular role in the board deployment process! And that board is now doing everything in its power to keep Hlaudi’s snout steeped in gravy for as long as possible.

Sunday Times editorial 22/9/2013

ANC has hijacked airwaves to gain political profit

Lindiwe Zulu reacted with outrage this week when confronted with the fact that the ANC had openly manipulated parliament in getting its preferred candidates on the SABC board. A memorandum by Zulu, dated September 4, shows how the ANC selected the candidates for whom the party’s MPs would eventually vote two weeks later. All that needs to happen now is for President Jacob Zuma to approve the names. When confronted, Zulu was unashamed about the manipulation. In fact, she expressed her disgust at the suggestion that the ANC had effectively seized control of the SABC before the general elections next year.

“That does not necessarily mean we want to interfere as the ANC. The bottom line is that we are a governing party and, being a governing party, we have a high interest and that interest needs to be served by us being able to make sure that in all the strategic areas we have our own and we can’t be apologetic about [that]. We need to have our qualified, capable comrades in strategic structures and we are not being apologetic about our deployment.”

Cartoon courtesy of Twitter @brandanrey
Cartoon courtesy of Twitter @brandanrey

But a closer look at the memo offers an astonishing insight into those who were chosen as selectors.

How do we believe Zulu’s competency claims when two Luthuli House interns — one a 24-year-old — and a personal assistant to spokesman Jackson Mthembu were allowed to make nominations?

How are we to believe that the ANC really does have the mandate of the public broadcaster — delivering an array of services to South Africans — as its best interests when the party deliberately rejected independent-minded candidates with experience in broadcasting in favour of someone like Krish Naidoo, a legal adviser to the ANC’s national disciplinary committee?

Or how will ANC MP Buti Manamela’s wife, Nomvuyo Mhlakaza, serve the interests of South Africans better than broadcast policy expert Kate Skinner?

This unashamed manipulation of parliamentary processes is nothing but the ruling party’s hijacking of the SABC before the elections.

In this context, the ridiculous policy of insisting on 70% of “happy news” by acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng makes perfect sense. Happy news, as defined by Motsoeneng, is about service delivery — access to water, electricity and housing. These are all issues that would aid the ANC in its election campaign.

Even if we give Zulu the benefit of the doubt — that the ANC’s candidates are competent — it is clear where their loyalties will lie, and that is to serve the ruling party.

Hlaudi Motsoeneng has not only declared that he is not accountable to the Public Protector, he does not regard himself as accountable to parliament either.

I expressed the forlorn hope on this website last week that when the SABC appeared in parliament on 29 September Acting, CEO James Aguma would answer the following questions:

  • What as the amount involved in buying the silence of his predecessor, Frans Matlala who, at the behest of the Treasury, was investigating the allegedly dodgy deal which saw the SABC spending 3 million on a substandard studio to broadcast last year’s Rugby World Cup – without, strangely enough, putting the contract out to tender?
  • What is the truth behind “suspect”debt-collection deal with the SABC which, according to the Sunday Times, will see the “politically connected” businessman Kuben Moodley getting R380 million without the contract going out to tender?
  • Has the SABC paid Hlaudi Motsoeneng a multi-million rand bonus for a deal which has not been to the benefit of his employer or the country?
  • In real terms, what has the “stability” which Hlaudi Motsoeneng has allegedly brought to the SABC cost his employer in the past financial year? In other words, how many hundred million rand has the SABC lost this time around?

We only got an answer to the last question – that the amount snouted, wasted and inexplicably lost on the watch of “Mr Hullaballoo” last year was “only” R411 million.

Planet SABC

sabc_logoBut wait, there’s more – there’s always more on Planet SABC…

The next day the front page lead in The Times was headlined ‘SABC’s R5 billion hole – AG skewers broadcaster for letting culprits off the hook.’

This related to a finding by the auditor general:

But the auditor-general’s “final management report” to the SABC, dated August 15, red-flagged the broadcaster’s financial viability.

It highlighted that irregular expenditure of R5.1-billion “identified in the current and previous year, was not investigated to determine if a person was liable for the expenditure”.

The report revealed that the SABC had awarded 71 contracts worth R150.7-million to “close family members, partners and associates of officials”.

Now keep in mind that at the bizarre SABC press conference on 27 September, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, advised by the fugitive from US justice Paul Ngobeni, told us that he could “perform miracles” and that, when James Aguma appeared in parliament he justified Motsoeneng’s most recent salary increase by saying that people like him “are our rainmakers”.

So whose fault is it that the SABC cannot account for a R5 billion hole and why has not the slightest effort been made to bring to justice those responsible for this wanton theft and to address the almost incomprehensible levels of managerial incompetence?

Well certainly not the “rainmakers” and miracle creators, according to James Aguma, to whom the concept of irony, not to mention shame or guilt, seems alien.

Aguma blamed the R5-billion in irregular expenditure on “missing records”.

“The challenge across government is records management,” he said. “Is it my fault? I’m not sure. Is it exco? I’m not sure. But we have a strategy to deal with it.”

What next from Hlaudi? More cartoon magic at www.zapiro.com.
What next from Hlaudi? More cartoon magic at www.zapiro.com.

How nice. When, one wonders, is “The Strategy” going to kick in so that R5 billion in “missing records” can be found?

According to “Intellectual lecher” and rainmaker Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the auditor general seemed inexplicably unconvinced in his “miraculous” powers:

Hlaudi Motsoeneng, newly appointed group executive for corporate affairs, said the SABC had tried in vain to dissuade the auditor-general from giving the broadcaster a qualified audit because of irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

“On this one, the R5-billion, we tried everything to influence them but we could not win the battle. They said: ‘On this one, no, we are giving you a qualification’.”

Became abusive

In the meantime, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, James Aguma and Professor Mbulaheni Maguvhe are busy bankrupting the Indian niche broadcasting station, Radio Lotus in Durban whose audience chose it because of its Bollywood music. They have now been told that 90% kwaito is their decreed lot and they have decamped to other radio stations taking advertisers with them. When Motsoeneng visited the station and listened to their complaints he became abusive.

“Indians: move away from tribalism thinking. We think about the nation. We think as South Africans. This is the first radio station where I hear people opposing 90% music.”

In the Orwellian world of the African National Congress the picnic is bereft of sandwiches, the only bulb in the rusted chandelier fused long ago and the lift has not visited the top floor for years.

Smoke and mirrors

To understand this Alice in Wonderland scenario you have to peer through the ANC’s smoke and look past its mirrors.

It all has to do with keeping the deployed cadre’s snout in the trough for as long as possible – ask the Travelgate criminals – they’ll tell you.

Hlaudi is probably snouting R200 000 a month – after tax – and that doesn’t take into account the first tranche of his R33 million bonus.

The longer he can be kept on the payroll, the richer he becomes and there can be no doubt that he has successfully used his influence to promote his faction of the ANC and to withhold from public scrutiny its pervasive corruption. He therefore deserves, according to the ANC, to be rewarded appropriately and there is nothing new in this.

Let me take you back to the equally appalling era of Snuki “Zero Sum” Zikalala, who was disastrously deployed by the Mbeki faction of the ANC to the SABC along with luminaries of similar ilk such as Christine Qunta, Thami Mazwai, Eddie Funde and Dali Mpofu.

Zikalala was cited, without contradiction, before the TRC on 25 July 1996 by Olefile Samuel Mnqibisa for human rights abuses; he helped bankrupt the SABC with his African Al Jazeera fantasy; he destroyed its news credibility by manipulating the news; he was found by the Sisulu-Marcus commission of inquiry into his “blacklisting” news scandal to be egregiously in breach of the SABC’s code of ethical news conduct; he behaved abusively to his staff and caused a pervasive atmosphere of fear at the state broadcaster. Luthuli House – now known as “Bungalow” because there is nothing upstairs – did not consider any of these factors to be grounds for dismissal and allowed him to snout till the end of his contract.

Another example: The former chairman of the SABC board, Ben Ngubane unilaterally appointed Phil Molefe as head of news, after Zikalala’s much-welcomed departure because Molefe was assumed to be a loyal cadre who would strictly obey Luthuli House orders.

Severance package

However, when Molefe refused to heed a direct instruction from that great champion of media freedom, Blade Nzimande, to deny Julius Malema air time, he was suspended on full pay for two years and then given a R4.9 million severance package.

For doing the dirty work of suspending Molefe so that Motsoeneng could take over, Lulama Mokhobo was given R8 million – after being employed for just 11 months!

As an apparent reward for collapsing the SABC board at the time, Ngubane was subsequently made chairman of Eskom which has been an ANC trough for years – you couldn’t make this stuff up.

ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu
ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu

We are told that this week the current SABC board – the one chosen by Jackson Mthembu’s subordinate – might be dismissed as the country ululates and dances with joy. In all of this, the SABC’s “Silent Spokes-spinner” and Broadcasting’s Answer to Comical Ali – Kaizer Kganyago – will not be contactable. And, if he is, he won’t tell you anything because we know from long experience that everything that happens at Auckland Park cannot be discussed by him because he says it is all confidential.

You have to understand, though, that snouting is not just the heart and soul, the lifeblood of the ANC, it is its very DNA. That is why, according to Zwelinzima Vavi, we have become a “Predator State” and why the ANC’s parasitical deployed predators in provincial government managed to snout R25 billion in the 2012/2013 financial year alone.

Without cadre deployment – declared illegal in the Eastern Cape division of the High Court on 6 November 2008 in Mlokoti v Amathole District Municipality – the raison d’être of the ANC’s patronage state ceases to exist.

I find comfort, though, in the concluding sentence in Jonny Steinberg’s most recent Business Day article:

If there is hope, it is that the provincial electorate appears to be tiring of its patronage politicians. That is what the municipal elections suggest very subtly. It is now for opposition parties to launch a serious campaign to take provincial SA. Already, they have waited much too long.

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