Ed Herbst: The poisoned chalice – why ANC kicked SABC decision into touch

By Ed Herbst*

Staff members at the headquarters were also part of the ANC’s back-room manoeuvring to find SABC board members, which took the power away from MPs who had to agree to the handpicked candidates.

The Sunday Times has seen a memorandum by Lindiwe Zulu, head of the ANC’s subcommittee on communications, which details how the party had identified good candidates long before parliament officially put together its list… – ANC interns used in SABC process Sunday Times 22/9/2013

On 16 October, two SABC board members, Krish Naidoo and Vusi Mavuso resigned and, less than a week later, the deputy chairperson, Leah Khumalo followed suit.

Ed Herbst, former television journalist
Ed Herbst, former television journalist

Parliament has made it clear that it wants the resignation of the sorry remnants of the incompetent, unrepresentative and dysfunctional board which, with the help of the Luthuli House interns, it created in September 2013.

This will be the third SABC board to have been driven from office since President Jacob Zuma took control of the ANC at Polokwane in November 2007. Nothing like this happened before the Zuma ascendancy, still less before 1994.

Parliament will now, in terms of the Broadcasting Act, have to create an interim board until the process of appointing a new permanent board can be completed. An interim board can only serve for a period of six months,

So why is Luthuli House/Parliament continually delaying the process to bring in yet another interim board, something that could be concluded within a matter of days?

With an interim board you don’t have to advertise for applicants but, Party insiders tell me, it now appears that, even with the help of the legendary Luthuli House interns, nobody can be found who is willing to touch the poisoned chalice, let alone drink from it.

Overt hatred

As I pointed out in a previous article on how Luthuli House gerrymandered the appointment of the current board it is, as a supposedly public broadcaster, supposed to be representative of our society as a whole. However, given the overt hatred of the ANC for whites in general and Afrikaners in particular, that principle was quickly abandoned by an unprincipled party when it came to appointing the current SABC board.

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

If respected lawyers seen to have been supportive of the ANC like Peter Harris and Krish Naidoo walk away from Zuma–appointed SABC boards holding their noses, why would anyone want to get involved with the SABC – what Tom Eaton calls ‘a great sucking cesspit of despair’? If you join the board your life will be made unpleasant in illegal ways and you will suffer significant reputational damage.

In looking for ethical potential members of an interim SABC board and a new board, the ANC faces an almost-insuperable task.

Given the collapse of public administration and municipal governance, one gets the impression that the average ANC-deployed snouter couldn’t pour water out of a boot. Adding insult to injury, they are, according to the ANC mandarins, undisciplined. The unspoken ANC covenant is that if you are deployed to a lucrative sinecure for which you have no qualifications aside from snouting potential, you will tithe the party. In return, you know that if you are caught stealing you will, if you choose not to resign, be suspended on full pay for years on end. They know, as an ineluctable law of ANC snouting, that they will be paid millions of rands in advance, before a brick has been laid, before trowel touches mortar. As an example and an example of the ANC’s ‘good story to tell’ they will proudly point to the half a billion rand advanced to the Siyenzi Group with which Lamborghinis and riverside mansions were bought. The few toilets that were ‘built’ fell over within a matter of days and the kicker is that, by cosmic coincidence, many if not most of those involved in this nauseating scam have an impeccable genetic provenance having sprung from the loins of Big Vegetables. Furthermore, you know that if you resign, the matter will be swept under the carpet and you will duly be deployed to a safer, more lucrative sinecure elsewhere. Unless, like Cynthia Maropeng you are stupid enough to steal ANC constituency funds.

That is why R2 billion could be snouted from the Land bank – read Helena Dolny’s ‘Banking on Change’and why R2 billion could be snouted from the Cape Town municipality when the ANC was in control … and nobody has gone to jail.

In fact, not only is the ANC receiving very little in the way of tithes, other than patronage-linked donations from its Big Vegetables, but an increasing number of ANC members are not even paying their annual R20 membership fee.

Collective cause

So where is the ANC going to find the elusive ‘new cadres’ who are ‘always ready to sacrifice their individual interests for a collective cause to serve on yet another interim board?

Luthuli House was lucky when, in 2009, it dismembered the Kanyi Mkhonza board after, on the watch of Mkhonza and her board, then CEO Dali Mpofu and Snuki Zikalala had driven the corporation into virtual bankruptcy with debts reaching a billion rand. This led to many small freelance production companies that produced drama and documentary programmes closing their doors and retrenching staff because the SABC did not pay them for content already delivered – all part of the ANC’s ‘good story to tell’.

At that time the ANC struck it lucky when former MTN mogul Irene Charnley, agreed to chair the 2009 interim board and her tenure culminated in the SABC being enabled with a R1.4 billion, government-guaranteed lifeline. She drove that process with ruthless efficiency in getting competent actuarial forensic and financial experts to donate their skills gratis in the form of ‘national service’ contribution and they drilled down to expose the rot in the books. At the same time, she decided to throw money at the problem and get rid of Dali Mpofu and others so that a new executive could be appointed.

In 2010 she and her interim board handed control to a permanent board, appointed by parliament. Luthuli House had decreed, however, that Dr Ben Ngubane would be chairman – and, inevitably and inexorably, the horror started all over again.

The first thing that Ngubane was determined to do was appoint Phil Molefe as head of news and current affairs.

Unfortunately for Ngubane, he had a board on his hands which included ethical people of integrity like Peter Harris and Barbara Masakela who did not share Ngubane’s enthusiasm for this appointment.

Discarded like a ‘used condom’

Ngubane nevertheless unilaterally pushed through the Molefe appointment anyway. Probably to Ngubane’s surprise and disappointment, Molefe then showed some spine in refusing to obey an utterly unethical, publicly-issued diktat from Comrade Blade Nzimande at an ANC rally at Richards Bay on 12 July 2012. Nzimande commanded the SABC to stop giving broadcast time to Julius Malema who had been expelled from the ANC. After Molefe’s principled and unexpected defiance he was, thereafter, in the words of Malema, discarded like a ‘used condom’. This is a fate that Malema, presciently predicted would befall the current Idi Amin of Auckland Park.

Molefe was immediately placed on paid leave for two years and then given a severance package of R4 million – proudly brought to you by the ANC.

The jester in the iridescent purple suit and the matching Pork Pie hat, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, is living on borrowed time. Like Ellen Tshabalala, he will, to the relief of people like Makhudu Sefara, eventually run out of legal options.

The incoming interim board – if they can find anybody to serve on it – will face many “challenges”, one of the ANC’s favourite weasel words used to explain its perpetual failure at everything it attempts.

Its main problem is that the ANC’s deployed cadre patronage system – declared illegal in the Eastern Cape division of the High Court on 6 November 2008 in Mlokoti v Amathole District Municipality – has left the SABC bereft of management skills. The Charnley board ordered a skills audit which led to a headline in The Times ­– ‘SABC led by dummies’. (One of the members of the SABC financial department proudly listed on her CV the fact that she had a beautician’s diploma. One hopes that she wrote the submitted assignments herself.)

Victualed to the max

The new interim board will also have to deal with the resentment of senior SABC executives like James Aguma who has done everything he can to keep the Motsoeneng cabal in power and victualed to the max with gravy.

On top of that, as a member of the interim board, you would be hamstrung by Faith Muthambi who, it must be acknowledged, is slightly less appalling than one of her predecessors, the unspeakable and utterly corrupt Dina “Louboutin” Pule.

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

For an interim board to be successful it would need people with variety of skills – a broadcasting background including television and radio, forensic, financial, auditing and risk analysis skills to, in part, untangle the web of corruption created by the deployed scavengers. It will require Human Resources skills to restore staff morale after the recent Hlaudi Motsoeneng purges. The first meeting’s order of business will be to make good the SABC’s multi-billion rand losses and to undo the folly of Motsoeneng’s bread and circuses, unilateral 90% local music content decree.

To be a member of any interim or permanent SABC board you either have to have very few options of other employment – because your stipend as a board member is just a few thousand rand a month plus a little extra for attending meetings – or you have private income and be motivated by a strong public service ethic. You will need a sound understanding of the Public Administration Management Act, Companies Act, King Code of Governance and the legal and personal responsibilities inherent in accepting directorship of a private company, let alone a state-owned company.

You would, nevertheless, have to be a very brave person indeed – or a very foolish one – to dip your toes into the state broadcaster’s ANC-created, toxically-polluted, shark-infested slime.

Kicked for touch

Given that Baba loves Hlaudi and Faith Muthambi has, so far, not budged there seems to be a justifiable view that parliament has now kicked for touch in delaying, yet again, holding a meeting on the state broadcaster’s latest serial catastrophe. One can only hope that an interim board will be appointed before 2017.

In part this is because both Luthuli House and the rank and file are distracted.

As we hurtle towards junk status, as the gravy in the trough diminishes, as its rim becomes ever more bloodstained and as the snouting, accordingly, becomes ever-more manic, the ANC has little time for trivialities like creating a functional and representative SABC board.

Even the new Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, won’t touch Hlaudi & Co with a barge pole. Before launching into an ignorance-fuelled attack on her predecessor, and justifying DA concerns by nailing her colours firmly to the Snouting Faction mast, she issued an instruction that, from now on, only Gupta TV news bulletins would be allowed to feature on TV screens in the offices she now controls.

In closing: It seems that, in an epic manifestation of karma, the Snouter has been snouted.

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