Journalist victimisation nothing less than ring fencing the SABC’s feeding trough

SABC_Sea_PointIn the latest of his vitally informative pieces on the SABC and the politically-deployed leadership that has caused it to lurch from crisis to crisis, trampling every tenet of decent journalism and management practice, Ed Herbst, reveals what happens to its victims. This story and his other diligently researched contributions benefit from his renowned institutional memory, drawn from his almost life-long tenure there. They are not for the faint hearted. He pulls no punches in arguing that the corporate leadership victimisation of staff and other journalists is motivated by their need to ‘ring fence,’ the constantly topped-up feeding trough. I worked at the SABC Sea Point studios for a couple of months after taking a Cape Times retrenchment package in 2000. I’ll never forget the shocked face of a cameraman I cheekily urged to film regional manager Jeffry Twala snoring at his Sea Point desk during the most hectic afternoon editing time. I thought it would be lark to play the footage at the upcoming office Christmas party. “Jees, Chris – I’ll lose my job!”’ he said, looking at me as if I’d lost my mind. Today I shake my head at my naiveté. That was almost literally, child’s play, compared to what’s going on today. – Chris Bateman

By Ed Herbst*

The Sunday Times this week reveals the wanton wastage of taxpayers’ money by the head of SABC’s international acquisitions department, Matilda Gaboo. Gaboo was appointed by former CEO Dali Mpofu, who oversaw her paying R38-million to friends for television programmes that have never been broadcast. Even as allegations of mass corruption and gross mismanagement began to emerge, in as early as June 2005, Mpofu did nothing to discipline Gaboo or stop the spending spree. Let us not forget that Mpofu and the current SABC board were manoeuvred into the broadcaster’s hot seats by axed president Thabo Mbeki and his cronies. – Tinkering won’t fix the SABC Sunday Times 22/3/2009

The attacks on these whistleblowers suggest the crisis at the SABC is at the level of mafia politics. This is a pattern that we have seen before when individuals have the courage to speak out against those in power. The fact that these attacks have specifically targeted the women of the SABC 8 is particularly disturbing. – R2K 15/11/2016

Veteran journalist Ed Herbst
Veteran journalist Ed Herbst

Anything the Nats could do, the ANC can do better and journalists who are aged sixty years and more will remember how, just as the lives and property of the SABC 8 are now being threatened , so too were journalists intimidated in the apartheid era, particularly in the Eastern Cape.

There is a fundamental difference though.

The National Party-voting security police who harassed journalists in the 1970s and 80s were undoubtedly evil people and petty pilferers but, in the main, they were driven by ideology – retaining political hegemony.

What drives those now trying to harm or kill the SABC 8 and damage their property is not ideology, though, but a desire to ring-fence the trough.

The SABC news personnel who left the SABC during the truly appalling era when the SABC was slowly diminished and immiserated on the watch of ANC acolytes like Dali Mpofu, Snuki Zikalala, Christine Qunta and Thami Mazwai will however assure the SABC 8 that, so far, they have been lucky.

At least their homes, as yet, have not been firebombed, a fate suffered by an (obviously) former SABC employee, Elsje Oosthuizen

Harmed or killed

On 17 February 2008, City Press reported that the SABC had hired four bodyguards to protect its head of internal audits, Elsje Oosthuizen, from being harmed or killed by high-ranking SABC officials being investigated for fraud and corruption.

According to the article, Oosthuizen was investigating influential individuals within the Corporation, including a well-known station manager, a marketing manager and a top SABC lawyer.

The top SABC lawyer referred to is Mafika Sihlali, a close friend and business associate of Dali Mpofu. Mpofu was perceived as compromised from the start in this regard.

SABC_Journalist_June_2016

When Sihlali’s criminal activities were exposed by the SABC’s forensic auditors in 2007, he allegedly threatened to assault some of the women involved:

            Annexed to the audit report was a letter from then-company secretary, Ramani Naidoo, in a section titled “Possible intimidation of SABC employees and/or witnesses”. Naidoo said Sihlali had looked at a picture on the wall and asked if she knew the artist, Joe Maseko. “I said I didn’t. He then said he had broken Joe’s legs once and he was here to do the same to me,” Naidoo wrote.

In 2007, Sihlali went to court in an attempt to stop the investigation into his activities and any actions being taken against him as a result – does that procedure sound familiar?

Now, however, Sihlali seems to have mysteriously fallen off the SAPS radar after a warrant for his arrest was issued in 2012. Nothing further has been heard about his court case and perhaps questions can be asked in parliament.

But wait, there’s more – and you can read the tragic details here.

It’s all about the trough, you see, and the anchor quote to this article refers to another SABC employee, Matilda Gaboo, who graced the front page of the Sunday Times on 22 March 2009 under the headline SABC boss blows millions on dud shows – Executive also stands accused of handing out contracts to friends.

Dali Mpofu
Dali Mpofu

Gaboo was protected throughout by Dali Mpofu and three years ago I wrote an article about these nefarious endeavours.

While researching the Gaboo article I interviewed the whistle blower (WB) involved and WB told me that she would bop down the corridors of the SABC belting out Umshini wami and exulting about how she was going to “Stuff up (a euphemism) the boers.” WB was quickly dismissed, went to the CCMA and won. Unsurprisingly, nobody from the state broadcaster attended the CCMA hearings to defend and justify the dismissal and, unsurprisingly, Kaizer Kganyago, the SABC’s alleged spokesman, had no comment at the time – he and his ilk never do.

Pervasive corruption

At the behest of Suzanne Vos and few other members of the SABC board which was elected in 2011, the SAPS was asked to investigate the pervasive corruption of ANC apparatchiks and deployed cadres at the SABC which had seen the Corporation bankrupted two years earlier.

The SAPS, controlled by the Snouters, is not overly keen on bringing ANC-linked politicians to justice however and the NPA often declines to prosecute even when there is prima facie evidence of wrongdoing – ask Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi, they’ll tell you.

In Gaboo’s case, though, the SAPs did investigate after complaints by the DA and Bantu Holomisa.

In August 2012 the Special Investigation Unit of the SAPS handed its report to the SABC board.

It is titled: Report on SIU investigations – Submission to Turnaround Sub-Committee of the Board 16 August 2012.

This followed a similar investigation by the Auditor General in September 2009.

The 2012 report identified R9.6m in fruitless and wasteful expenditure and R428.6m in irregular expenditure

The report recommended further action against Dali Mpofu, Mafika Sihlali and Matilda Gaboo:

As a result of acquisitions made by Ms Gaboo, SABC ended up with high volumes of redundant inventory and impairment losses of about R170m.

Fraudulent invoicing – SIU identified 23 matters that were outsourced during the period of Mr Sihlali’s employment at the SABC. Invoices paid by the SABC appeared to be grossly inflated or the work had not been performed.

The 2012 report also notes that:

In October 2011, certain employees came forward with allegations of wrongdoing at the SABC. These allegations have not been investigated by SIU as they fell outside of the proclamation period which was from 1 January 2005 to 29 October 2010.

To what extent, then, has the ANC followed up on these recommendations?

It hasn’t – that’s not how Snouting Inc. operates unless, like Cynthia Maropeng, you steal not from the taxpayer but from the ANC itself.

But wait – there’s more!

There is always more in the ANC’s Tsunami of Sleaze.

No due diligence

As I pointed out in my Media Online article, Gaboo then became, it is alleged, one of the beneficiaries of R120 million advanced by the IDC (without the slightest due diligence investigation) to an outfit called Alliance Mining – which, upon receipt of the loot, promptly closed its doors.

SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng
SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng

Despite articles by journalists like Stuart Theobald and Julius Cobbett there has been no attempt to recover the snouted R120 million, to explain the loss or to hold anyone to account.

That’s how the ANC rolls.

What does it say about our country that R120 million can simply disappear without anyone except two financial journalists expressing concern?

From there it is just a skip and a hop to R46 billion in irregular expenditure.

Let me put this into an international perspective.

In April 2014 the Premier of New South Wales in Australia, Barry O’Farrell, resigned after not declaring a bottle of wine given to him by a major donor to his party’s funds.

In the ‘Proudly brought to you by the ANC’ South Africa, things are somewhat different, though – ask the Zuptas, they’ll tell you!

The 2005 and 2009 investigations into SABC corruption, as limited as they were, cost almost R20 million and produced no tangible outcome. In fact, the corruption and management incompetence became worse and the losses simply staggering.

I know it was, of course, worse under apartheid but, in this regard, the National Party ethos differed from the current ANC approach. It jailed the members of its inner circle whose criminality had brought the party into disrepute – people like Hennie van der Walt, Leon de Beer and Pietie d Plessis.

Preventative maintenance

In 1992 Cyril Ramaphosa had this to say about how the ANC would ‘transform’ the SABC which, at that time, was solidly in the black and had safe buildings because preventative maintenance was a norm:

“If the SABC is to play a constructive role ahead of our country’s first experience with democracy, informing the electorate rather than attempting to persuade them to vote for a particular political party, it is necessary to replace those who currently control the SABC with others who are committed to democracy and to an electorate empowered by accurate and impartial information.”

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

Instead the SABC was transformed, like the party that controls it, into a Lean, Mean, Snouting Machine and Ramaphosa, joins the Race Merchants as he seeks to Trump his nemesis, Julius Malema, when it comes to denigrating and demonising his white fellow citizens who are described by President Jacob Zuma as “snakes”.

Between 1977 when I started at the SABC and 1998 when ANC acolytes took control of the SABC news team in Cape Town, I only personally experienced censorship of my reports on two occasions and those occurred in the Vorster and Botha eras.

After 1998, on the watch of people like Dali Mpofu, Christine Qunta and Thami Mazwai, and news editors like Snuki Zikalala and Jimi Matthews, censorship became pervasive and it’s even worse now – from Snuki Zikalala’s blacklist to Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s no list. Ask Jacques Steenkamp and Ivor Price – they’ll tell you.

When, on 17 march 1992 I stood in the queue to vote for change in F W de Klerk’s whites-only referendum, I dreamed of an SABC that would change for the better, little realising that we would end up with the ANC-orchestrated nightmare currently being experienced by the SABC 8 and, before them, by Elsje Oosthuizen.

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