Ed Herbst: Were you brave? Suna Venter gone but Hlaudi enforcers remain

JOHANNESBURG — The death of journalist Suna Venter sent shockwaves through South Africa’s media fraternity, signalling a reminder of just dangerous and unforgiving the craft can be. One of the SABC 8, Venter stood up to Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Unfortunately, she would ultimately pay with her life as a group of unknown individuals are said to have harassed and intimidated her, bringing an ultimately deadly broken heart condition. Veteran journalist Ed Herbst has previously highlighted how the ANC has adopted a dismissive, aggressive attitude towards the media, essentially following in the footsteps of its evil Apartheid, National Party predecessors. And while changes are afoot with a new board at the SABC and Hlaudi having been fired, the latter’s enforcers are reportedly still at the broadcaster. There are those who also stood by and did nothing while the SABC descended into chaos. – Gareth van Zyl

Suna Venter

By Ed Herbst*

What she went through to state her case is shocking and comes down to nothing less than extreme harassment. The blame for all of this can be placed squarely on the shoulders of Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s SABC. – Anton Alberts Business Day 4/7/2017

I’m angry at white colleagues who used their experience gathered in a white, privileged SABC to become part and parcel of the ‘new’ SABC, lying to reinstate the man who is responsible for the state that we are in. White, middle-aged men with only one objective: to gather as much pension money as possible and to buy a new white Mercedes-Benz every two years; men with cancerous bodies who came back from pension as advisors with exuberant packages to advise an illiterate narcissist with a God complex to bleed empty the SABC in the name of transformation and upliftment. I knew these men pre-1994. – Foeta Krige Huffington Post 4/7/2017

When the death of SABC8 member Suna Venter was  made known on 29 June, the Democratic Alliance — through its shadow communication minister Phumzile van Damme — immediately expressed its condolence.

Veteran journalist Ed Herbst

Almost 18 hours later the ANC communication minister, Ayanda Dlodlo responded, not with a specific tribute to Venter, but in a broader statement about four news people who had died in the past few months. Given the role that the ANC’s deployed cadres like Hlaudi Motsoeneng had played in the persecution of Venter and her colleagues, this was not surprising.

Devoid of honesty or honour after twenty years of ANC control, the SABC dismissed the death of Suna Venter in two sentences in its flagship 7 pm English TV news bulletin on 29 June and refused to give live coverage of her memorial service last week, leaving it to rival station eNCA to do so. It is a despicable organisation — like the political party that it has so slavishly idolised and promoted for the past two decades. It was also in contravention of all the norms of ethical news broadcasting.

Continuing in the ANC tradition of action or inaction to the detriment of the SABC, the Speaker in the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete is, for as long as possible, delaying tabling the report about the Motsoeneng supporters and deployed cadres who lied to parliament and President Jacob Zuma ’s tardiness in appointing the Special Investigating Unit that could result in Hlaudi Motsoeneng getting away with his ill-gotten gains. It just goes on and on doesn’t it?

It was eNCA legal journalist Karyn Maughan who brought to our attention in a Twitter post that, at the height of her appalling ordeal, Suna Venter had the words ‘Were You Brave?’ tattooed on her arm.

Ivor Price, former SABC news anchor who was told to leave the SABC building in Auckland Park after expressing concern about the ANC-controlled state broadcaster’s corrupt news practices and its victimisation of ethical journalists, referred to Venter’s bravery in a tribute carried in Naspers newspapers, part of which I have translated.

Heroic silence

Few people are really aware of all the personal setbacks so many of us suffered as a result of Motsoeneng’s reign of terror.

Few people know of all the sleepless nights, the fears, tears and rejection that are now manifest in Suna’s untimely death.

Suna took most of the blows on her own, in nearly heroic silence until her body gave up this week.

For those of us who remain, this is an incentive to be braver in our fight for a cause we believe in, but also a quite serious warning that we will simply have to do more to avoid walking the same road again.

Were you brave?

Demonstrators protest against the decision by public broadcaster the SABC that it would not broadcast scenes of violent protest, in Cape Town, South Africa, July 1, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Read Foeta Krige’s angry polemic which recalls the role played by people like  Anton Heunis, specifically named  by Suna Venter, as one of the leading ‘Enforcers’, who retired for health reasons in 2015 but was still healthy enough to continue working as  an adviser to Motsoeneng – on a salary of more than R4 million a year. He would also have been referring to the role played by Alwyn Kloppers in Motsoeneng’s appointment and in the subsequent and farcical SABC-manipulated disciplinary hearings at which, for obvious reasons, Motsoeneng  chose not to testify but where Kloppers was the only witness to give evidence in his defence.

There is one person who knows exactly what happened when Motsoeneng was first appointed. Helena (Botes) van Vuuren was News Editor in Bloemfontein under the late Jan Olivier as Regional Editor in the mid-1990s. Helena did the initial interview with Motsoeneng and processed his application which was supported by Kloppers and Pippa Green. When she found that he was not suitably trained or qualified to be appointed, her concerns were ignored. Olivier backed her. Eventually both were overruled and the Intellectual Lecher, the man with his own choir and his own bodyguards – paid for by you and I – was appointed and the financial damage to what has been ‘transformed’ by the ANC into a state broadcaster runs into billions of rands. The reputational damage to the SABC and the country is incalculable.

At a subsequent disciplinary hearing, Jan Olivier was made out to have been an evil racist who wouldn’t give Motsoeneng a chance. In fact, Olivier did his job, pointing out to Kloppers in the process that the appointment would be a transgression of SABC regulations.

Olivier was posthumously vindicated by the findings of the SA Press Council in 2012, by the findings of Thuli Madonsela’s in her report, ‘When Governance and Ethics Fail’ two years later and, subsequently, by a series of court findings.

More cartoon magic at www.zapiro.com.

Remember, too, Jimi ‘The door or the window’ Matthews and all the other ‘Enforcers’ of his ilk who Suna Venter identified by name in her submission to parliament. The relevant section is below:

These are the people who form part of the network Mr Hlaudi Motsoeneng created around him to execute his decisions and agenda – specifically as it pertains to the newsroom.  

  • Mr Anton Heunis – ‘Commercial Adviser’
  • Mr Simon Tebele – GCEO: News and Current Affairs
  • Ms Sebolelo Ditlhakanyane (Head of Radio News and Current Affairs)
  • Mr Nyana Molete (Line Manager: TV News)
  • Ms Nothando Maseko (Head of TV News

These are the main enforcers of Mr Motsoeneng’s wishes in news management. They continue with their ways even in his absence and although I personally have no supporting evidence, Mr Motsoeneng is believed broadly to still be calling the shots on many levels at the SABC despite his removal.

Suna Venter’s submission to Parliament on 14/1/2017

Oppressive behaviour

She’s dead, they’re still there – snouting feverishly, as Foeta Krige points out – and this oppressive behaviour towards employees is scheduled to continue on their watch. A new purge has started with Sully Motsweni, mentioned in the Public Protector report as an irregularly promoted Motsoeneng favourite, playing a singular role.

What needs to be stressed and cannot be emphasised strongly enough is that way in which Suna Venter was hounded to her death is unique to the post-1994 era of ANC control of the SABC. So, too, was the experience of former forensic auditor at the SABC, Elsje Oosthuizen whose home was firebombed after she started investigating the corruption of Mafika Sihlali, the Elephant Consortium partner of Dali Mpofu who joined him at the state broadcaster  – no conflict of interest there, of course – and whose scheduled prosecution has subsequently mysteriously disappeared from the court rolls.

Nothing remotely like this happened to staff prior to 1994 when Wynand Harmse was the chief executive at the SABC and people like Kobus Hamman and Johan Pretorius ran the news division.

Were you brave?

Two things are clear about the horrifying victimisation of Suna Venter which included almost daily SMS messages threatening her life and her home being routinely broken into.

  • She was in substantial measure targeted because she was white
  • The people who attempted to murder her tried to do so just so that there would be one less impediment to their control of  access to the SABC trough were not people who vote for the Democratic Alliance

Should you dispute the first point ask yourself why SABC 8 member, Thandeka Gqubule, whose courageous and eloquent testimony was one of the highlights of parliament’s Ad Hoc Committee inquiry into systemic, ANC-controlled SABC corruption and abusive behaviour towards staff, was not shot in the face in an attempt to blind her and was not abducted, tied to a tree and left to die in the field which was set alight around her – as happened to Venter? This is an incontrovertible fact which in no way diminishes the stellar role played by Gqubule in the fearless struggle by the SABC 8 to counter media oppression. and the attempts to silence them.

What also needs to be remembered is that Suna Venter was not the first person to die because of Motsoeneng’s evil machinations which were strongly endorsed and supported by ANC sock puppets like Faith Muthambi, Ellen Tshabalala, Ben Ngubane, James Aguma, Mbulaheni Maguvhe, Nomvuyo Mhlakazathe, the wife of ANC MP Buti Manamela  – whose appointment to the SABC board was a typical example of ANC nepotism – and the above-mentioned ‘Enforcers’.

Hlaudi Motsoeneng

Read the article by Crystal Orderson, a former colleague in the SABC’s Sea Point news office, who describes Motsoeneng’s early career in Bloemfontein. It was during this period that he threatened the life of a senior white colleague who was opposed to the way in which that office was being turned into an ANC propaganda centre by Motsoeneng. As a result of this threat, the white staffer resigned, was unable to find alternative employment and, in despair, took his own life, bereaving his widow and orphaned children. That’s how the ANC rolls.

Venomous Zuptoid attack

In the meantime the venomous Zuptoid attack on media freedom continues unabated:

  • Like the National Party before it, the ANC constantly threatens to introduce a media appeals tribunal through which it can exercise greater control over press coverage of itself
  • Through the BLF, the Zuptoids have taken to assaulting journalists and damaging their property as a means of intimidating them. A court ruling in this regard was treated with typical contempt
  • A clear message that dissent will not be tolerated was sent by one of the country’s leading purveyors of Fake News when an editor was dismissed for publishing an article critical of the ANC and the Zuptoid facilitator Brian Molefe. An appeal to the SA Press Council by Dr Iqbal Survé against the exposure of this matter – in a rival newspaper, of course – was dismissed.
  • The edicts of Hlaudi Motsoeneng continue to be implemented at the SABC. Unsurprisingly, given the ANC norm of chaos and hate, a familiar scenario is now playing itself out in the Mpumalanga regional office of the state broadcaster. It never stops …
  • Surveillance of SABC staff is being stepped up by its Zuptoid management. Former colleagues at the SABC’s regional headquarters in the Western Cape, the building in Sea Point, tell me that it is being saturated with CCTV cameras. I have little doubt that the same process is happening in SABC buildings throughout the country. It would be interesting to know the tender details and whether our State Security Minister, the immaculately manicured David Mahlobo, played any role in this increased surveillance of SABC staff. Questions in parliament please because even at the height of civil unrest under PW Botha during the 1980s, such steps were never contemplated by the SABC management at the time.

Three words

Three tattooed words which are a legacy of an empathetic, impeccably ethical and courageous life;

Three words which will serve as an enduring inspiration to those who have chosen and will choose news gathering and dissemination as a vocation;

Three words which are a savage censure of those who have turned the Beloved Country and institutions like the SABC into a trough and of those who side with the despots of this world who they so closely resemble in aspiration and in deed;

Were you brave?

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