SABC board chairman Mbulaheni Maguvhe testifying before a parliamentary inquiry into the affairs of the broadcaster's board. Picture: Screen grab from YouTube
Parliament – South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) board chairman Mbulaheni Maguvhe did not know much of what was happening under his watch or could not remember, but believes the broadcaster can be cleaned up by firing everyone.

Maguvhe finally pitched to testify before the parliamentary inquiry into the affairs of the board on Tuesday after MPs had to motivate to the Speaker that a summons be served on him following his refusal to appear.

During his testimony, MPs were left flabbergasted as he defended the appointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the ever controversial SABC executive whom was found by a court this week to be unsuitable to hold any position at the broadcaster. Motsoeneng has no matric, but Maguvhe thought he was doing an excellent job, despite testimony from former board members, journalists and managers to the contrary.

"I was convinced he was doing a sterling job," Maguvhe told MPs of the 2014 decision by the board, via vote, to appoint Motsoeneng.

Despite the board being divided on his appointment in 2014, Maguvhe said voting for Motsoeneng was the right thing to do. "Unless if I can be proven otherwise, because from where I am, I think he does get things right and I believe anyone, even if you are good at something, you might as well have challenges."

This clearly did not go down well with African National Congress (ANC) MP Makhosi Khoza, who as an aside, said: "At least I have established you and I don't belong to the same world."

MPs went on to quiz him about his understanding of the broadcaster, asking him who the SABC's shareholder was. His answer should have been government on behalf of South Africans. Instead, he said: "As far as I know, the minister of the department of communications represents the shareholder of the SABC. She is representing Parliament."

ANC MP Jabu Mahlangu corrected him. "No, she definitely can't represent Parliament. She is representing the executive."

Asked whose money was used to fund the broadcaster, Maguvhe said 85 percent came from commercial deals, 13 percent from tv licences and two from government grants.

Mahlangu chose to correct him again. "That is a public purse. The failure of you as chair to respond to this question adequately raises serious questions about the losses the SABC has incurred," the MP said.

It was then time to test whether Maguvhe knew what was happening in the SABC newsroom. He said the matter of the group of journalists who were fired, and then reinstated, after objecting to what they called censorship and slanting of news, was never brought to the board's attention.

"I don't know. Who are you referring to?" asked Maguvhe.

He was also not aware of the journalists bringing a case before the Constitutional Court on the SABC's new editorial policy. The signing of what MPs called the "questionable" deal between the SABC and MultiChoice, giving the latter access to some of the broadcaster's archives, was something that happened before his time, Maguvhe said.

This is when committee chairman Vincent Smith intervened, reading out the minutes of a board meeting on January 29, 2015, when Maguvhe was already appointed to the board. The minutes show the deal, worth around R256 million, was approved in that meeting.

"How do you tell people of South Africa and Parliament you know nothing about it because it happened before your time?" Smith demanded.

Maguvhe clarified, saying he though he was being asked something else.

His memory faltered when asked whether Motsoeneng signed the deal before or after board approval. "Honestly speaking, I can't remember, so I don't want to even want to attempt to give a response which would not be the truth," Maguvhe told MPs.

Maguvhe was aware that Motsoeneng received a bonus in connection with the deal, but asked to comment on whether it was between R11 million and R33 million, his memory again failed him. "The bonus that was paid, I'm aware of it, although the amount being said...I don't have the figures."

He did, however, remember the firing of three board members last year, saying there was sufficient proof to merit their removal, despite claims that they were targeted for not agreeing with how the broadcaster was being run.

Maguvhe at some point was also asked to rate himself from one to 10 in terms of governance. He gave himself an eight.

Democratic Alliance MP Phumzile van Damme then asked, given the failures at the SABC under his watch, why he should continue receiving a salary.

This was his reply: "I said Parliament is the appointing authority, if I'm not mistaken, or would recommend to the appointing authority to terminate my services but what I've done and I say this with pride, under my leadership, the number of qualifications we receive from auditor general were drastically reduced.

"To me, we have an SABC that was stable's a lot we've achieved under my leadership, but I cannot respond to issues of why you cannot dismiss me. That I do not have an answer to."

Despite his achievements, Maguvhe admitted that there was something wrong at the SABC. All, he said, could be fixed if the entire broadcaster's staff were sacked and someone pressed the reset button.

"I don't think that most of the people who are there are loyal to the SABC itself. To give an example, you would discuss things and one minute later you get calls to verify a leak or leaks," he said.

"Further, the other thing that is not done correctly and I even joked to say even if I had powers, I would definitely chase everyone and employ new people because I think people do as they please here."

African News Agency