Photo: Matthews Baloyi

 

Cape Town - The SABC board members appointed on Friday, as chairman and deputy chairwoman, are two people considered to be close allies of controversial chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

They voted in favour of Motsoeneng’s appointment last year despite a finding by the public protector that he should face disciplinary charges.

Obert Maguvhe, who had acted in the position since the resignation in disgrace of his predecessor, Zan-dile Ellen Tshabalala, was appointed chairman with immediate effect by President Jacob Zuma.

Leah Khumalo will be his deputy.

The move is sure to please Motsoeneng, who said at the launch last month the SABC had a “very good board” under Maguvhe, a professor at Unisa specialising in education for the visually impaired. He is himself blind.

“I’m happy that for the first time we are led by a blind person,” Motsoeneng said at the launch. “That shows that this country is moving forward. These professors and doctor, they believe in Hlaudi. Make no mistake.”

Motsoeneng is contesting a court order that he be suspended pending the outcome of an independent disciplinary inquiry flowing from the findings of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela that, among others, he lied about having passed matric when he first applied for a job at the SABC, irregularly inflated his own salary from R1.5m to R2.4m, along with those of others close to him, and purged staff who had testified against him in a disciplinary hearing, resulting in huge costs in settlements incurred by the public broadcaster.

Despite these findings he was appointed as permanent chief operating officer in July last year in a move justified by Communications Minister Faith Muthambi in terms of the SABC’s memorandum of incorporation, which she had amended to give herself such powers.

She is to appear before Parliament’s communications oversight committee on Tuesday to explain the legal basis for this, when the question of the removal of three board members under Maguvhe is also expected to arise. Maguvhe has said in Parliament that the three were removed following due process, which Muthambi said was in line with the Companies Act, but a legal opinion obtained by the committee found their removal had been unlawful.

Among other issues leading to their removal was Maguvhe’s objection to a briefing given by one of the three, Hope Zinde, to an ANC stakeholders’ meeting on a contested deal between the SABC and Multichoice for the latter to carry the SABC’s 24-hour news channel and the entertainment channel, at a cost of R550m over five years.

Critics argue the deal hands Multichoice effective control over the SABC’s news operations and over its valuable archive.

The deal and the removal of the three board members have angered some in the governing ANC and its alliance partners. However, Maguvhe has expressed his unequivocal support, saying at the entertainment channel launch the partnership with Multichoice should “rather be a marriage”.

“You can be our bride and we will be the bridegroom. We love you so much Multichoice. We want to enter into a marriage,” Maguvhe said.

In the meantime, the process to appoint new board members to fill vacancies left by Tshabalala and two others has ground to a halt, pending the resolution of the differences between Parliament and Muthambi, leaving the board without a quorum.

DA spokesman on communications, Gavin Davis, said Maguvhe and Khumalo were being rewarded for their loyalty to Motsoeneng and this had “hastened the decline of the SABC’s independence”.

“As far as Muthambi and Motsoeneng are concerned, Maguvhe has shown himself to be a pliant and loyal acting chairperson,” Davis said.

“He is now being rewarded for getting rid of excellent and independently-minded board members, and protecting Hlaudi Motsoeneng when he should have been fired.”

Communications portfolio committee chairwoman, Joyce Moloi-Moropa, could not be reached for comment.

Sekoetlane Phamodi, co-ordinator of the Support Public Broadcasting: SOS Coalition, said it was concerned about statements on the Multichoice deal: “It raises concerns around the extent to which the SABC will continue to be bedfellows with Multichoice and the propriety of that.”

Maguvhe needed to demonstrate he could champion the SABC’s public interest mandate and had yet to express himself on the amendments to the memorandum of incorporation and the SABC’s independence from the minister.

Despite the law requiring the SABC’s editorial policy to be updated every five years, this had not been done since 2004 and was now six years overdue, Phamodi said.

Political Bureau