File photo by Cara Viereckle

Cape Town - Parliament’s communications committee has been asked to hold a special hearing to get to the bottom of a spate of resignations of SABC board members, who have cited “intolerable interference” in the affairs of the board, multiple breaches of the law by the chief executive officer and the board chairman and failures of corporate governance as reasons for their going.

The new board was appointed in 2010 in the wake of the financial crisis that led to the National Treasury granting the public broadcaster a R1.4 billion loan guarantee and the dissolution of the previous board. But it has since been rocked by seven resignations among its 12 non-executive members, most recently that of Patricia Makhesha, who left at the end of last year.

Now the SOS Coalition, an NGO representing unions, media roleplayers and other interested parties, has obtained the letters of resignation of all the board members except one, and the contents “make for depressing reading”.

It has written to the chairman of Parliament’s communications oversight committee, Sikhumbuzo Kholwane, and President Jacob Zuma, who appoints the board, asking that the committee hold a special hearing on the concerns raised in the letters.

Barbara Masekela, the first to go, in August 2010, wrote to board chairman Ben Ngubane with “deep anguish and disappointment” about her reasons for leaving. She complained about the process leading to the “irregular appointment” of the group executive in charge of news and current affairs, Phil Molefe. The process had been “forced to realise a pre-conceived result”, she said.

She also bemoaned the “crisis-management style” at the SABC. “We have lurched from one crisis to another, relegating corporate governance to the bottom of the pile.”

Felleng Sekha followed her a month later, writing that circumstances in the board made it “impossible for me to discharge my fiduciary duties”. Repeated attempts by board members to raise these issues had come to naught.

David Niddrie, in his letter addressed to Zuma, cited the “comprehensive and sustained failure of oversight”, singling out the communications minister and the parliamentary committee. He was especially concerned about the “multiple breaches of the law by the chief executive officer (Solly Mokoetle at the time) and the chairperson (Ngubane)”.

He said he and the three other board members who had resigned were active members of the ANC and their leaving had nothing to do with party political differences or alleged attempts by the minister to establish ANC control over the SABC. Peter Harris, who left in June 2011, had referred to “intolerable interference from the ministry”, then headed by Roy Padayachie.

In their letter to Kholwane, SOS Coalition acting co-ordinator Kate Skinner and campaign organiser Sekoetlane Jacob Phamodi say the NGO “believes strongly the Presidency and Parliament cannot simply accept these letters of resignation and move on”.

The coalition said “the resignation letters, collectively viewed, tell the same story of a board beleaguered with internal strife, poor governance, undue interference from the Communications Ministry… and a lack of support or political will from oversight structures to champion the board’s efforts in turning the SABC around”.

Political Bureau