Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Photo: Motshwari Mofokeng

During the break after a heated session of the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications last March, a buoyant acting SABC chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng walked towards a group of journalists gathered near the entrance to the committee room.

Beaming, Motsoeneng boasted to the journalists: “I’m still the COO (chief operations officer), mtshana.”

A few days earlier, he had survived yet another attempt to oust him.

At a quorate meeting of the SABC board, on which Motsoeneng still sits, members had decided to remove him as acting operations chief with immediate effect and return him to his previous position of group executive for provinces and stakeholder relations.

The board meeting on February 21 last year in Cape Town was chaired by then deputy chairman Thami ka Plaatjie in chairman Ben Ngubane’s absence.

Another senior SABC executive, Mike Siluma, was appointed acting COO but his stint was short-lived as Motsoeneng was reinstated a few days after being demoted.

Ka Plaatjie later withdrew the resolution, which he had signed after presiding over the meeting in Ngubane’s absence. Another board member at the time, Suzanne Vos, described it as an “illegal withdrawal”.

Ngubane and Ka Plaatjie resigned afterwards, leading to an exodus of board members.

Siluma, who was radio news and current affairs head, also resigned after Motsoeneng was reinstated.

Board member Lumko Mtimde, claiming to speak on behalf of the majority of board members, later said Motsoeneng’s reinstatement did not have any effect as the resolution to fire him was taken at a properly convened board meeting.

However, it became clear that the board members had failed in their bid to oust the powerful Motsoeneng, said to be Luthuli House’s pointman at the SABC’s head office in Auckland Park. And chief executive Lulama Mokhobo’s impending departure reaffirmed the widely held view that Motsoeneng’s office is where real power lies.

The remaining board members resigned and Motsoeneng still remains in his R2.7 million a year job and a new interim board, led by one of President Jacob Zuma’s black economic empowerment advisers, Zandile Tshabalala, was later appointed.

Soon after its appointment, the interim board gave Motsoeneng authority to sign an agreement affecting the SABC’s sought-after archives, a decision the interim board said was in line with the delegation of authority framework.

A permanent board, also led by Tshabalala, is now in charge.

Tomorrow, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela releases her final report on allegations of maladministration, systemic governance deficiencies, abuse of power and irregular appointment against Motsoeneng, who often acts as chief executive when Mokhobo is away.

Motsoeneng’s salary increased from R1.4m to R2.7m in a year and was approved by Ngubane, according to Madonsela’s damning provisional report, which recommended that Motsoeneng be disciplined and repay the irregular salary increase.

Ngubane told The Sunday Independent he was unwilling to “get involved at this stage”.

In the provisional report on the complaint by former SABC executives and other employees, Madonsela recommended that Motsoeneng’s position be filled by a qualified person and appropriate action taken against Motsoeneng’s alleged abuse of power and improper conduct in appointing executive Sully Motsweni and her salary increases, misrepresentation of his qualifications and the purging of staff members.

Motsweni has been acting risk and governance group executive, compliance, monitoring and operations head, acting Mpumalanga provincial general manager and group risk manager. Madonsela had been asked to probe the SABC board’s systemic governance failures and various allegations regarding certain appointments, dismissals and salaries.

Besides Motsoeneng, another 350 senior managers and executives may not have completed matric, according to a skills audit conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The last permanent SABC operations chief, Solly Mokoetle, had a master’s degree in journalism.

A few months ago, Communications Minister Yunus Carrim told Parliament that a person appointed in an acting capacity does not require the same qualifications and experience of the employees appointed in the permanent position.

Carrim said the SABC’s delegation of authority framework’s principles were that, prior to delegating any authority, the delegator must ensure that the delegate has sufficient knowledge of the corporation’s policies and procedures as well as any applicable statutory limitations or requirements, in order to ensure appropriate compliance.

The PwC audit revealed that close to two-thirds (2 252 or 62 percent) of the SABC’s more than 3 600 permanent employees files had no proof of a matric certificate in their employee personnel files.

PwC has recommended that the SABC implement corrective action and conduct investigations into 27 fraudulent matric certificates and tertiary qualifications, including 24 fraudulent or noncompliant senior certificates and Grade 10 certificates, and another three fraudulent or non-compliant tertiary qualifications.

Motsoeneng’s CV shows he passed a course in radio journalism in 1995, completed the SABC’s leadership development programme in 2003 and achieved a satisfactory level of competence in The Analysis of Contemporary Social Issues course at Wits University in 2005.

He was also awarded a special recognition certificate by the then University of the North (QwaQwa campus) for his role as a journalist and for being a role model and a source of motivation to the QwaQwa community.

The minimum qualifications for the position, according to the SABC, are “a relevant degree/diploma and/or appropriate qualifications”.

Attempts to fill the position permanently have been frustrated by former content enterprises executive Mvuzo Mbebe, who has taken legal action against the public broadcaster.

Mbebe has insisted that he was recommended for the COO position in July 2007 by the SABC board led by then chairman Eddie Funde.

A new board under Khanyi Mkhonza overturned Mbebe’s appointment, prompting him to interdict the SABC against filling the vacancy pending a review of Funde’s recommendation.

Madonsela’s report is not the only headache Motsoeneng may have to face.

The Save Our SABC (SOS) Coalition, which includes Cosatu and some of its affiliates, the Freedom of Expression Institute and the Broadcasting Electronic Media and Allied Workers Union (Bemawu), has been considering lodging another complaint with Madonsela or communications regulator Icasa.

The SOS Coalition believes the SABC’s 24-hour news channel is in direct conflict with its public service mandate.

“We sent a letter to management to complain about the channel,” said Bemawu president Hannes du Buisson, adding that the channel was Motsoeneng’s “baby”.

Tshabalala famously declared Motsoeneng was “more famous than the SABC” during the launch of the 24-hour news channel in August. Motsoeneng led the SABC team negotiating the R500m deal with MultiChoice.

Du Buisson said the channel was in breach of the SABC’s public service broadcasting mandate because only a handful of people had access to DStv, which broadcasts the channel.

MultiChoice, owners of DStv, recently revealed that it had 4.7 million subscribers in South Africa. The SA Audience Research Foundation puts viewership of SABC TV channels at up to 29.5 million.

Du Buisson admitted he had a good relationship with Motsoeneng, whom he described as “one of the few people (at the SABC) who is implementing stuff”. “He’s not afraid to make decisions.”

Du Buisson said although he disagreed with Motsoeneng on many issues, he resolved problems quite easily.

Motsoeneng is no stranger to controversy.

In 2006, the SABC suspended him and the late Free State SABC News regional editor James Barkhuizen after the two were involved in a brawl over coverage of political events, according to a long-serving and highly-placed SABC employee.

Again he survived and returned to the public broadcaster.

Motsoeneng, who officially joined the public broadcaster in 1995 as an intern without matric, was Lesedi FM’s current affairs executive producer at the time. He failed his matric at Metsimatsho Secondary School in Thaba Bosiu, QwaQwa, where he comes from.

He had been freelancing for the public broadcaster from as early as 1992. The panel that interviewed him for the executive producer position included then radio news and current affairs head Pippa Green, who later became a board member, and Barkhuizen, among others.

Green declined to comment.

According to an SABC insider, when former Free State regional news editor Ntshediseng Khoali was charged with disrupting relations, poor supervision and undermining and harming the SABC’s interests in 2002, she was accused of surrounding herself with employees she regarded as supporting her and excluding the rest, which resulted in a deep division among staff.

Motsoeneng was one of the employees said to be close to Khoali.

Though derided and even dismissed in many quarters, Motsoeneng is often personally involved in wage negotiations and willing to publicly confront the SABC’s many crises and defend its decisions.

In December 2012, Motsoeneng admitted he was responsible for canning a scheduled live Metro FM talk show on the ANC’s Mangaung national conference because of the absence of an ANC representative and contravention of the SABC’s editorial policy.

At the time, Motsoeneng said “We mean business at the SABC, this is leadership at its best”, but denied politics had played a role in his decision.

In October last year, he stopped television talk show The Big Debate, which is now flighted on the SABC’s rival 24-hour news channel eNCA.

Motsoeneng has declined to talk about the public protector’s report, but SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago said the broadcaster respected Madonsela’s processes and the privacy of the individuals named in the report.

“We will wait for the final report and recommendations,” Kganyago said.

It remains to be seen whether Motsoeneng, more famous than his employer, will outwit a damning Madonsela report, unlike ANC heavyweights - former police chief Bheki Cele, ex-cabinet ministers Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, Dina Pule and the late Sicelo Shiceka, among others.

[email protected]

- Sunday Independent