Capetown-140916-SABC board chairperson Ellen Tshabalala and SABC COO Hlaudi Mostoeneng during the SABC meeting that was held in Parliament old chamber -Picture by Bheki Radebe

The Ellen Zandile Tshabalala saga has reached crazy heights. Someone has got to end this madness, writes Jovial Rantao.


It should be an exercise that in this era of massive technology should take a few minutes, at most, a few hours to resolve. Yet it has taken days, weeks, months and now our hard-earned taxpayers’ money is being spent, not to alleviate poverty, but to force a “highly regarded” member of our society to prove that she has the educational qualifications she claims to have.

The Ellen Zandile Tshabalala saga has reached crazy heights. Someone has got to stop her. Someone has got to end this madness.

This self-made disgrace reached a new outrageous level this week. Seven days ago, we thought it had climaxed when Tshabalala made parliamentary history by becoming the first chair of a state-linked enterprise to arrive at a committee meeting with an advocate in tow.

Parliamentary committees, the heart of our democracy peopled by doyens of accountability, have, in their time, handled many a controversial issue.

From the Sarafina production, which cost us R21 million, to the Arms Deal, which at the last count took R80 billion from the public kitty, parliamentary committees have handled all kinds of issues with one goal in mind, and that was to hold accountable those in public office who spend money from the public purse.

And even when politicians and the most senior civil servants have been hauled before a parliamentary committee and called to account, none of them has had the temerity to bring a lawyer.

They understood that they were accountable to South Africans, the people in whose name they were in Parliament. And this is the important and sensitive part that Tshabalala seems to have forgotten. This entire process, the political overtones notwithstanding, is designed to hold her accountable.

This is a process – an important process – to which all the high and mighty submit themselves. In doing so, they humble themselves before their ultimate boss – the people. The people of South Africa.

But not our Ellen Zandile Tshabalala. Not our leading and powerful woman who has sat on the boards of many other state-owned enterprises such as Transnet.

She cannot humble herself. She is too arrogant.

She can afford to wave the ultimate middle finger at the president and all of us because she has got away with her misrepresentation until now and can use taxpayers’ funds to frustrate efforts to get to the truth.

Tshabalala’s game reached new heights this week, when she took to the courts to interdict her boss President Jacob Zuma and Parliament – the institution through which she accounts to all of us – from holding an inquiry to establish whether she has a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Africa.


Why did she go to all this trouble? In this day and age, where our lives are in the clutches of the biggest digital revolution man has seen, it should have been very easy for Tshabalala and those who appointed her, to prove that she has or does not have the qualifications that she claims to have.

Why is South Africa being taken through this unnecessary process? Why is our hard-earned taxpayers’ money being wasted on an exercise that is totally unnecessary?

Yes, our money is financing the contemptuous action by Tshabalala. She is defending a position to which she was appointed by Zuma. And as such, is entitled, like so many before her, like so many elsewhere in the public service, to get you and me to finance the expensive legal processes in order to defend the indefensible.

However, the truth is that in defending herself, nonsensical as it may seem, she is behaving as if she has something to hide. According to the Mail & Guardian newspaper, Tshabalala did register for studies at Unisa, and for that, she deserves kudos for trying.

The report, however, points out that she failed dismally. That doesn’t make her a bad person. What does make her a bad person is to claim that she has qualifications when she cannot produce proof to back her claims.

She needs to learn one thing: what you cannot prove does not exist. She can hire the best advocate our money can buy; she can delay all she wants; but if she cannot prove that she has the qualifications she wants us all to believe she has, then they don’t exist.

It’s as simple as that.

There is a twist in this tale.

While, through their current process, Parliament is pointing fingers at Tshabalala, the MPs are pointing three at themselves.

Fact is, they should have done their homework, a little research, to corroborate Tshabalala’s claims about her qualifications before they recommended her to the president for a place on the board.

The president is not exonerated. He, too, should have used the elaborate resources at his disposal to check the individual he was about to appoint as chairwoman of the board.

President Zuma would probably argue that doubting a parliamentary committee is politically uncouth, but our experience now teaches us that he should have been more careful.

* Jovial Rantao is editor of The Sunday Independent.

Sunday Independent