The SABC has fallen into the grip of what Lenin would have described as “adventurers and rogues, boastful and noisy elements”, writes Wally Mbhele.
Johannesburg - There is a popular saying among Nigerian elders that madmen enjoy the shame and folly of dancing naked in the marketplace.
I was reminded of this when a civil servant asked me, on Friday morning, whether a private celebration of SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s 20 years of service with the public broadcaster was a worthy piece of news.
For those who are not aware, Motsoeneng’s celebration party was allocated a prime time slot during SABC’s 7am news bulletin on Friday.
SABC reporters and cameramen were summoned to produce a good narrative and television pictures of this shameless charade.
Also in attendance were unknown praise singers and characters who go by the name of the Hlaudi Motsoeneng Coalition.
Some of them are said to have benefited immensely from Motsoeneng’s unprecedented maladministration at the SABC.
They were all captured on camera heaping praise after praise on this cantankerous SABC man for his “20-year milestone”.
My reaction to the civil servant’s question was: “This can happen only at the SABC.” For under Motsoeneng, the SABC has lost even its last shred of respectability and credibility as a result of mismanagement.
However, Motsoeneng’s sheer madness must be taken in its proper context. The insanity evident in Motsoeneng’s actions has the endorsement of Communications Minister Faith Muthambi.
Muthambi left many gasping for air this week after her tirade against DA MP Gavin Davis, who had criticised her for her alleged interference in the day-to-day running of the SABC.
She is rumoured to have written letters to some members of the SABC board, asking them to give reasons why they should not be suspended.
Those board members are rumoured to be trying to implement Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s recommendation, confirmed by a high court judgment, that Motsoeneng be suspended and disciplined for fraudulent behaviour.
Muthambi argued that she was responsible for the day-to-day running of the SABC board.
She said she was the sole shareholder in the SABC acting on behalf of the government.
She is wrong and must be excused on the grounds of ignorance.
It is common knowledge that the board is appointed by the president on the recommendation of Parliament’s communications portfolio.
When this was pointed out to her, Muthambi lost it.
She outdid herself. If late president Nelson Mandela’s personal assistant, Zelda “Van Riebeeck” la Grange, finally showed her true colours as she drifted back into the laager with her racist rant, Muthambi was not to be outclassed.
Resorting to the race card instead of engaging in facts, Muthambi left many gasping for air as she told Davis how a black “woman minister” did not need a white male “sitter”.
Without being asked, she again showed why she lacked political finesse.
She hailed Motsoeneng’s latest appointment as SABC acting chief executive, describing him in glowing terms as “a black person at the helm of the SABC”.
If anything, Muthambi’s actions are irresponsible, let alone unlawful.
Motsoeneng’s presence and continued employment at the SABC is technically illegal.
In the light of the high court judgment, such ill behaviour appears to be encouraged by the minister.
Nor is the minister concerned about Madonsela’s findings, which triggered the high court judgment that Motsoeneng’s appointment was irregular.
Motsoeneng committed fraud in his application for a position at the SABC.
He said that he had a matric, which he did not.
Motsoeneng, according to Madonsela, cost the SABC R29 million when the broadcaster had to settle in cases brought by employees he had fired illegally.
Motsoeneng completed three appraisals of his personal performance in one year, increasing his salary from R1.5m to R2.4m – a figure close to that earned by President Jacob Zuma, which is in the region of R2.6m.
Although he has reduced the SABC to nothing short of a Banana Republic, Motsoeneng continues to enjoy the minister’s support.
The person Muthambi should consider suspending is Motsoeneng – and not the board members.
But Muthambi does not inspire confidence and she is not the right person to build public faith in the SABC.
That an important public institution such as the SABC has been hijacked by rascals and chance-takers means nothing to her.
That the SABC has fallen into the grip of what Lenin would aptly have described as “adventurers and rogues, boastful and noisy elements” is not what South Africans deserve.
Instead of promoting national values and efficiency at the SABC, South Africa is witnessing a cabinet minister who has become an active participant in the drowning of this important public institution.
But Zuma won’t fire her.
We all know why. Mediocrity is protected. There is no courage to deal with it.
We are at the height of insanity.
* Wally Mbhele is the Editor-At-Large of Independent Media’s Sunday publications.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.