The shenanigans at the SABC, while not completely surprising, emphasise once more how much our society is being overtaken by fear, says says Mosibudi Mangena.
We fought against fear as an overpowering element in South African politics while students in the South African Students’ Organisation in the Sixties and Seventies. We recognised fear as a factor that militated against the majority black population fighting effectively for their freedom. We thought we had made headway, as the June 1976 uprising and subsequent events testify.
Imbued with the philosophy of Black Consciousness, as many of those young people were, they confronted the oppressive system and its forces without fear.
Almost all in the leadership of the uprising were affiliated to the South African Students’ Movement.
But alas, under the democracy we fought so hard for, we are regressing into the paralysing sickness of fear.
Under its debilitating force, we watch ourselves sliding, almost inexorably, into the quagmire of corruption, maladministration and looting, which might rob us of the enjoyment of our democracy.
The tragicomedy at the SABC is just as surreal as it is depressing.
Why should it require the public protector to uncover all those funny things when there is a governing body to look after the affairs of the corporation? Hlaudi Motsoeneng was irregularly appointed acting chief operations officer of the SABC; he has neither a matric certificate nor any other qualification for this important position; he fired employees that crossed his path; he got a salary increase three times in one year, from R1.4 million to R2.4m a year; he irregularly increased the salaries of some employees, ballooning the SABC salary bill by a whopping R29m.
All these things happened under the watch of several successive boards of the SABC. Where were they looking? Were they all sleeping on the job and unable to perform their fiduciary responsibilities?
One glance at the successive boards of the public broadcaster reveals a mighty concentration of brain cells, experience and varied skills, which leave you with no doubt that they are eminently qualified to provide this important body with the corporate governance it deserves.
They perfectly understood the law, corporate governance and ethics.
Motsoeneng’s malpractices were blatant and brazen. How come the boards did not take action?
Could it be that all these groups of high-calibre people couldn’t pick up these shenanigans? Or did they know that wrong things were taking place but kept quiet?
If so, why?
What gave Motsoeneng so much power that he could ride roughshod over the boards and basically everybody else? Does that perhaps explain the frequent resignations of board members? Did he perhaps represent some powerful forces that made him almost untouchable? If that is the case, what are these forces?
Taking everything into account, it is inescapable to conclude that the boards knew that the Motsoeneng bullying was wrong, but were too petrified to do anything about it.
It would be far worse if they were to say they saw nothing wrong.
That would mean that the trust that Parliament and many of us had in them and their competence was misplaced.
The oppressive regime sustained its fear over us through brutal force that included arrests, shootings, beatings, torture, imprisonment and even death.
We do not have that kind of thing presently, except the shootings during demonstrations as experienced in Ficksburg, Marikana and Mothutlung.
Fear is now induced through more sophisticated and insidious methods.
People now whisper about their political, social and economic activities being smothered.
They talk about being marked and their social and economic mobility being blocked if they do not kowtow to the wishes of certain forces. It feels almost unreal to watch some confident and good people being reduced to whispering about their plight.
There are many compatriots who know what the right thing is, but do the wrong things because they are fearful of offending certain forces. They then keep quiet or whisper about the goings on. These compatriots are to be found in municipalities, parastatals and elsewhere.
The SABC is not alone in this mess. It is just that it is high profile and in the public eye.
The public protector is being unnecessarily overworked because men and women, who are in positions of responsibility, would simply not do the right thing. There was no need for Thuli Madonsela to probe the SABC.
The public broadcaster has a board of competent people who simply needed to exercise their responsibilities without fear, and the Hlaudi Motsoeneng bizarre phenomenon would not occur.
What was the point of fighting for freedom if we are going to live in fear in our own country? For the sake of our country and posterity, we should banish fear from our psyche and public life.
We should not allow it to become a permanent feature of our public life.
* Mosibudi Mangena is a former president of Azapo, and former minister of science and technology.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.