The communications minister has nipped in the bud a bid by the board to have Zandile Tshabalala take the top job at the troubled broadcaster.
The SABC board's chair, Zandile Tshabalala, was nominated by her board to act as group chief executive officer of the public broadcaster shortly after Lulama Mokhobo resigned from the post – but the communications minister was not having any of it.
The Mail & Guardian has been reliably informed that Tshabalala's nomination to the acting post had to be approved by Communications Minister Yunus Carrim, who sought legal advice and then turned it down.
If Carrim had given the green light for Tshabalala's appointment to the highly paid job, broadcasting insiders say it would have been seen as an abuse of power, and breached good governance practices at the public broadcaster.
Carrim's spokesperson Siyabulela Qoza said the SABC board has considered some possibilities for an acting chief executive. "The minister and board agree that the appointment should take place as soon as possible."
Tshabalala is a member of President Jacob Zuma's Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Presidential Advisory Council. In March last year, she was appointed to the SABC's interim board after the previous board was dramatically dissolved. In October, Zuma confirmed Tshabalala as the board chair.
In the run-up to the May 7 general elections, speculation has been running rife in the industry that Tshabalala might be appointed to act as the SABC's chief executive. In a statement put out by the Media Workers Association of South Africa's (Mwasa) general secretary Tuwani Gumani at the end of February, he criticised Tshabalala for saying publicly that there was "no crisis at the SABC", following the release of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's report on the SABC, titled When Governance and Ethics Fail.
The SABC, according to Gumani, was in real trouble because Mokhobo had handed in her resignation but Tshabalala and her board had not advertised her vacancy. "There are rumours that she is very keen to fill the position of CEO herself," wrote Gumani. "This is a crisis in any language and by any definition."
One person down
The SABC board is already one person down after Noluthando Gosa resigned as a member. Although Gosa declined to comment, the M&G has been informed she quit because the number of SABC board meetings called by the chair had risen sharply, which left her unable to attend to her other commitments.
Although there are meant to be at least six SABC board meetings a year, between January and December last year more than 25 board meetings were called. Already this year, six board meetings have been called to deal with critical issues, including the damning skills audit report and the public protector's report.
Following Mokhobo's departure at the end of February, the SABC's chief executive post is now vacant, which in itself is a contravention of the public broadcaster's regulations.
Names of other candidates who could act in the post have now been put forward by the board for consideration by Carrim.
En masse resignation
These names are believed to include former SABC board member Lumko Mtimde, who was part of the previous board that resigned en masse last year. Formerly the chief executive of the Media Development and Diversity Agency, he raised eyebrows after he campaigned for the establishment of a media appeals tribunal, which has been widely punted by the ANC. He declined to speak to the M&G.
The M&G has been told by SABC sources that Mokhobo might be asked to return to act in the post until a permanent appointment is made, but no approaches have apparently been made to her.
Besides, the public protector has recommended that acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng be removed from his post after she accused him of many irregularities.
Madonsela said she found it "discouraging" that the current SABC board appeared to have sprung blindly to Motsoeneng's defence.
Motsoeneng has frequently been accused of censorship at the SABC after he canned programmes he considered offensive to Zuma.