Cabinet has been told it will not discuss the appointment of President Jacob Zuma's preferred candidate for SABC boss.
The magnitude of Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s power was revealed this week when Cabinet was apparently told that his permanent appointment as SABC chief operating officer was not up for discussion.
The Mail & Guardian was reliably told – by sources in government and the tripartite alliance – that a minister who is a senior member of the South African Communist Party (SACP) tried to raise the issue at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting and was told that the matter was not on the agenda.
Communications Minister Faith Muthambi confirmed on Thursday that the matter was not discussed by Cabinet and was evasive when answering questions relating to the decision to appoint Motsoeneng on a permanent basis.
She claimed that Motsoeneng had been cleared by a law firm hired by the SABC. This was despite recommendations by the public protector that he be replaced following an investigation into his qualifications and conduct.
In her February report, Thuli Madonsela found Motsoeneng’s appointment irregular. She also found that he increased his salary from R1.5-million to R2.4-million in one year, and that he misrepresented his qualifications.
At the time of the report’s release Madonsela recommended that a new chief operating officer be appointed within 90 days.
The drama this week that led to the confirmation of Motsoeneng as chief operating officer – after Muthambi’s predecessor Dina Pule publicly stopped the appointment and the ANC objected to it – showed where the power really rested.
The confirmation is also likely to pit President Jacob Zuma against his comrades at Luthuli House, and against the ANC’s alliance partners. Zuma prefers Motsoeneng for the SABC’s most powerful position, but ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe is of the view that Motsoeneng is not the right man for the job.
Muthambi had to choose between the wishes of the ANC and SACP bosses and what the president wanted. She went with Zuma’s wish to have Motsoeneng’s appointment confirmed.
Muthambi, brought to Zuma’s Cabinet without the blessings of some within Luthuli House, has apparently refused to take orders from the ANC’s communications subcommittee – headed by the small businesses minister, Lindiwe Zulu.
Zulu confirmed that Muthambi did not attend the ANC subcommittee meeting this month. The meeting was convened to discuss, among other things, ANC policies and the direction Muthambi’s new department needed to follow.
“As ministers, we are expected to engage with the ANC subcommittees. We are implementing policies and decisions of the ANC,” said Zulu.
She said the ANC would wait for Muthambi to explain her decision to appoint Motsoeneng before it made any judgment.
“We will wait for an explanation. We [the ANC] thought there were processes to be followed, including the public protector’s report. We don’t micromanage people, but we expect due processes to be followed,” said Zulu. She denied there was tension between her and Muthambi.
Motsoeneng, according to several SABC staffers and politicians, used to gloat about his close ties to Zuma even though he has publicly denied this.
The M&G understands – from government and party officials – that the minister refused to brief the ANC about the appointment of the chief operating officer, not that she is legally obliged to, and briefed her boss, Zuma, instead.
Mantashe, in an interview this week, made it clear that he was not impressed.
While he said he did not want to base his comments on the public protector’s report, Mantashe said the candidate needed to be a highly qualified person.
“I don’t know how the public protector came to the conclusion of her findings, but [what is important] for me is whether the man meets the requirement for the position. For every appointment, the most qualified person should be considered,” said Mantashe.
Mantashe said he expected an explanation from Muthambi, who is an ANC “deployee”, on how the decision to appoint Motsoeneng on a permanent basis was reached.
ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa also did not mince his words about what they expected from the party deployee. “We would have expected that the ANC deployee would take the ANC into her confidence about the decision,” he said.
SACP deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila said the party was disappointed about the decision to appoint Motsoeneng and demanded that Muthambi should review it.
He said Motsoeneng was found to be unfit for the position not only by the public protector, but also other credible state institutions such as the Special Investigating Unit.
“For the SABC board to ignore those reports is appalling and a flagrant disregard of good governance. By appointing a substandard person, the board has failed in its fiducial responsibility,” said Mapaila.
Mapaila threatened national protest action if Muthambi refused to review the matter.
Asked by journalists to respond to the ANC’s criticism of her decision to appoint Motsoeneng, Muthambi said: “I’m not going to engage in mudslinging with my comrades on this platform. I am an ANC member. I know where to raise the issue. I am a disciplined member of the ANC and I’m going to engage with my organisation in an appropriate platform, not in the media.”
Motsoeneng’s appointment is also set to divide the SABC as two sources claimed this week that the board was split in the middle when taking the decision.
The SABC board is made up of 12 members, but the M&G understands that one board member, Tembinkosi Bonakele of the Competition Commission resigned last week.
Some board members allegedly questioned the process that was followed. The matter had to go to a vote. Three board members voted against Motsoeneng’s appointment, two abstained and six voted for his permanent appointment.
Two SABC boards have been disbanded by Parliament over the past five years over tensions between some members of the SABC’s executive management and the board. This tension led to a virtual breakdown in their relationships.
This week, the M&G heard that the SABC’s board made the decision to appoint Motsoeneng after board chairperson Zandile Ellen Tshabalala informed them about a letter from Motsoeneng’s lawyers in which they demanded that he be appointed permanently.
“The chairperson [Tshabalala] read out a letter from Hlaudi’s lawyers demanding the appointment on ‘legitimate expectation’ grounds because he has been acting [in the position] for too long,” said the source.
Motsoeneng has been acting chief operations officer at the SABC for almost three years.
Several phone calls and text messages sent to Motsoeneng were not answered at the time of publishing. – Additional reporting by Moshoeshoe Monare