ANC says minister acting in bad faith

ANC heavyweights Jackson Mthembu and Lindiwe Zulu accused Muthambi of undermining party discipline. (David Harrison, M&G)

ANC heavyweights Jackson Mthembu and Lindiwe Zulu accused Muthambi of undermining party discipline. (David Harrison, M&G)


The spat between Communications Minister Faith Muthambi and the ANC’s subcommittee on communications has resuscitated unofficial debates in the ANC over how Cabinet ministers are appointed.

Some in the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) complained about how bad appointments compromise the party’s reputation.

The Mail & Guardian spoke to three NEC members who said Muthambi is unsuitable for the job. The M&G reported on a similar ­outcry shortly after her appointment last year.

Muthambi has also been accused of undermining the ANC and refusing to take her cue from the party’s NEC communications subcommittee.

Muthambi this week said that, from the day she was appointed last year, there was hostility between her and the ANC communications subcommittee. The committee has accused her of indiscipline for not attending a single meeting, failing to consult the ANC on policy matters and undermining the ANC national general council’s (NGC) resolutions. 

The fallout between Muthambi and the subcommittee has been simmering for more than a year, but following last weekend’s NGC, a brutal and public spat unfolded.

Worsening Muthambi’s situation are the legal battles over Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the SABC’s chief operating officer. He faces possible ­suspension, pending a disciplinary hearing at the broadcaster.

This week’s feud began when ANC ­communications subcommittee chairperson Jackson Mthembu said the NGC resolved that Muthambi must account to the party on digital migration and be held accountable for the mess at the SABC. 

There was a suggestion that there could be a reversal of policy on whether or not there should be an encryption device in set-top boxes, which would be used once South African TV goes digital.

“The ANC wants to sit down with the minister and hear from her why she decided on this policy,” Mthembu told journalists on the sidelines of the NGC. “Our interest is to protect the public broadcaster and make sure that people who do not have access to pay-TV do not receive an inferior service.”

Muthambi said this wasn’t discussed at the NGC, implying Mthembu was lying. He responded in a statement that Muthambi had in effect called him a liar.

Muthambi told the M&G she’d never defied the ANC subcommittee: “I have constantly given them updates about digital migration.” 

Mthembu disputes this. He said that, since her appointment, she had not attended a single communication subcommittee meeting.

“Sometimes there would be an apology, other times there wasn’t one,” he said.

Mthembu said Muthambi needed to explain herself because she was acting like a free agent. The ANC’s communications subcommittee was the custodian of NGC discussions and it was not for the minister to comment on it, he said.

Muthambi expressed surprise that the ANC had publicly rapped her over the knuckles.

But Mthembu insists Muthambi refused to account to the ANC.

“Even when Lindiwe Zulu was chair [of the subcommittee] ... there was terrible disregard for a committee of [Muthambi’s] own organisation,”  he said.

Zulu said Muthambi always had excuses for not meeting with the communications subcommittee.

“I would not say she refused to meet with me per se, but she always found excuses,” Zulu said. “She has an answer to everything. The bottom line is she did not attend ...”

Zulu said Muthambi’s decisions were contrary to what the ANC wanted and what the NGC resolved.

“We were in a commission of communications and the battle of ideas,” said Zulu. “The report was presented to plenary. If anyone had a problem with it, they would have opposed it there. The plenary of the ANC [NGC]is open for anyone to disagree.”

Mthembu added that Muthambi’s handling of problems at the SABC needed to be scrutinised.

“We even warned about things at the SABC long before other parties took the matter to court,” he said. “If she had listened to us some things would not even have gone to court.”

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004.
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