When South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) boss Dali Mpofu led the public broadcaster to quit the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) last week in protest against the ‘profit-drivenâ€ media’s treatment of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, he neglected to mention a commercial interest that might have clouded his own judgement.
Mpofu, chief executive and editor-in-chief of the SABC, outlined the SABC’s reasons for quitting Sanef in a four-page letter to its chairperson, Jovial Rantao, last Friday.
He has outside interests, not least in Deutsche Bank and in the Elephant Consortium that bought into Telkom.
It was Martin Kingston, Tshabalala-Msimang’s son-in-law, who gave Mpofu the leg-up in the Deutsche deal some months before he started at the SABC two years ago.
Kingston was Deutsche’s chief country officer at the time.
Mpofu chairs empowerment ve-hicle Uthajiri, which gained a 15% stake in Deutsche’s local operations. He was appointed and remains a director of Deutsche.
This week he denied a conflict of interest, saying he had declared his outside interests to the SABC and that it was not clear ‘what commercial benefit I might possibly gainâ€.
The letter to Sanef has engendered a storm of protest. Jacques Pauw, the award-winning journalist and executive producer of Special Assignment, resigned from the SABC this week, saying it had ‘deteriorated into nothing less than a state broadcasterâ€.
In his letter Mpofu juxtaposed the alleged motivation of the ‘profit-drivenâ€ commercial media with the values of the public broadcaster. ‘We cannot remain quiet while our mothers and our democratically chosen leaders are stripped naked for the sole reason of selling newspapers,â€ he said, in reference to the Sunday Times‘s detailed coverage of Tshabalala-Msimang’s alleged alcohol abuse as reflected in the records of one of her hospital stays.
Mpofu railed at Rantao for ‘unconditionally justifying the appalling behaviour of the Sunday Times, presumably including their participation in or benefiting from the theft of medical documentsâ€.
The SABC boss said he had personally motivated the decision to withdraw from Sanef: ‘I raised the issue of our future participation in Sanef [with the SABC group executive] and received the unanimous view that we should terminate and withdraw from any remaining or possible future relationship with Sanef. This was in line with my recommendation to that effect.â€
Mpofu accused Sanef of having ‘reached some consensus around a particular conservative, self-serving ideological position on the issue of the role of the media in our societyâ€ which, he said, was ‘diametrically opposedâ€ to the SABC’s interpretation of constitutional values. ‘The nonsensical view that the media is absolutely ‘free’ to trample the privacy and dignity of any citizen offends against the SABC’s own values …
‘Shame on all of you, especially those who have turned their backs on your own cultural values for 30 pieces of silver, pretending to be converted to foreign, frigid and feelingless ‘freedoms’.â€
Mpofu and four partners, including now-disgraced SABC legal head Mafika Sihlali, formed the Uthajiri group in 2004. Its first, and perhaps only, significant deal came in February 2005 when Deutsche announced its empowerment deal, which Kingston drove. In an interview with the Mail & Guardian late last year Kingston said it was among his proudest achievements in BEE.
Kingston is married to Pulane Kingston, Tshabalala-Msimang’s daughter from an earlier marriage. Tshabalala-Msimang is now married to ANC treasurer general Mendi Msimang. After Kingston left Deutsche in June last year he formed his own investment advisory firm, Longcross Capital, with his wife and the ANC treasurer as co-directors.
Mpofu said in response to M&G questions that he had declared his interests to the SABC and that the M&G ‘either does not understand the concept of conflict of interest or it is dishonestly clutching at straws in a typical attempt to trivialise the important issues raised by the SABC in the Sanef letter —
‘To contrive a conflict based on a son-in-law who used to, but no longer works for a company in which I was part of a BEE deal in 2004 as a reason for the decision taken by the entire group executive and supported by the board of the SABC in 2007 is nonsensical and stretches credulity beyond acceptable limits.
‘It is not exactly clear what commercial benefit I might possibly gain from this ‘conflict of interest’ by writing the Sanef letter.â€
The M&G, meanwhile, has obtained a copy of Pauw’s letter of resignation. It states: ‘I did not intend to resign today, but after the publication of [Mpofu’s letter to Sanef], I have no other option but to offer my resignation — I take offence against a statement that the SABC is ‘not prepared to associate with the enemies of our freedom and our people’ —
‘It is false to describe newspapers like the Sunday Times and Mail & Guardian as ‘enemies of our freedom and our people’ — The letter smacks of political jargon and could just as well have been written by the Presidency. I have lost any confidence in the leadership of the corporation. It is clear that the SABC has deteriorated into nothing less than a state broadcaster.â€
Pauw confirmed his resignation, but referred other queries to the SABC.