The SABC go-around

The SABC has two CEOs and a third man waiting in the wings; two spokespersons; two people who want to be chief operating officer; a board divided in three; and several competing sets of lawyers who have charged South Africa’s citizens between R3-million and R5-millon for four lawsuits in the past four weeks.

Seven executives this week stood on the steps of Auckland Park’s Radio Park and called for 12 non-executive directors to stand down.

At a governance level, the parliamentary committee overseeing the SABC is divided between an ANC faction that wants the board out and an opposition faction that says it’s the best board we have had in the post-apartheid era.

Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, is torn between a restive Parliament (which wants her head) and a president to whom she owes her extended political life, but who handpicked three members of the board and got the country into its broadcasting jam in the first place.

Addressing Parliament on the subject of the SABC in this week, Matsepe-Casaburri gave vent to a very long nothing, calling vaguely for an inquiry into the broadcaster.

In the face of such meltdown at so many levels, is it fair to say the SABC has fallen apart because the centre cannot hold, to quote WB Yeats?

When you phone the SABC and ask to be put through to the CEO’s office there is more than a moment’s hesitation. Incumbent Dali Mpofu is in office, but apparently not in power, according to the board, which says that he has been legitimately suspended.

Not so, said Judge Moroa Tsoka, who ruled in Mpofu’s favour and found the board had not constituted itself properly when it decided to suspend him.

The board has, in turn, sent a memorandum to staff insisting that they take orders only from Gabs Mampone, the acting CEO.

This week two staff members told the Mail & Guardian that Mampone had gone AWOL this week.

Ask spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago to comment on the fiasco and he explains: ‘I can’t comment; I’m not the spokesman.” But Kganyago’s business card describes him as ‘spokesman”. What’s going on here?

The board has appointed its own spokesperson, Lorato Tshenkeng, who, when asked for comment this week, confirmed his appointment, but insisted he was unable to say anything. He promised to try to arrange an interview with the board chairperson, Kanyi Mkhonza, but did not. And she did not return calls requesting comment.

The upshot is a multiplicity of spokespersons, none of whom will say anything.

An attorney in private practice assisted the M&G to calculate legal costs of court battles between the corporation’s factions, all at the taxpayers’ expense — bearing in mind the fact that each time the board has lost, punitive costs have been awarded against it. The costs were calculated as follows:

  • Attorneys’ preparation fees: between R120 000 and R150 000
  • Counsels’ fees for settling affidavit: between R35 000 and R40 00
  • Preparation by counsel (one senior, one junior, billing for two days): between R80 000 and R100 000
  • Attorneys’ attendance at court: between R12 000 and R15 000
  • Counsels’ attendance at court: between R35 000 and R40 000
  • Counsel’s fees for application for leave to appeal: R35 000
  • Attorneys fees: R10 000
  • This amounts to between R3-million and R5-million.

    Earlier this week the Star reported that the board intended to approach the Supreme Court of Appeal. This would cost an estimated R200 000.

    On Monday seven SABC executives took the unprecedented step of making a public call on the board to step down, accusing it of bad faith and interference in management.

    ‘Whilst we have faith and hold certain members of the board in high esteem — this board as a collective does not have the moral authority to continue to lead the SABC and continues to allow its power to be abused,” the executives charged.

    In Parliament Democratic Alliance MP Dene Smuts likened the shenanigans at the broadcaster to the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

    ‘It is one of many purges being carried out in this country by an incoming power bloc which sweeps all procedure and justice aside,” said Smuts, who called for the ‘off with their heads” approach to stop.

    Maybe. But the larger problem is the fact that the broadcaster’s leaders seem to have gone completely off their heads.

    All fall down
    SABC board conflict

    May 6
    SABC CEO Dali Mpofu suspends head of news Snuki Zikalala

    May 7
    SABC board suspends Mpofu

    May 17
    Mpofu in court to oppose his suspension

    May 19
    Mpofu’s suspension overturned by court with punitive costs order against the board

    June 2
    Seven members of SABC group executive hold press conference on the stairs to call on board to resign

    June 2
    Johannesburg High Court dismisses, with costs, a board request to appeal the decision to reinstate Mpofu

    June 3
    Reports say board will take the case to the Supreme Court of Appeal

    June 4
    Board chairperson Kanyi Mkhonza criticises revolting executives and threatens action

    June 4
    Zikalala is seeking CCMA order against his suspension

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