Dissident communist Mazibuko Jara has effectively been axed from the board of the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) in favour of Phumelele Ntombela-Nzimande, the wife of his principal antagonist, South African Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande.
Jara was expelled from the Young Communist League over his criticism of the party’s backing for the presidential aspirations of Jacob Zuma, a stance that put him directly at odds with Nzimande.
Jara’s ouster from the agency, which was set up to support community radio and grassroots broadcasting, comes courtesy of Parliament’s communications committee, where several ANC members are particularly staunch Zuma supporters.
Jara’s initial term on the board had expired, but he applied for reappointment and was shortlisted.
His clash with Nzimande is not the only factor lending an edge of controversy to the move, however.
Ntombela-Nzimande is head of stakeholder management at the SABC, with the official title “chief people officer”. The struggle for political control of the broadcaster hangs over the committee’s decision.
The committee has been at war with the SABC board, which it reluctantly packed with Mbeki supporters last year. It is now trying to remove them by amending the relevant legislation.
SABC chief executive Dali Mpofu, who has increasingly been seen as backing Zuma since the ANC’s Polokwane conference, was suspended by the board amid a clash with Mbeki backer and news chief Snuki Zikalala.
Amid this struggle, Ntombela-Nzimande was closely aligned with Mpofu. That puts her far closer to the committee’s aspirations for the future of the SABC. She was at the centre, too, of the brief controversy in 2006 over a payment of R123 000 she authorised to Leadership magazine for carrying a cover photograph of Mpofu. The move was angrily criticised by the Young Communist League’s Buti Manamela.
Asked about the possible role of politics in her appointment, Ntombela-Nzimande was dismissive: “I don’t sit on what the portfolio committee decides. I am an executive manager at the SABC responsible for stakeholder management. The SABC puts R1-million a year into the MDDA. Stakeholders in the industry must participate and I was nominated by the broadcast industry. Where is the political climate in that?”
Pressed about the fact that she had been favoured over one of her husband’s adversaries and the perceptions this was likely to generate, she said: “Mazibuko has had his time on the board; must he stay forever? Are you trying to protect him?”
DA communications spokesperson Dene Smuts said she was disappointed that Jara’s term had not been renewed. “The MDDA is an agency we’re proud of because it has been characterised by good governance. Mazibuko Jara and I come from a different place, but I respect his rigour”. Neither Jara nor communications committee chair Ismael Vadi immediately returned voicemail messages.