/ 18 July 2009

‘No conflict,’ strategy boss insists

The SABC's head of strategy faces allegations that his private interests conflict with his role at the public broadcaster.

The SABC’s head of strategy, Sipho Sithole, faces allegations that his private interests in the music and film industries conflict with his role at the public broadcaster.

This follows the memorandum by ”organised labour” addressed to acting SABC chief executive Gab Mampone that queried an alleged R42,6-million paid by the broadcaster to Sithole and an entity called Gemini Con­sulting. The unions also allege that the SABC paid Sithole’s R18 000 cellphone bill, alleging he uses the phone for ”personal business”.

Sithole, a former deputy chief executive of Gallo Records, left to form Native Rhythms Records in 2005. He signed up award-winning artists, such as Siphokazi and Zuluboy, as well as focusing on films, documentaries, events and music publishing. When he became head of strategy and risk management at the SABC at the behest of then-chief executive Dali Mpofu, Sithole announced that Native Rhythms would be restructured to ensure that he gave up his share­holding and operational role.

But he is still listed as an active director of Native Rhythms, alongside his wife, Gabisile Sithole, the only other director. Both are shareholders.

In her representations to Parliament this month former SABC chairperson Khanyi Mkonza complained that members of the SABC executive had been blatant about using the corporation for their ”own private benefit”.

She referred to ”a senior manager, who has business interests in the music industry and his influence on the music policy of the SABC and his role in the various music awards organised by the SABC — in particular the Metro Awards”.

She said that ”the pressure for board members to resign now could be linked to people inside and outside the SABC not wanting the board to deal with these acts of possible corruption”.

As a senior manager at the SABC, Sithole was active in calling for the board to step down and for Mpofu’s reinstatement. In June last year he read a statement to the media endorsing a memorandum signed by senior executives that called on the board to step down immediately, because it had lost its ”moral authority and integrity to lead the SABC”.

Approached this week, Sithole said there was no conflict of interest between his shareholding in Native Rhythms and his SABC position. He had declared it and said the broadcaster had not asked him to resign or sell his shares.

”If the SABC said I must leave, then I would leave,” he said.

He was no longer operationally involved at Native Rhythms, he said, but failed to explain why he was still listed as a director.
Sithole said he had no influence over the SABC’s music policy. But in September last year he introduced the SABC’s new music policy to a packed auditorium at the Moshito Music Conference.

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kga­nyago confirmed that Sithole was responsible for all SABC strategy policies, including music policy, but argued that there was no conflict of interest because Sithole did not deal with music policy implementation.

Queries have been raised over Sithole’s influence at the Metro Awards. City Press has reported that many at the 2007 Metro FM Awards had wondered if the ”big platform” given to Native Rhythms artist Camagwini to perform was linked to Sithole’s SABC position. ”She is completely unknown and her performance did not dazzle,” the paper said.

Kganyago said Sithole had nothing to do with the Metro FM Awards.

Sithole has referred the queries of ”organised labour” to the SABC.

Kganyago said that the SABC and Sithole are awaiting the results of the forensic investigation into the unions’ allegations.