SABC board axes Blade's wife

The wife of Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, SABC group executive Phumelele Ntombela-Nzimande, has become the latest casualty at the broadcaster, after she was axed in a restructuring strategy aimed at cutting costs.

Ntombela-Nzimande, who was among the top earners at the SABC, was told of the decision to make her position redundant during the public broadcaster’s strategy meeting last week.

She walked away with a retrenchment package of about R1,8-million, which covers 14 months left on her contract, plus benefits, a senior SABC official told the Mail & Guardian.

One SABC board member said: “She came to the strategic planning meeting last week and that’s where she was told her services were no longer needed. She refused to go, but the board instructed the acting chief executive to write her a letter to inform her officially. She was told she is no longer part of the new plan.”

As chief people officer, Ntombela-Nzimande earned an annual package of more than R1,7-million, according to the broadcaster’s annual report.
Because of her high salary scale, no other position could be made available to her.

Some SABC insiders said Ntombela-Nzimande had threatened to remove the SABC board and had “a fit” when told her post would be dissolved.

Ntombela-Nzimande refused to talk to the M&G when she was approached to make a ­comment this week.

Claims have been made that Ntombela-Nzimande allegedly urged board chairperson Ben Ngubane unilaterally to appoint Phil Molefe to the post of head of news. Ngubane could not be reached for comment.

According to SABC sources, Ntombela-Nzimande has been lobbying hard for the disbandment of the current SABC board because it disagreed with former SABC chief executive Solly Mokoetla.

“She has been lobbying that we should be disbanded because we differed with the former chief executive. She was instrumental in influencing the four SABC board members to resign sometime last year. She was working with people in Parliament, trying to influence them to dissolve the current board. She wanted to control us,” said one board member.

Board sources told the M&G this week that there were no longer rifts on the board and solutions for the cash-strapped organisation were rapidly being found.

“The past seven months have been the most constructive working environment,” said the board source.

Meanwhile, the SABC is confident of the progress it has made to address its cash crisis. The acting chief executive, Robin Nicholson, told the M&G this week that the corporation will now meet its government guarantee obligations and is currently experiencing a 14% year-on-year growth.

Commercial revenue for radio and television is up and the corporation is projecting a R103-million loss for the year ending March 2011. This is a R493-million improvement on last year.

A political decision?
Phumele Ntombela-Nzimande’s axing has been interpreted by some within the tripartite alliance as a political decision.

According to sources close to South African Communist Party boss Blade Nzimande and the SABC board, Nzimande would be particularly angered that one of the people who was allegedly pushing hard for his wife’s axing is his leftist comrade, Cedric Gina, who is a board member and the president of Cosatu’s metalworkers’ union.

Relations between Numsa and the SACP have been at a low point since Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi publicly expressed the federation’s unhappiness about Nzimande’s dual roles as minister and SACP general secretary.

Numsa leaders, including Gina and general secretary Irvin Jim, are close allies of Vavi.

“Cedric is one of the board members who pushed hard for her to go. All of us were pushing,” said a source within the SABC board.

Some within the alliance have complained that Blade Nzimande has been getting a lot of coverage, second only to that of President Jacob Zuma, by the SABC since he was appointed a Cabinet minister in 2009.

They claimed the reason he was given preferential coverage was because of his wife’s influence at the SABC. SACP spokesperson Malesela Maleka said Nzimande was not aware of internal board discussions at the SABC. “The president of NUMSA as a board member is expected to participate in the board in the best interest of the public broadcaster not as some poodle of the General Secretary.

Approached for comment this week, Gina said he had not heard anything from Blade Nzimande. Asked if he was part of the people who pushed for Ntombele-Nzimande’s axing he said: “I can’t, comment on the decisions of the board”.



Matuma Letsoalo is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003, focussing on politics and labour, and collaborated with the M&G's centre for investigations, amaBhungane, from time to time.In 2011, Matuma won the South African Journalist of the Year Award and was also the winner in the investigative journalism category in the same year.In 2004, he won the CNN African Journalist of the Year prize – the MKO Abiola Print Journalism Award. Matuma was also a joint category winner of the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the year Award in 2008. In 2013, he was a finalist for Wits University's Taco Kuiper Award.
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