SABC board chairperson Ben Ngubane called an unexpected press briefing on Friday to show his support for acting COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
Motsoeneng has come under fire from sections of the media lately over his lack of formal qualifications for the role of COO.
Earlier this month senior staffers at the SABC lodged a complaint with the public protector, alleging that Motsoeneng had faked his academic credentials and accusing him of corruption, maladministration and colluding with the board.
Ngubane told the Mail & Guardian that this media “feeding frenzy” is what prompted him to call the briefing.
“This whole thing is debilitating and it’s affecting our reputation as a board,” he said, adding that the briefing was an attempt to “bring sanity” to the discussion around Motsoeneng’s credentials.
Ngubane assured the press that the board was cooperating with the public protector’s investigation but that it had written to her office asking for greater clarity on the information that it required.
He said that the most worrying accusation put to the public protector was that Motsoeneng had summarily fired 14 members of staff at the SABC. He said that further to an inquiry by the human resources department, it was found that Motsoeneng had fired only one senior staffer, and that this was done after a full disciplinary process.
Lack of matric no secret
Ngubane also told the press that there had never been a question among management at the SABC concerning Motsoeneng’s qualifications.
“He did not lie when he was appointed nor was he dismissed or even charged by the SABC for anything to do with qualifications,” said Ngubane. “There are senior and junior members of staff at the SABC who can testify to the facts. It’s highly unfortunate that no-one chooses to listen to them.”
Motsoeneng was first recommended for employment at the SABC by Alwyn Kloppers, now regional resources manager of SABC news. They met in 1995, when Motsoeneng was a freelance journalist in the Free State.
At the time, the SABC was in a process of transformation and was looking for new journalists to fill positions countrywide.
“I asked him about his qualifications and he told me that he didn’t have matric but he was a paid stringer of the SABC who showed a commitment and a passion for journalistic work and on the basis of that I recommended him for permanent employment,” he said.
An unexpected event
Questions concerning Motsoeneng’s qualifications have been simmering for months, and the complaint to the public protector was lodged weeks ago, leaving media watchers to speculate on the timing of the briefing.
“The timing of it is very interesting, especially given that there is the ICT policy development colloquium happening in Midrand today [Friday],” said William Bird, director of Media Monitoring Africa. “Why wasn’t [Ngubane] at the colloquium giving his input on broadcasting?”
The colloquium was convened by the department of communications and attended by major roleplayers from across the ICT sector.
“Everyone who was anyone was there. It was an extremely well-attended event,” said Bird.
Kate Skinner, coordinator of the SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition, said the SABC was at a critical point in the final implementation of its turnaround strategy and that should move swiftly to appointment a new COO and chief technical officer. At the same time, she said, it could not afford any further crises in the appointment of its top officials.
The appointment of a permanent COO at the SABC is being held up by legal action from Mvuzo Mbebe, a former SABC employee who had applied for the post and been turned down. The case, which is currently before the Supreme Court, is resolved. Mbebe has since moved on and was recently appointed chief executive of the 2013 African Cup of Nations and the 2014 African Nations Championship.
Meanwhile, the SABC lost its chief technology officer Richard Waghorn, when he resigned late last year. He was replaced by Gelfand Kauyiso but Kauyiso was suspended a mere two months after his appointment following allegations of misconduct.
“The SABC must make sure that this [appointment process] is a transparent process and a process that withstands all scrutiny so there will be no come-back We just cannot withstand another crisis at the SABC,” she said.
There has been serious instability at SABC since 2005, when costs and uncontrolled spending began to spiral out of control. There have also been repeated allegations of political interference on the board and the running of the organisation.
In the most recent scuffle SABC news chief Phil Molefe was placed on special leave after refusing to provide CEO Lulama Mokhobo with acopy of the daily news diary.
Sources within the SABC said that Mokhobo was concerned about a perceived bias in the SABC’s coverage of the news and that too much airtime was being given to embattled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema.
It was also rumoured that Molefe had demanded a R7-million payout from the broadcaster after he failed to secure the position of CEO himself earlier this year.