SABC board again at loggerheads

While it tries to get rid of one of its members, it is set to welcome back another of its controversial former board members, who is said to be a close ally of President Jacob Zuma.

The parliamentary portfolio committee on communications met behind closed doors on Wednesday and approved the appointment to the board of Noluthando Gosa, who is a commissioner on the government's National Planning Commission.

She was among those invited to celebrate Zuma's inauguration at the Union Buildings in 2009. Her nomination to replace Clifford Motsepe has caused controversy because she resigned from a previous South African Broadcasting Corporation's (SABC) board in 2005, alleging it was not doing enough to stem the corruption at the public broadcaster. Gosa was also allegedly involved in stifling news footage showing then-deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka being booed.

Zuma still has to sign off on her appointment.

The committee also had to decide at its meeting what to do about another board member, advocate Cawekazi Mahlati. The board last week announced in Parliament that a unanimous vote of no confidence in Mahlati had been made earlier.

She defended herself in Parliament this week, and hit back at board chairperson Ben Ngubane. She described his leadership style as "autocratic" and said he ran the SABC as his own "personal fiefdom".

"I am the voice within the board which articulates and airs those inconvenient truths," Mahlati told Parliament.

"The current campaign in the media is intended to silence me and cover up corruption and malpractices at the highest level at the SABC."

The board has asked the communications committee to assess whether the allegations by both the board and Mahlati should be investigated.

Some committee members told the Mail & Guardian they were shocked by the outbursts in Parliament, in front of the media, on Tuesday. They felt it had degenerated into a "free-for-all".

The M&G was reliably told that the committee would wait for Mahlati to deliver her reports to them before deciding whether it should set up an ad hoc committee, launch an independent inquiry, or not take any action.

But it is unlikely that no action will be taken, because Ngubane claimed in Parliament that Mahlati was a disruptive element on the board, which had degenerated into "serious dysfunctionality".

He also said that Mahlati had also campaigned for the removal of Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the acting chief operations officer, because he had frustrated the processing of a tender she appeared to have an interest in.

Controversial appointment
Motsoeneng's appointment was controversial because he does not have a matric, but Ngubane and the board believe he is doing an excellent job at rooting out corruption.

"The minutes, which I hope we sent you, would show that this board member [Mahlati] was punting Atos as a supplier, which would have cost us R500-million outside of proper tender procedures," Ngubane said.

A committee member said that Ngubane had not produced any evidence to back up his claim that Mahlati had an interest in the proposed contract with international information technology services company Atos, which was cancelled and put out to tender again by Motsoeneng.

The board told Parliament that Mahlati was its only member who had not handed in a declaration of her interests. She said this week she had complied with the requirement and given it to a previous company secretary.

In a press release given to some members of the media in Parliament, Mahlati said Ngubane had made "utterances" in Parliament that she sought to advantage herself with regard to the Atos tender and denied this was true.

Judicious process
"This tender had already been awarded when I assumed my position at the SABC board," she said.

Among the other issues Mahlati raised in Parliament that are causing the committee concern is an allegation that the minutes of SABC meetings are being "doctored".

Another was that the board's report-back to Parliament on the investigations of the Special Investigating Unit  into the SABC was surprisingly scant in detail. This would prevent it from providing oversight and following up on cases, its members told Parliament.

The board presented the committee with a copy of an inquiry into "the conduct of a board member". Mahlati sat quietly and shook her head as the presentation was read out.

According to the inquiry, since Mahlati's appointment in June 2011, it found that her actions and behaviour had not been ethical, and "neither has she treated her fellow directors and employees of the SABC with the required respect or dignity".

But Mahlati said she thanked Ngubane for electing the "most judicious process for airing the goings-on at the SABC".

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