/ 22 March 2013

SABC board fiasco signals interference

Pippa Green resigned from the board this week
Pippa Green resigned from the board this week

After her six ANC colleagues unexpectedly quit en masse on Monday, former SABC board member Pippa Green sent her resignation letter to President Jacob Zuma, ­citing "insufficient oversight, ­coupled with an almost abusive political interference" as the problems of the now dissolved board.

A copy of Green's resignation letter, dated March 18, was leaked to the Mail & Guardian. In it, she said the board had experienced "undue interference" in the appointment of executives.

Asked for comment by the M&G, Green confirmed she had been kept in the dark about the mass resignations. "I am incredibly surprised that my resignation letter was leaked so early, before I even got an acknow-ledgment from the president.

"And I am also taken aback that none of our board members on the ANC side said anything to us about what their plans were. Except Cedric Gina, who sent us all an SMS to inform us that he was resigning. I only heard about the rest of the board resigning on Radio 702 when I was driving back from the airport. I found that pretty uncollegial."

Gina said he resigned "as an individual", and declined to elaborate, but Communications Minister Dina Pule told Parliament that he had complained about political interference in the running of the board.

"I sent my board colleagues an SMS telling them I had resigned, as I had worked with these people since 2010, and I believed it was good to inform them," said Gina. "It was my personal decision. I didn't receive instructions from anyone."

Rejected out of hand
The reasons for the mass resignations remain unclear – Cope member of Parliament Juli Kilian says Luthuli House sent out instructions ordering specific SABC board members to submit their resignations during the course of the day.

In her resignation, Green, who heads the journalism programme at the University of Pretoria, said: "The name the board submitted to the shareholder [Pule] for the position of CFO [chief financial officer], a man who seemed eminently qualified for the job, was rejected out of hand. We were told to submit three, including the name of a person whose CV came to us suspiciously late. This was the CV of the person whom the minister subsequently appointed and who turned out to be a major disappointment for the board. She now stands accused of serious wrongdoing, and has been suspended."

Green was referring to the appointment of Gugu Duda, regarded by some former board members as the minister's choice as they claimed she rejected others on the shortlist before Duda's name was added. Last year Duda was suspended by the board and, according to the SABC, is being investigated for allegations of financial irregularities. Pule's spokesperson Siya Qoza said the minister denied any impropriety in the appointment of Duda.

In her letter, Green said that, since Duda's suspension, Pule had not been supportive of the board. "For that reason, and because after the resignations of the chair and deputy chair last week, it has become impossible for the board to continue.

"It is a tragedy to me that the public broadcaster is seen as a place that attracts people either for financial or political gain. In the conflicts that have recently occurred, I don't believe there has been much thought given to the staff of the SABC, many of whom, despite the turmoil, work long and hard hours to try to improve the programming, content and stability of the organisation."

Green told Zuma in her letter that the board he appointed in 2010 had made important progress, but she was "heartbroken" that it had not worked to steer the broadcaster ­sufficiently, since the crisis in 2010, towards better stability today.

Political interference
When she appeared before the communications parliamentary portfolio committee on March 19, Pule denied having been part of any political interference in the running of the board.

"There was a point that I wished I could interfere and go to the SABC and say 'What you are doing is wrong', but I didn't," said Pule. "If I had interfered, maybe some of the things wouldn't have happened. Actually, I wish I had interfered."

Yet that same day former board member Suzanne Vos, who had also not been informed about the resignations of her colleagues, complained in Parliament about political interference. The last remaining board member, Clare O'Neil, was out of the country on business.

"At the heart of the crisis is the ministerial interference in board decision-making and the functioning of the SABC, which has become extremely problematic," Vos said.

Former board chairperson Ben Ngubane and his deputy Thami ka Plaatjie, both ANC members, resigned after the board held a special meeting two weeks ago to remove acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng from his post, at which Ngubane was not present.

An interim board has been hastily formed, consisting of five people to make up a quorum. These include former board member Noluthando Gosa, who has been appointed deputy chair, after she resigned with her ANC colleagues. She also resigned from another SABC board in 2005.

It appears Motsoeneng, who has been widely criticised for not having a matric and for practising censorship of programming at the SABC when he considers it to be offensive to Zuma and the ANC, is now the last man standing as he remains in his top ­acting post. He declined to comment.