/ 14 March 2014

Demons ‘cast out’ of protector’s office by pro-SABC church leaders

Religious leaders prayed for SABC chief executive Lulama Mokhobo and acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng in 2012.
Religious leaders prayed for SABC chief executive Lulama Mokhobo and acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng in 2012.

There's a new weapon in Hlaudi Motsoeneng's arsenal: God.

Or rather, a handful of fringe church leaders claiming to represent him. In his continued fight against the public protector's damning findings against him, the SABC acting chief operating officer has managed to rope in a few holy men who have prayed for "demons" to be cast out of the public protector's office.

"We are praying for the office of the public protector that the demons that are working in that office must be cast out … so that only the truth can be said," George Lebusa was quoted as saying in an SABC news insert on Thursday.

And it wasn't any old truth he was after either, but "the truth in the right way, at the right time for the right purpose".

The SABC credited Lebusa as a bishop with of a group called the "Concerned Pastors Organisation". He has been linked to public religious support for President Jacob Zuma before, as a church administrator.

The insert featured a number of ornately dressed priests and bishops praying loudly, and at one point praying over a woman who lies prone on the floor. Another cause for concern, according to the group, was the public protector's report into Independent Electoral Commission head Pansy Tlakula, which found her responsible for improper handling relating to a leasing deal for the body's headquarters.

Watch the insert:

The appearance on the broadcaster is the latest salvo from the minority group of religious leaders who have been vocal about public protector Thuli Madonsela, following her investigations into several political elites.

Madonsela's report against Motsoeneng was particularly damning, finding that he had irregularly received three salary hikes in one fiscal year, raising his salary from R1.5-million to R2.4-million.

Madonsela also accused him of irregularly increasing the salaries of some staff and purging others, leading the public broadcaster to lose millions of rands in settlements and court action. To top it off, Madonsela said Motsoeneng had committed fraud by claiming he had a matric on an application form.

Public statements
But Motsoeneng's friends from the church would have none of it, and appeared again on an SABC show Morning Live on Thursday to protest against the public protector's findings in a slew of public statements on the matter.

"The public protector's report is filled with inaccuracies actually," said Pule Mokgethi, who was also credited as a bishop, and said to be a spokesperson for a group calling itself the "Pastors of Indigenous Christian Churches". However there are no other Google results associated with his name or organisation beyond his appearances on behalf of Motsoeneng.

Mokgethi still received several minutes of prime airtime on Morning Live, and took issue with the findings of the report against Motsoeneng in detail.

Anchor Leanne Manas questioned why the church was getting involved in the matter. Lebusa, who appeared with Mokgethi in the interview, said the church believed "that the social concerns of the public are part of the ministry and the calling of the church".

The mainstream and respected South African Council of Churches would agree, and have been vocal on several occasions about corruption in the public sector. However the ANC has distanced itself from the organisation, despite their historic partnership during the struggle, in favour of fringe and emerging church leaders who toe a more acceptable line. 

The public protector has become a thorn in the flesh for the ANC-led government for some time, and the Mail & Guardian reported on Friday of ANC leaders snubbing her at a recent summit, as tensions grow over the release of her report into the R205-million worth of upgrades at Zuma's residence in Nkandla, allegedly using public funds. The unheard-of Mokgethi, chosen by Motsoeneng's SABC as a church leader, also took issue with the public protector.

"We are noticing a trend in [Mandonsela's] reporting that seems to cast aspersions on critical persons in the country and thereby poisons the atmosphere … we have to clear the atmosphere."

Lebusa made a last note, perhaps clarifying what his real protest was with the public protector, saying: "These are the most critical elections for this country and will have impact on how people cast their vote."

Watch the interview here:

A number of figures have come out in support of Motsoeneng over the report, including the SABC board chairperson Ellen Zandile Tshabalala

The first SABC news insert also included interviews with members of an organisation called the "Friends of Hlaudi Formation". According to the SABC, the group was planning a night vigil and march in Bloemfontein in support of Motsoeneng.

'Hands off Hlaudi'
A shot in the insert showed a banner featuring Motsoeneng's face, reading: "Hands off Hlaudi". And beneath that, inexplicably, the ANC election slogan: "We have a good story to tell".

The controversial Motsoeneng is known as Zuma's enforcer at the SABC, and something of a censor. He made the controversial announcement that 70% of stories should be "positive". He was behind a 2012 decision to cancel an SABC interview with satirical cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro (Zapiro) on the basis that the cartoons featured in the interview were insulting to Zuma.

Other interviews of a political nature were also cancelled in the run up to Mangaung, and Motsoeneng has insisted an ANC representative be present whenever the party is discussed on air.

Shapiro described Motsoeneng as the "ultimate nutcase deployment" at the time.

"Motsoeneng does seem to be an extreme version of weird deployments. He doesn't know how to do his job properly and he is trying to curry favour."

However, Madonsela's office is not particularly fazed by the criticism from the religious group, calling it "unfortunate and inconsistent with the messages the public protector regularly gets from the broader faith community", her spokesperson Kgalalelo Masibi told the M&G.

She added that the public protector and her team continuously receive support from the faith community "in its diversity".

"Apart from the letters and electronic messages of support, the faith community showed its support at the public protector's interfaith prayer for good governance that was held in October last year."