/ 9 July 2014

How Motsoeneng forced SABC to appoint him

Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

A well-placed source gave the Mail & Guardian a blow-by-blow account of the hours before Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s permanent appointment was confirmed. The SABC board appoints the operations chief and the appointment has to be confirmed by the minister of communications.

The source speaking to the M&G said the SABC’s board made the decision to appoint Motsoeneng on Monday night after board chairperson Zandile Ellen Tshabalala informed them about a letter from Motsoeneng’s lawyers in which they were demanding that he be appointed permanently, citing a labour principle of “legitimate expectation”. 

The meeting, held between 7pm and 11pm on Monday night, was called by Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, who waited in Tshabalala’s office as board members deliberated, according to the source. 

“The chairperson [Tshabalala] read out a letter from Hlaudi’s lawyers demanding the appointment on ‘legitimate expectation’ grounds because he has been acting for too long,” said the source.

Motsoeneng has been acting chief operations officer at the SABC for almost three years. Several phone calls and text messages sent to Motsoeneng were not answered at the time of publishing. 

Twist in the tale
Another twist to the SABC development is the speed with which the communications minister managed to resolve a seven-year dispute between the SABC, the ministry and former SABC executive and sports administrator Mvuzo Mbebe, who interdicted the broadcaster from filling the position on a permanent basis. 

Mbebe’s claim is that he was promised the job of chief operations officer by the late former communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, who died in 2009. It is understood that Mbebe was recommended for the position in 2007 but was never appointed.

He has on several occasions prevented the broadcaster from appointing a person to the post permanently. In 2009, he was granted an interdict against the appointment of a new chief operations officer, making it impossible for the post to be taken up on a permanent basis.

Muthambi on Friday told Parliament’s oversight committees on communication and telecommunications and postal services how difficult it was going to be to appoint a permanent chief operations officer – one of the recommendations of public protector Thuli Madonsela.

Muthambi said she had “lifted” a court file from the high court to familiarise herself with the Mbebe matter, that “all my predecessors couldn’t resolve”. “I … found that Mbebe obtained a court order on May 13 2009 that bars the SABC from appointing a COO. 

“The SABC didn’t appeal the matter. That means the remedial action recommended by the public protector in 11.22, if we are to implement it, we would be in contempt of court,” said Muthambi, before assuring the MPs that she would make sure the matter gets resolved. 

‘Note of resolution’
According to the source, Muthambi arrived at the Monday meeting with “a note of a resolution of the Mbebe matter and insisted that the board appoint the COO there and then”. 

“She called the board meeting but sat in the chairperson’s office and directed proceedings [from there] until they gave her the letter of appointment before leaving,” said the source. 

The board chairperson allegedly proposed Motsoeneng’s appointment formally in the meeting, but some board members protested on the grounds of a flawed process that was being followed. The matter was put to a vote and the board was split down the middle, with two members abstaining from the vote.

At the meeting with the portfolio committee on Friday, in her defence of Motsoeneng, Tshabalala challenged anyone to give her a reason to suspend Motsoeneng. This followed calls by opposition MPs for Motsoeneng’s dismissal or at least suspension based on Madonsela’s findings. “We don’t have a basis for a suspension, because if you were to say Hlaudi doesn’t perform, tell us. In our case he performs. 

“In many instances he has even gone into a role which is not his role of raising funds for the SABC. The commercial relationships that we build are built because of people who are passionate about the SABC,” said Tshabalala. 

Irregular appointment
Madonsela found that Motsoeneng’s appointment as the acting chief operations officer was irregular and that him being in this position for a period in excess of three months without the requisite board resolution was a violation of the SABC’s Articles of Association, which deals with appointments.

She found that Motsoeneng had committed fraud by stating in his job application form that he had completed matric. He then filled in false grades on the same application form and promised to supply a matric certificate to confirm his qualifications when he knew he had not completed matric and did not have such a certificate.

The SABC’s requirement to reply to the public protector’s report on Motsoeneng was unrelated to his permanent appointment, the public broadcaster said on Wednesday.

“The public protector has nothing to do with this [permanent appointment of Motsoeneng],” said SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago. “The two are not together … I don’t know how the two are related.” 

Kganyago said any attempt to draw inferences about Motsoeneng’s appointment from the report were subjective. “You read what you want to read.” 

He said Madonsela’s report stipulated only that the chief operations officer position had to be filled, not who should fill it. 

Surprised response
Madonsela on Wednesday expressed her surprise at Motsoeneng’s appointment. “I’m still waiting for a response from the SABC and from the minister. Until then, I’m not in a position to understand what has just happened,” Madonsela told SABC radio news.

Muthambi announced Motsoeneng’s permanent appointment in Pretoria on Tuesday night, saying she had made the appointment following a recommendation by the SABC board. 

Madonsela released a report in February titled “When Governance and Ethics Fail”, which found that Motsoeneng’s SABC appointment was irregular. At the time of releasing her report, Madonsela recommended that a new chief operations officer be appointed within 90 days. This deadline has since elapsed. 

After a previous request for extra time, the SABC board was given until August 17 to respond to the public protector’s report. Madonsela said on Wednesday that she had had no response from either the communications department or the SABC. 

Kganyago declined to say when a reply to the public protector would be issued, only that it would occur once the board finalised its response. – Additional reporting by Sapa