For a good long while, it seemed that normal rules did not apply to SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, nor to Communications Minister Faith Muthambi. Motsoeneng lied to the SABC, and the SABC promoted him. Muthambi defied the ANC on important policy matters, and the ANC retreated. Individually, they defied political gravity. Together, joined in ensuring their firm control of the SABC, they seemed unstoppable.
Then, all of a sudden, their immunity evaporated.
Muthambi is still in charge of her ministry, but last week she finally pushed the ANC too far, which will make her life a lot harder in both Cabinet and Parliament. Though he’s suspended, Motsoeneng technically still holds the top SABC job, but all the dubious deeds that were committed to secure him that post are unravelling.
As we report this week, the courts are fairly brimming with allegations of irregularities and illegalities from those shouldered aside as Motsoeneng rocketed to the top and got cosy with competitor MultiChoice. It will be some time before we have findings from those courts, to be sure, but the actions brought by dismissed board members and a suspended executive demand answers. And that will force Muthambi to explain herself fully, something she has refused to do to the public, to Parliament or to her own party.
Likewise, Motsoeneng may find himself explaining – and making public the details of – the SABC’s hugely controversial agreement with MultiChoice. Even with what limited information has leaked out of boardrooms and backrooms, these events seem suspicious. If the sunlight comes streaming in, as is now likely, it is improbable that Muthambi or Motsoeneng will remain unscathed. Surely the time of reckoning is upon them.
That still leaves the SABC without top executive leaders or a stable board. The trouble at the public broadcaster will not vanish when Muthambi’s and Motsoeneng’s immunity evaporates; in fact, things are likely to get worse before they get better. But, with the laws of physics re-established, the SABC may at least stand a chance, which is more than it has right now.