/ 29 October 2015

Day of reckoning for SABC’s Motsoeneng

Faith Muthambi needs to clarify certain issues regarding her role in appointing SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi ­Motsoeneng.
Faith Muthambi needs to clarify certain issues regarding her role in appointing SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi ­Motsoeneng.

The SABC’s chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s day of reckoning arrived on Friday as he was set to attend a ­disciplinary hearing to answer to misconduct charges laid against him by the ­public broadcaster.

Yet there are still no indications that the communications minister, Faith Muthambi, will be called to account for her role in his controversial rise to the second-highest ­executive post in the SABC.

Muthambi has yet to explain to Parliament why she endorsed Motsoeneng’s permanent appointment last year, despite claims made by dismissed board member Hope Zinde that he did not receive a majority vote from SABC board members (see story below).

As Motsoeneng was elevated from an acting position that was in itself described as irregular by the public protector, Muthambi openly defied Thuli Madonsela’s damning report on the SABC, When Governance and Ethics Fail. In her report, Madonsela found Motsoeneng had lied about having a matric certificate and declared his appointment and salary hike irregular.

“The matter of Motsoeneng and the SABC board has been discussed at great length in the portfolio committee on communications,” said Mish Molakeng, spokesperson for the communications ministry.

Just five months after the release of Madonsela’s report, Muthambi publicly announced Motsoeneng’s appointment as the SABC’s permanent chief operating officer.

The chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications, the ANC’s Joyce Moloi-Moropa, told the Mail & Guardian that Muthambi had already been summoned to Parliament to explain Motsoeneng’s permanent appointment and other key issues.

“The minister was called to a portfolio committee meeting of the 26 August 2014 [a month after Motsoeneng was appointed] and her response was restrained as she indicated that information she genuinely gives to Parliament will be used against her in court by the Democratic Alliance,” Moloi-Moropa said this week. “The portfolio committee will continue to hold the minister accountable on the SABC, and all the other entities of the department of communications.”

As the SABC had chosen not to suspend Motsoeneng as Madonsela recommended, the DA took the matter to court. Two weeks ago, Motsoeneng took “leave of absence”. He has been charged by the SABC with gross dishonesty and abuse of his position, among other disciplinary charges.

While Moloi-Moropa is known to have opposed some of the controversial decisions taken by Muthambi on the SABC, it is understood she has not had the backing she needed on these issues from the ANC members of Parliament on her committee.

Moloi-Moropa is believed to have backed the legal opinion from Parliament that Muthambi had acted illegally by firing three SABC board members, Mashangu Ronny Lubisi, Rachel Kalidass and Hope Zinde. However, her efforts went awry on a day she was absent from Parliament and the ANC committee members supported the minister.

Among other pressing concerns that require answers is why Muthambi chose to sign, without consultation with the SABC board, a revised memorandum of incorporation for the SABC, which gave her and top executives such as Motsoeneng unprecedented powers.

Jackson Mthembu, the chairperson of the ANC’s subcommittee on communications, is engaging with Muthambi after an embarrassing public showdown with her recently over a number of issues, including her reversal of the party’s decision to introduce encrypted ­digital television and the growing instability at the broadcaster.

Following the spat, members of the ANC’s subcommittee on communications claimed Muthambi was not attending its meetings and was isolating herself from the body.

Mthembu said there would be no further outbursts between him and the communications minister: “We have not been silenced. Both of us have just acknowledged that the ANC doesn’t do things in that way.”

Which could mean the public might be left in the dark again about further developments at the SABC.

‘Hlaudi did not get majority vote from SABC board’

While the chairperson of the ANC’s subcommittee on communications, Jackson Mthembu, is working to heal the rifts with the communications minister, Faith Muthambi, questions are still arising about why she was willing to put her reputation on the line by endorsing Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s appointment to a permanent post at the SABC.

As reported in the Mail & Guardian last week, dismissed SABC board member Hope Zinde wrote in an email to the chief whips forum in Parliament two weeks ago that, at a board meeting in July last year, disgraced former SABC board chairperson Ellen Tshabalala did not allow her to vote on whether Motsoeneng be given a permanent post. Zinde said this meant that Motsoeneng did not receive a majority vote from the board.

Zinde raised more troubling issues in her email, questioning the veracity of the minutes of the meeting when voting took place, which she said raised further questions about governance at the SABC.

“The meeting was not only tense but volatile, aiming to bulldoze a set decision in favour of Mr Motsoeneng by Ms Ellen Tshabalala, thus her ignoring my question, which I asked twice, and giving a false conclusion on the vote intentionally,” Zinde wrote. “It is sad that the minutes do not reflect the true version of how the meeting went, thus my request for the voice recording, which the company secretary to date has not issued to me, as per my numerous requests last year.”