Hlaudi Motsoeneng, in his new capacity as group executive for corporate affairs at the SABC, represented the broadcaster at an awards event on Wednesday night. He was relaxed and confident.
Just hours before, the ANC chief whip in Parliament, Jackson Mthembu, had alternated between outrage and sarcasm when describing the SABC’s “miraculous” and “unlawful appointment” of Motsoeneng to that position as an insult.
How did that make him feel?
“I don’t care,” Motsoeneng said.
From anyone else that may have sounded like bravado, but not from him. The record shows in documented cases that he has not cared for things such as working hours, being polite, corporate ethics, personal honesty and public money.
Conveniently, those cases of his lackings and excesses were documented by the public protector, an institution, as he told the Mail & Guardian earlier this year,he respected – although he disagreed with it.
Motsoeneng also seems to generate a field of not caring around him, although how he does it has not yet been pinned down. For 10 years, the SABC had not cared that he had falsified his qualifications. In one case, neither a deputy board chairperson nor a Cabinet minister cared that he had previously been removed from a post. During investigations into his conduct, a crucial document mysteriously went missing – with no sign of distress from those tasked to archive it, while the people involved made statements and offered explanations that were “disconcerting” and “astounding”.
But, thanks to a poor election showing by the ANC, not caring may no longer be enough. When the party reflected on what went wrong during the recent local government elections, secretary general Gwede Mantashe said on Wednesday night, it realised it faced a “trust deficit”, in part justified by the facts, and that had to change.
So when Mthembu said the ANC was not amused about the lack of consequences for Motsoeneng, Mantashe said, his reaction was part of a considered strategy. “We think this thing of being nice to everybody doesn’t project the ANC correct enough,” Mantashe said.
Mthembu said the ANC would seek a parliamentary inquiry into the fitness of the SABC board on the back of Motsoeneng getting another top job, unless the board overturned that decision before things got worse.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a high-ranking party official translated the party’s feelings into less politically correct language.
“We will tear the SABC apart if we have to. We will make an example of this Hlaudi. People will know that there is no such thing as being above the law where the ANC governs.”
That is in stark contrast to the approach of the communications ministry, which exercises day-to-day oversight over the public broadcaster. Earlier this month, it primly informed the nation that it had a duty “to wait for the SABC to engage us formally on this matter”, following rumours that the organisation wanted to return Motsoeneng to his erstwhile job as chief operating officer.
That, a party insider said, was likely to weigh against the communications minister, Faith Muthambi, at this weekend’s meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee.
SABC board members, too, could feel some personal pain. There were questions to be asked about Motsoeneng’s new job, public protector Thuli Madonsela said on Tuesday, minutes after it had been announced, and, if that required legal action, it would be only fair to hold the board members personally liable for the costs.
One would assume those officials might be suffering at least mild bouts of worry. But not Motsoeneng.
“I’m not stressed,” he said on Wednesday – as he had on Tuesday, and the week before that. “Hlaudi doesn’t stress.”