Faith Muthambi absolves herself of crisis at SABC

Appearing before the parliamentary inquiry into the SABC board’s fitness to hold office, Communications Minister Faith Muthambi said she had no influence on many of the happenings that have plagued the SABC.

Muthambi was given just over 40 minutes to make a presentation to the ad hoc committee in Parliament which has been hearing testimony about the SABC board. She appeared in her capacity as a shareholder representative. 

In her responses to MPs, Muthambi said she had heard no news of accusations around Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s abuse of power at the public broadcaster and she had no influence over the SABC’s editorial decisions.

Although outrage over Motsoeneng, who is the SABC group executive of corporate affairs, has been growing increasingly, Muthambi said issues around Motsoeneng’s power in the SABC had not been brought to her attention.

“I’ve heard nothing about Mr Motsoeneng being a law unto himself,” Muthambi told the ad hoc committee on Wednesday.

The communications minister also said that she has respected the law by refusing to reappoint Motsoeneng as acting SABC chief operating officer (COO), after the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruled that his initial appointment as SABC COO had been unlawful. 

Muthambi said the SABC board had proposed Motsoeneng be appointed COO in October. Despite the SCA ruling, Motsoeneng was, however, still appointed to the position of group executive of corporate affairs.

“Nobody has mentioned here that recently in the meeting with the PCC (portfolio committee on communications), in October 2016, I refused to appoint Mr Motsoeneng as the acting COO after the board had recommended that he assume the position and after there had been a ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeal,” Muthambi said.

Muthambi said that had she approved the board’s recommendation, she would be in contempt of court. When asked about her view on the Western Cape High Court’s ruling that Motsoeneng’s appointment as SABC group executive of corporate affairs was unlawful, Muthambi refused to comment. The minister said she required time to view the judgment.

Earlier this year, Muthambi was called before the communications portfolio committee to explain the public broadcaster’s editorial policy after discontent arose from the SABC’s decision to not air violent protests. 

In a tense exchange on Wednesday, DA MP Phumzile van Damme accused Muthambi of influencing the SABC’s decision not to broadcast violent protests as a result of schools being torched in Vuwani in Limpopo’s Malamulele municipality, which forms part of Muthambi’s constituency. But Muthambi maintained that she had no control over editorial decisions.

“I don’t work at the SABC. I don’t have any influence on SABC editorial decisions,” Muthambi responded.

The SABC board has come under fire in recent months amid resignations and proposals that the board be dissolved. Professor Mbulaheni Maguvhe is the only remaining board member of the SABC. When asked if the SABC still has a board, Muthambi replied: “There’s no board as we are speaking”.

Although Muthambi appeared to be aware that Maguvhe had been unable to answer most of the committee’s questions on the happenings at the SABC despite his position in the public broadcaster, Muthambi maintained that she could not answer for his failings and she had been unable to take action on his competency because she would not interfere with parliamentary processes.

The minister has maintained that the governance of the SABC was a collective responsibility and not that of shareholders. She said her office inherited the problems of an already flawed public entity.

“These problems at the SABC did not start when I became the minister,” Muthambi said.

The SABC inquiry is set to continue into the new year, but already there have been members of the ad hoc committee that had suggested the board should be dissolved.

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