The SABC’s Special Projects department is regarded by many as a back door to push through commissions.
But SABC group executive of corporate affairs Hlaudi Motsoeneng denies this, saying there is a single content team at work at the SABC.
Insiders, however, don’t agree, with one saying: “Those who have access to the 27th floor are making all the new content.”
In May, soap stars Sophie Ndaba and Winnie Ntshaba, and performers Somizi Mhlongo, Arthur Mafokate and Khanyi Mbau, were earmarked for production development as part of the SABC’s plan to empower local production houses and talent.
Other producers announced were DJ Finzo, Ntombi Mzolo, Thapelo Moraka and Pearl Modiadie.
Motsoeneng dismisses the idea that his or his close SABC associate Sully Motsweni’s “friends” are benefiting from the new arrangement. “I don’t have friends,” he told City Press. “When I check your questions about certain individuals, we don’t do business because people come and complain in my office as you are putting it. It’s ‘Home Affairs’ here, people call this office Home Affairs. Or ‘hospital’.
“I have an open-door policy. I talk to everyone and I listen to everyone. We are making sure that we empower emerging production houses and we are targeting all provinces and we want people to produce programming in their own languages.”
One example of preferential treatment cited by many sources is Ndaba and Ntshaba’s proposed new show, The Healers, a mythical yet futuristic drama featuring mermaids.
One SABC insider said the Special Projects department’s Jacqui Hlogwane helped write the proposal for the show.
Asked about this, Motsoeneng replied: “That is a good question. The role of the SABC is to guide and also to empower all these emerging media houses.”
Ndaba has also been linked to a new wedding show and a new soap opera pitched to Motsoeneng, according to four current and former SABC officials.
The wedding show was initially rejected by SABC commissioning editors because Ndaba owns a wedding planning business and they felt the show promoted it. Motsoeneng said he encouraged Ndaba’s business success. One SABC insider said Motsoeneng had been heard stating: “Somizi [Mhlongo] must come, Danie [Swart] and Jacqui [Hlongwane] will help him with his proposal.” Ndaba and Ntshaba did not respond to questions. “We want former actors to be owners of their own productions ... Transformation at the SABC is not negotiable,” Motsoeneng said.
Independent producers, however, say Motsoeneng is doing untold damage to the industry by throwing out the RFP system.
The Independent Producers’ Organisation (IPO), which represents “the majority of the television producers supplying content to broadcasters in South Africa”, said in a statement: “The IPO is aware of Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s parallel commissioning process for his chosen handful of aspirant producers.
“They are often actors or recognised industry persons, who are not experienced producers, and have themselves reached out to numerous of our members, requesting ‘assistance’ in their significant pre-allocated budgets, since they lack the necessary production experience.
“As a result, the allocated funds would essentially be given to ‘middle men and women’ who are given credits they are not qualified for.”
The statement says the independent production sector fought hard for independent commissioning, and fair and transparent procedures, and this has opened the door “to unfair and corrupt commissioning practices that were a hallmark of a dated broadcaster in days long gone.”
Motsoeneng said in response: “It will be misleading to say production houses are unhappy. Maybe your sources are not prepared for transformation.”