HLAUDI CALLS IN THE SPOOKS

State Se­cu­rity Agency has ap­par­ently been spy­ing on SABC em­ploy­ees, mak­ing sure no­body talks to the me­dia

CityPress - - Front Page - CHARL BLIGNAUT and LLOYD GEDYE charl.blignaut@city­press.co.za

The SABC un­der cor­po­rate af­fairs boss Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng is an or­gan­i­sa­tion “driven by fear and in­tim­i­da­tion” as it be­comes in­creas­ingly se­cu­ri­tised and con­ducts an es­ca­lat­ing purge of skills and in­tegrity, even rop­ing in the State Se­cu­rity Agency (SSA) to help in­ves­ti­gate staff.

This is ac­cord­ing to 18 former se­nior staffers and cur­rent in­sid­ers City Press in­ter­viewed – or stud­ied the labour cases of – over the past month. None wished to be named as their cases were still on­go­ing and they feared vic­tim­i­sa­tion.

The sus­pen­sion of ex­pe­ri­enced SABC staffers’ con­tracts is es­ca­lat­ing and al­most al­ways in­volves pay­outs. Most of these staff mem­bers are pun­ished for ques­tion­ing ir­reg­u­lar pro­ce­dures or leak­ing in­for­ma­tion to the press. As part of our in­ves­ti­ga­tion, City Press can re­veal that in the last two years, the Com­mis­sion for Con­cil­i­a­tion, Me­di­a­tion and Ar­bi­tra­tion (CCMA) has heard 190 cases brought by SABC staff. Ac­cord­ing to City Press’ sis­ter news­pa­per, Rap­port, 109 of those were in the past nine months.

“Checks and bal­ances have been thrown out the win­dow,” said nu­mer­ous sources close to the broad­caster’s pro­cure­ment and fi­nance di­vi­sions, while the Au­di­tor-Gen­eral last week re­vealed R798.2 mil­lion in ir­reg­u­lar and waste­ful ex­pen­di­ture at the SABC.

The SABC did not re­spond to ques­tions sent on Thurs­day.

STATE SPIES ON THE 28TH FLOOR

In­sub­or­di­na­tion is one of the most com­mon charges laid against “un­co­op­er­a­tive” staff by the SABC, but “shar­ing in­for­ma­tion with third par­ties” has been steadily ris­ing in the past year.

So se­ri­ously does Mot­soe­neng take leaks that he al­legedly brought in the SSA to in­ves­ti­gate them since at least Septem­ber last year.

In one mat­ter, sev­eral se­nior staff mem­bers were sus­pended for al­legedly re­veal­ing the ex­tent of the SABC’s poor fi­nan­cials.

A num­ber of se­nior sources, in­clud­ing a mem­ber of the se­cu­rity clus­ter, said staff ar­rived for in­di­vid­ual meet­ings at a board­room on the 28th floor, con­vened by SABC hu­man re­sources. A man who in­tro­duced him­self as Isaac from the SSA took charge of pro­ceed­ings.

“He said he had been ap­proached by Mot­soe­neng to as­sist the SABC,” said one. Later, he was al­legedly joined by a woman, also from the SSA.

“This is il­le­gal in terms of the Na­tional Strate­gic In­tel­li­gence Act, even for a na­tional key point. It’s an in­ter­nal staff mat­ter, not one of na­tional se­cu­rity,” said one of the sources af­ter con­sult­ing lawyers.

Gareth Ne­wham of the In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies agreed, say­ing: “The Min­is­te­rial Re­view Com­mis­sion on In­tel­li­gence un­der­taken in 2008 warned ... that ca­pac­ity of the SSA was open to abuse for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons or motives that have noth­ing to do with na­tional se­cu­rity.

“The in­spec­tor-gen­eral of in­tel­li­gence should ur­gently and thor­oughly in­ves­ti­gate any al­le­ga­tions of wrong­do­ing.”

SSA spokesper­son Brian Dube re­sponded, say­ing: “In terms of the Na­tional Strate­gic In­tel­li­gence Act, the SSA is man­dated to help var­i­ous or­gans of state with re­quests for se­cu­rity-re­lated mat­ters. We don’t dis­cuss the de­tails of the re­quests we re­ceive and the de­tails of the work we do.”

Sev­eral se­nior SABC sources raised the steadily in­creas­ing se­cu­ri­ti­sa­tion of the na­tional broad­caster.

“Peo­ple will say we can’t have this con­ver­sa­tion here, the room is prob­a­bly bugged by the 27th floor.” Mot­soe­neng’s of­fice is on the 27th floor.

An­other in­sider told City Press two months ago: “I was alarmed when I got there and all these new se­cu­rity cam­eras had been in­stalled. You no­tice it from the park­ing garage.”

Asked last week about the heavy se­cu­rity out­side Mot­soe­neng’s of­fice and al­le­ga­tions of new cam­eras in the build­ing, SABC spokesper­son Kaizer Kganyago said: “Please note that the SABC is not at lib­erty to dis­cuss its se­cu­rity mea­sures with you. You would ap­pre­ci­ate that the SABC is a na­tional key point area.”

City Press’ in­ves­ti­ga­tion has also re­vealed a tight­en­ing of per­son­nel reg­u­la­tions cited in SABC work­ers’ con­tracts.

There was an out­cry among staff as early as 2014 when SABC con­tracts be­gan stip­u­lat­ing it had the right to in­ter­cept staff com­mu­ni­ca­tions, even if they were pri­vate.

In the lat­est amend­ments, staff must sign a clause that they are not al­lowed, with­out per­mis­sion, to talk to the me­dia for two years af­ter they re­sign.

The pres­i­dent of the Broad­cast­ing, Elec­tronic, Me­dia and Al­lied Work­ers’ Union (Be­mawu), Hannes du Buis­son, is threat­en­ing le­gal ac­tion re­gard­ing the clause.

This week he told the SABC in a let­ter that the clause in­fringes on staff mem­bers’ right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion, as well as the Ba­sic Con­di­tions of Em­ploy­ment Act.

“Not only is this a to­tal dis­re­gard for em­ployee rights, but it is set­ting a trap for em­ploy­ees to change pol­icy with­out fol­low­ing process and sim­ply slip that into the sys­tem,” he wrote.

If you aren’t will­ing to rub­ber-stamp some­thing that hasn’t fol­lowed pro­ce­dure ... you even­tu­ally get a let­ter invit­ing you to de­fend your­self against in­sub­or­di­na­tion charges and you are sus­pended pend­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion

JIMI MATTHEWS GOES TO THE CCMA

City Press has learnt that former SABC news head and act­ing CEO Jimi Matthews has filed a con­struc­tive dis­missal case against the SABC at the CCMA be­cause it had be­come un­bear­able and un­ten­able to work un­der Mot­soe­neng.

Matthews’ res­ig­na­tion made waves as he turned on Mot­soe­neng af­ter be­ing in his clos­est cir­cle.

Speak­ing from Ghana, where he is “tak­ing a break for the first time in God knows how many years” and “re­con­nect­ing with my cre­ativ­ity”, Matthews con­firmed he had pur­sued a case.

How­ever, he said the mat­ter was “moot” be­cause he would not be in the coun­try for the hear­ing and as­sumed it would be struck from the roll.

He said that he was re­flect­ing on the im­por­tance of the pub­lic broad­caster and how to make a pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion to its fu­ture. He de­scribed the SABC as “a dark ex­pe­ri­ence”.

“It’s like hav­ing got out of an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship and you can’t fig­ure out why you stayed in it.”

THE HAND­BOOK AND IN­TER­NAL AU­DIT

“If you aren’t will­ing to rub­ber-stamp some­thing that hasn’t fol­lowed pro­ce­dure; if you in­sist some­thing needs board ap­proval; when you point out con­tracts are ir­reg­u­lar, or a pur­chase or­der is for more than the value of the ser­vice pro­vided ... you even­tu­ally get a let­ter invit­ing you to de­fend your­self against in­sub­or­di­na­tion charges and you are sus­pended pend­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” said a top former staffer, re­fer­ring to those staff mem­bers who defy de­ci­sions by Mot­soe­neng or his trusted se­nior ex­ec­u­tives, no­tably act­ing CEO James Aguma.

Sources talk about these fear and in­tim­i­da­tion tac­tics as “the hand­book”. “It’s scripted,” said an­other staffer. “This is how to force some­one out.”

“They place you on sus­pen­sion and then hope you will jump,” said an­other, who added the rough han­dling through­out the sus­pen­sion, dis­ci­plinary or CCMA process is also aimed at mak­ing sure you don’t want to re­turn.

Sev­eral sources tell of a sin­is­ter di­vi­sion – in­ter­nal au­dit – run by James Mathebula, with foren­sic au­dit re­port­ing to them, which is used to find dirt on staffers whom Mot­soe­neng and his man­agers want out.

“They will get an in­struc­tion to in­ves­ti­gate some­one and then they will find what­ever they can: gov­er­nance mat­ters, mis­takes in con­trols, any in­cor­rect mi­nor process,” said one source.

“They will look for forms or re­ports that have not been sub­mit­ted, any­thing. If they still can’t find any­thing, they will work with the chief se­cu­rity of­fi­cer and mon­i­tor work at­ten­dance.”

Our in­ves­ti­ga­tion found sev­eral CCMA cases with charges of ar­riv­ing late for work or tak­ing days off – even when ab­sence had been ap­proved for study­ing or at­tend­ing a work­shop. (For a case study, go to city­press.news24.com.)

VIC­TIM­I­SA­TION AND PAY­OUTS

“When you re­turn you are told in no un­cer­tain terms you are not wel­come, to­mor­row is your last day, take a pay­out on your con­tract or we’ll fire you. Peo­ple are so scared that they take the money,” said Du Buis­son of the many cases he has han­dled.

He points to SABC staffer An­dre We­ber, who worked in labour re­la­tions at the SABC dur­ing apartheid. In­sid­ers re­fer to We­ber as the cho­sen head of staff purges, at the be­hest of Mot­soe­neng and hu­man re­sources boss Mohlolo Lephaka, es­pe­cially of those re­turn­ing to work af­ter win­ning at the CCMA.

“Be­mawu has lodged a whole lot of com­plaints against [We­ber],” says Du Buis­son.

“He’s di­rectly in­volved in most of the purges, he does the ne­go­ti­a­tions – if you can call them that...

“He re­tired and then, the next day, he walked in un­der a new con­tract with a job cre­ated spe­cially for him. He’s now spe­cial­ist: in­te­grated em­ployee re­la­tions.”

EX­PLO­SIVE PAR­LIA­MEN­TARY HEAR­ING

“If it hap­pens,” is what most wit­nesses City Press con­tacted said about next week’s par­lia­men­tary in­quiry into the fit­ness of the SABC board to hold of­fice.

Many be­lieve the sole re­main­ing nonex­ec­u­tive SABC board mem­ber, chair­per­son Obert Maghuve, will re­sign on Mon­day to im­pede the in­quiry.

But par­lia­men­tary sources said it would go ahead ei­ther way.

Op­po­si­tion par­ties are be­ing en­gaged about start­ing off Tues­day’s in­quiry with a closed ses­sion be­cause sev­eral former CEOs have been called to tes­tify, but signed nondis­clo­sure agree­ments when leav­ing the SABC.

These are ex­pected to in­clude former CEO Lu­lama Mokhobo. Other SABC staffers have been sum­monsed to ap­pear at the in­quiry, which will con­tinue on Wed­nes­day and Fri­day.

There will be a strong fo­cus on Theresa Gelden­huys, the long-serv­ing SABC com­pany sec­re­tary re­cently pro­moted to group ex­ec­u­tive for risk and gov­er­nance.

City Press has amassed proof of nu­mer­ous ques­tion­able board ap­provals Gelden­huys signed off, es­pe­cially af­ter board res­ig­na­tions left it with­out a quo­rum.

Gelden­huys is also al­leged by sev­eral in­sid­ers to be be­yond re­tire­ment age and is un­law­fully draw­ing both a state pen­sion and an ex­ec­u­tive salary.

Tes­ti­mony will cover se­ri­ous pro­cure­ment ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties; a re­port from the In­de­pen­dent Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Author­ity of SA on the SABC de­fy­ing its reg­u­la­tions; al­leged SABC elec­tion cov­er­age bias as led by Me­dia Mon­i­tor­ing Africa; the SABC’s un­law­ful chang­ing of ed­i­to­rial poli­cies to al­low news cen­sor­ship; and the SABC’s breach of em­ploy­ees’ labour rights as led by the SOS Coali­tion.

There will also be tes­ti­mony from the eight jour­nal­ists sus­pended for ques­tion­ing per­ceived cen­sor­ship, former pub­lic pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Faith Muthambi.

– Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by An­disiwe Mak­i­nana

I SPY SABC group ex­ec­u­tive of cor­po­rate af­fairs Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng PHOTO: LEON SADIKI

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