Is Parliament losing faith in the SABC?
The tide is seemingly turning for the public broadcaster as a parliamentary inquiry finally shows some teeth
The parliamentary inquiry into the SABC may have made for good television over the past two weeks, but issues presented were nothing new. After years of standing by and being complicit while the SABC rot festered, Parliament is finally asking the right questions about governance failures at the public broadcaster.
The inquiry was a last-minute call to look into the SABC troubles that Parliament had ignored for at least the past two years.
The media and social-media hype around “MPs’ great, probing questions”, “their commitment to oversight” and the fixation on personalities in the ad hoc committee are just that – hype.
The SABC inquiry is an outcome of shifting factional politics within the ANC. The tone was set by ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu earlier this year, in his capacity as the chairperson of the ANC’s subcommittee (a strategy committee) on communication.
The “unlawful” appointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng as SABC group executive of corporate affairs towards the end of September, after the appeals court ruled his previous appointment as chief operations officer (COO) illegal, was the last straw, according to Mthembu.
The ANC finally called for an inquiry into the broadcaster and its board – a call that had previously fallen on deaf ears when it was made by the DA’s Phumzile van Damme.
It would be a huge disservice to the reader not to point out the recent history of Parliament’s approach towards the SABC.
The allegations of factions within the SABC board, interference by the minister, the so-called SABC 8, the multimillion-rand MultiChoice deal and the removal of board members who did not support Motsoeneng’s permanent appointment as COO in July 2014 had all been brought to Parliament and were largely shrugged off by the portfolio committee on communications.
In fact, the committee sought legal advice on the removal of the unpopular board members, and the advice received from 5 4 3 2 1 0 Radio producer R 912 000 Parliament’s own constitutional and legal services stated that the removal of Hope Zinde, Rachel Kalidass and Ronnie Lubisi was unlawful and invalid. The one ANC MP, Joyce Moloi-Moropa, who was at the forefront of seeking such legal advice and who gave an ear to those board members who complained, was chastised by her ANC comrades, including by Communications Minister Faith Muthambi. She ultimately resigned from Parliament a few months later.
Moloi-Moropa is also the treasurer-general of the SA Communist Party, which has been vocal against the goings-on at the public broadcaster for the past few years. This was further evidence that political will had indeed become secondary and subsumed in ANC factional fights that play out within public institutions that should be protected and be above and beyond politics and in the interest of all South Africans.
Only four months ago, in August, Muthambi told the parliamentary committee overseeing the SABC that there were no problems at the SABC and that it was all in the imagination of the print media, opposition parties and NGOs whom she said were opposed to transformation.
She sang quite a different tune this week.
Muthambi told the inquiry that the problems at the SABC preceded her. She revealed that when she assumed office in May 2014 – eight months after the SABC board was appointed – she found a dysfunctional board at the broadcaster.
The disaster has been left to unfold at the SABC as the public broadcaster has become a tool in the factional fighting of the ANC.
In the factional fighting of the ANC, what fell by the wayside was the political will to uphold the law in terms of the Broadcasting Act, which outlines the public service mandate of the SABC.
Muthambi this week didn’t know, didn’t remember, couldn’t recall. Yet last year, she insisted in Parliament that the Companies Act superseded the Broadcasting Act.
This was her way of interfering and meddling in the SABC and therefore playing a significant part in the shenanigans and disaster.
The factional battles of the ANC have stifled the political will to uphold the law and the Constitution that gives every South African the right to access information. R 413 000 SABC chief operating officer 13th cheque and commissions Contributions to pension fund and medical aid Expenses and allowances Basic salary Agreement between the SABC and Multichoice: Bonus for transaction: Already received R11.4 m
R 2 872 000 R 4 198 000 R 3 784 000