Hlaudi the politician?
Suspended SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng this week made a last-ditch attempt to cling to his job ahead of his looming disciplinary hearing.
Surrounded by sympathetic musicians, who spoke for an hour before he could start his marathon press conference live on SABC news, the occasion felt like a roadshow; an epic praise poem; a tribute concert with opening acts.
It was also Motsoeneng’s apparent pitch for a high-profile career in politics, should the hearing not go his way. And it won’t – not this time. Motsoeneng can’t survive the SABC interim board’s mandate from the parliamentary ad hoc committee to implement its recommendations, among them the findings of a three-year-old Public Protector report calling for his censure for lying about his qualifications, and hugely inflating his and his closest allies’ salaries. He’s currently earning R350 000 a month to stay at home. Word on the board is that it’s over.
Motsoeneng also no longer has the unconditional protection of the communications minister. Faith Muthambi has moved on and Ayanda Dlodlo, say insiders, is not backing what is patently a losing horse.
The press concert was more of the same cult of the personality stuff from the grand blesser of the airwaves. Building his mythology, Motsoeneng and his allies obfuscated on every level, presenting selective truths and populist rhetoric.
We saw musicians singing his praises for implementing a 90% local content quota on radio – but what we didn’t see is that the same musicians are owed an estimated R400 million by the SABC, which has not paid music rights in something like seven years – five of them on Motsoeneng’s watch.
Everybody wants local content and a thriving local culture, but Motsoeneng did not commission a risk analysis before he unilaterally implemented his new quotas, which added R50 million a month to the TV production bill because local content is expensive.
He was advised at the time to phase increased local content in and buffer the SABC’s coffers, but he hammered his policy home and lost the market instead.
On Wednesday, he laughed off suggestions that the 90% policy had hurt radio, saying there was only a 1% or 2% audience drop-off. What he didn’t tell us was how the unexpected new local content schedules caused advertisers to withdraw and revenue to plunge. Nor did he speak about the massive legal bill that was accumulated after hounding suspected whistle-blowers from the building; the tens of millions of rands spent on questionable consultants; and the millions he paid himself in bonuses.
In fact, he claimed that he left the SABC with plenty of money in the bank, and said there would have been no financial crisis, no staff lay-offs and no unpaid producers if he was still there. Months of investigation by City Press prove this to be a lie.
Motsoeneng, with his flagrant disregard for policy and legal procedure, is the author of the downfall of the public broadcaster.
He knows he’s unlikely to get his job back, so his latest press concert was actually the launch of his political career.
He said as much: “You may say you don’t want Hlaudi, it’s fine. But Hlaudi is going to lead you on another platform ... People are calling me to politics. Politicians would be shocked at the numbers that would vote for me.”
Motsoeneng has also evidently had the backing of President Jacob Zuma as he has played a core role in skewing news and political coverage at the SABC to be pro-Zuma. On Wednesday, he continued to pitch his bid to the heart of the Zuma camp.
He said he didn’t just “create” Bonang Matheba and Robert Marawa, he also “started this radical transformation” that the president speaks about these days.
But Zuma doesn’t need to worry, Motsoeneng doesn’t want his job – he supports a female president. One assumes this is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Motsoeneng’s looking further into the future.