When MPs do their jobs
This week’s resignation of former SABC chief financial officer James Aguma hopefully closed a dark chapter of crippling impunity at the public broadcaster.
Aguma’s abrupt resignation came just over a year after the ANC – for the first time in years – spoke out and called for change against unconstitutional decisions by senior managers at the broadcaster. It also came, arrogantly, in the middle of a disciplinary process in which Aguma faced a series of charges including alleged breach of fiduciary duties, dishonesty in entering the SABC into business agreements and dishonesty relating to the broadcaster’s case against one Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
The trigger for the ANC was the snubbing of the Independent Communications Authority of SA when the regulatory body instructed the SABC to withdraw its decision not to air footage of violent protests.
The public broadcaster had gone and changed its editorial policy without sufficient consultation as required by law.
It banned footage showing violent protests ahead of last year’s municipal elections which embarrassed some in the ANC, suspended senior journalists who dared question the policy changes and barred journalists from covering certain events critical of the SABC and others which portrayed the ANC in a negative light.
ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu, in his capacity as the chairperson of the ANC subcommittee on communications, took on the SABC bosses just weeks before the August 3 elections. He called their move to ban coverage of violent protests what it was: censorship and unconstitutional. Mthembu called for people with expertise and who know how to run a big corporation to be hired to lead the broadcaster. “You can’t bring in any Tom, Dick and Harry to run such an elite institution,” he said, taking a jab at the matric-less Motsoeneng, who was running the show.
That very evening, Motsoeneng and then chairperson Mbulaheni Maguvhe sneered at Mthembu and basically told him to take a hike. “He has a personal interest in the SABC,” claimed Motsoeneng, while Maguvhe insinuated in an interview with a rival radio station that Mthembu, other political leaders and members of the SABC staff wanted the SABC to collapse so they could purchase its radio stations and TV channels for their business interests.
Print journalists, NGOs and opposition parties who raised questions about the mess at the broadcaster were labelled anti-transformation agents who were jealous of the “progress” at the SABC. Disappointingly, this labelling found favour in Parliament where time and again the portfolio committee on communications accepted the word of the SABC head honchos without probing further.
And therein lay the problem: Parliament’s portfolio committee.
But the day the ANC reconstituted the committee and deployed cadres who did not feel beholden to the SABC managers, the wheels began to turn. Uncomfortable questions were asked, unhappy board members sang like canaries (and resigned); a parliamentary inquiry was constituted and, as they say, the rest is history.
While the jury is still out on whether the public broadcaster is indeed fulfilling its constitutional role, its rebuilding has surely begun.
It took one session of Parliament, nothing extraordinary but MPs doing what they had promised to do when they took their oath of office. The turnaround at the SABC is evidence that when Parliament works, things fall into place.
[The SABC’s] rebuilding has surely begun