When MPs do their jobs

CityPress - - Voices - Andisiwe Makinana voices@ city­press. co. za Follow me on Twit­ter @AndiMak­i­nana

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

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