ZUMA WANTS SABC CONTROL
Political interference in appointing the top three posts at the broadcaster has been cited as the main reason for delays in announcing the new board
President Jacob Zuma and Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo have been accused of deliberately delaying the appointment of the SABC board to make their own appointments as far as the strategic positions of chief operating officer (COO), chief executive officer (CEO) and chief financial officer (CFO) go – without the board’s input.
Sources close to the process have told City Press that Dlodlo and the now defunct interim board, headed by businesswoman Khanyisile Kweyama, fought over the recommended names for these positions, after the minister insisted on being given the initial short list that the board had drawn up.
Interviews for these positions were completed by the interim board in August. These board members told the parliamentary committee during interviews that the candidates had been high-calibre professionals, with impressive CVs and qualifications.
They said at the time that they hoped the top executives would be appointed by the time their term expired.
It is alleged that Dlodlo wants to ram through her preferred candidates, while the ANC’s deployment committee also wants to have a say in who occupies the three strategic positions.
Board members refused to give her the names and accused her of changing goalposts and making impossible demands. But Dlodlo stuck to her guns until the term of the board expired.
But now, the fact that the five members of the interim board are back on the recommended list to Zuma has created a new problem for the minister as they will be involved in finalising the appointments when the new board convenes.
According to sources, this has necessitated Zuma delaying the signing off of the board. Zuma missed the deadline to appoint the board, saying he wanted a rigorous vetting of the candidates. It appears as if Zuma has now instituted a duplication of the verification and vetting process that had already taken place in Parliament. Three candidates were excluded during that stage as the State Security Agency found them ineligible.
According to the Broadcasting Act, which governs the SABC, the president has no say in the selection process of the corporation’s board members. His only roles are to officially appoint the 12 nonexecutives whose names have been forwarded to him by the National Assembly and to determine who among them will be chairperson and deputy chairperson. Several sources close to the SABC and the ministry of communications have informed City Press that one of the board nominees had not submitted a Matric certificate but had provided proof of tertiary degrees.
The hiatus in governance at the broadcaster may serve as a setback as the SABC’s management and financial woes had been vigorously tackled by the interim board, which, in its six months of existence, cleared out dodgy executives and cleaned up dodgy deals. Zuma is also allegedly stuck on who to appoint as board chairperson and deputy.
While he is not keen on Kweyama and her deputy, Mathatha Tsedu, the most openly ANC member of the board, Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, is also not his cup of tea. She might also prove a controversial appointment as she is likely to be elevated to the national executive committee (NEC) at the ANC’s December conference. “Febe is too blatant an appointment,” said an insider.
“She has already said she may run for the NEC.”
Another quandary facing Zuma is that it might be seen as a bad move to replace Kweyama with a man.
“The interim chair was an African woman, so do you replace her with a man when you are so clear on backing African women when it comes to [showing support for presidential hopeful] Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma?” said the insider. A senior source at the public broadcaster claimed that Zuma and his supporters were worried about having lost control of the SABC newsroom during the time of the interim board, and wanted those appointed to the three top positions to provide their direct line to the newsroom.
Dlodlo’s office said that, while she acknowledged that the appointment of the CEO, COO and CFO were urgent and imperative, she was not happy with the current recommended candidates.
“She wants people with experience and expertise,” Dlodlo’s spokesperson, Mava Scott, told City Press. “But most importantly, she wants people with the ability and proven experience to turn around organisations. She wants people that will turn around the SABC. Unfortunately, the candidates that she has come across in that process so far do not meet those criteria.”
Dlodlo’s allies also suggested that the minister was unhappy with the whole candidate selection process on the grounds that it was fraught with problems from the beginning, starting with the board having failed to submit the job profiles to her for approval before advertising the jobs.
As a result, they said, the minister’s input was not taken into consideration from the onset in the search.
A senior government official dismissed the allegations about the reasons for the delay as nonsensical and mere “conspiracy theories”, adding that the president merely wanted to satisfy himself about the fitness of the board members, as he had previously been burnt over the scandal surrounding former SABC chair Ellen Tshabalala, who was found to have lied under oath about her qualifications.
“You cannot assume that the National Assembly did that, as we saw with the former chairperson of the SABC and Deputy Public Protector Kevin Malunga,” he said. “They had gone through the parliamentary process.” Presidential spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga said there was “no truth in any of the allegations” that the appointment of the board was being deliberately delayed.
“The line function in the department of communications was still collating information, and this was submitted by end of business on Friday,” he said.
“The appointments can now be finalised. Even the SA Qualifications Authority confirmed publicly that it had submitted proof of qualifications on Thursday, within the deadline set by the communications department. The president has no interest or involvement in the appointment of SABC executives.”
DA MP Phumzile van Damme, who is also the party’s national spokesperson, believes the delay has to do with the appointment of the executives.
“The SABC interim board was at pains to explain to the committee that they had found suitable candidates for top management and were keeping the names under lock and key to protect the process from political interference,” she said.
“In terms of the SABC Charter, the minister of communications was due to approve the names. Now that there is no board, the minister suddenly says: ‘They were good candidates‚ but they did not meet my expectations as the person that is ultimately responsible for the functioning of the SABC.’”
Van Damme expressed concern that the appointment of the broadcaster’s top brass would meet approval by Luthuli House and would be forced through.
“We need the board to be in place to oversee this process,” she said.
Earlier this week, Van Damme revealed that Zuma had summoned senior editorial staff to a meeting at his office.
The presidency denied this, saying it was a regular meeting between Ngqungula and the SABC journalists.
A board nominee did not think there was anything nefarious about the delay in appointing the board, saying they were confident that it would be done within days. “It looks like a genuine case of mismanagement,” said the nominee.
Other nominees spoke of “a laughable security check” which began days after the interim board’s term ended on September 26, saying that there were even questions about their political affiliations.
Board nominees also revealed that the requests for proof of academic qualifications were the same that candidates had provided to Parliament during its selection process.
“I mean, it’s incredible. We provided all of this to Parliament. They had files on all of us, good dossiers with certified identity documents, academic records, credit and criminal checks ... Why not just phone the secretary of the portfolio committee for the files?” said one.
The source revealed that a number of SABC nominees had cleared their calendars for the first two weeks of October so that they could dedicate their attention to the board.
It is also believed that senior staff who are still loyal to former COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng are “quite enjoying not having a board, being inquorate, not being able to make any big decisions”.
Meanwhile, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has given Zuma until tomorrow to appoint the board, failing which the party will take him to court.
The EFF has charged that Zuma’s failure to appoint a new board amounts to gross dereliction of duty and gross negligence and/or incompetence.
“With the history of maladministration and abuse of power by SABC’s executive management, the president’s inordinate delay has placed the SABC at risk of looting and capture,” the party’s lawyers wrote to Zuma on Thursday.
President Jacob Zuma