Hlaudi’s enforcers haunt broadcaster
The SABC 8 will be remembered for their courage in exposing Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s reign of terror. The group triggered a clean-up at the public broadcaster.
But the SABC 8 may be remembered for a lot more in years to come.
The SABC 8, smaller in number after the shocking death of Suna Venter, know that the remedies in place to fix the broadcaster will not guarantee long-term public accountability, and will not insulate the SABC from political bullying further down the line.
They know that the current model of governance is inconsistent with the SABC’s mandate. They know that interference and infighting are likely to infect even the best intentions of new, exemplary board members.
The weakness stems from how the board is selected each term – by members of political parties, with the majority party holding sway. The process is susceptible to cadre deployment, manipulation and self-interest.
Four members of the SABC 8 – Thandeka Gqubule, Busi Ntuli, Vuyo Mvoko and Krivani Pillay – learnt about alternative public television governance models during a tour of Germany earlier this year. They were guests of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung foundation. Inkatha Freedom Party whip Liezl van der Merwe, who accompanied the group, said: “You can’t rely on politicians to appoint the board because then political interference is built into the system from the start.”
In Germany, those responsible for governance include industry experts and civil society members from migrant, religious, gay and other communities. Politicians have marginal representation. Board meetings are transparent. Members serve out of public duty, not financial interest or cadre deployment.
The SABC group has a long-term vision to save the public broadcaster. With the help of MPs such as Van der Merwe, they plan to introduce a private members’ bill to Parliament that amends section 12 of the Broadcasting Act. They have consulted a legal firm. Lobbying has begun.
A new governance model would help protect the SABC from political interference and from becoming embroiled in factional party battles.
Lessons have been learnt recently, but public vigilance is needed. President Jacob Zuma already showed his executive power by delaying the signoff of the new board last week. Toxicity within the newsroom remains, despite valiant efforts by the interim board to clean things up. Last week, during an unannounced visit to Auckland Park, Van der Merwe found “a culture of fear was still there”. Hlaudi’s enforcers were still around and the impact of fund mismanagement was glaringly evident. Manipulation and self-censorship were still at play, with relentless pressure ahead of the ANC’s elective conference in December.
Despite positive signs of a turnaround, the pattern will probably continue and the wheels will fall off again in three or four years. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
For lasting change, a fundamental shift in the composition and selection of the board is needed. Political parties and the public must get behind the SABC 8 when the private members’ bill is tabled.
You can’t rely on politicians to appoint the board