Parliament's ad hoc committee looking into the fitness of the SABC board began interviewing witnesses on Wednesday, 7 December. Since then, South Africans have been treated to explosive testimony on the breakdown of our national broadcaster, particularly under the leadership of former COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng. The inquiry broke for the festive season and resumed on Friday January 13. We round up the most astounding moments so far.
1. Someone tells a big whopper and it's probably Ben Ngubane
Inevitably, when people play fast and loose with the truth, someone gets caught out. When the committee picked up again on January 13 with former chair Ben Ngubane's testimony, committee chairperson Vincent Smith found at least four, that's right, four contradictions from previous testimonies. These included Ngubane's assertion that The New Age breakfast shows did not cost the SABC a cent, while former employee Vuyo Mvoko had testified that "Morning Live" resources were diverted and that up to R500,000 was spent, News24 reported. "Everyone who spoke here spoke under oath and I think somebody must go to jail," Smith said.
2. Former Chair Ellen Tshabalala cites political interference at the SABC ... very selectively
Ellen Tshabalala, she of the missing degree fame who took over as chair from Ngubane, suddenly became very passionate about the SABC's independence, citing political interference during her time there. Of course, only certain politicians were fingered. "When I joined in 2013, before I was even a week in the position, we received a call from the communist party by the then spokesperson ... he was asking me to support [then Communications] Minister [Yunus] Carrim on agreeing on encryption ... and I said but how do you get involved," Tshabalala said. As to any political interference behind her near-fanatic support of Motsoeneng, Tshabalala was entirely mum, denying Communication Minister Faith Muthambi had any influence in his appointment.
3. Some dissenting SABC journalists received death threats
Journalist Suna Venter, one of the eight journalists who took the SABC to court earlier this year, was reportedly shot at while in her car in October. She had also received threatening messages. Former CEO Lulama Mokhobo on Thursday revealed that she was currently being threatened. She did not want to divulge by whom.
4. The Guptas tried to take control of the SABC's news production
On day four, former SABC chief technology officer Sipho Masinga described a "surprise meeting" where it became clear that the Gupta family's TNA media group was trying to take control of the SABC's news production, before it launched ANN7 in 2013. Masinga described documents: "It was talking about rebranding SABC News, that TNA will not pay any rental, that the SABC will provide resources and journalists, TNA will retain advertising revenue. That right there was enough to understand the context of the meeting."
5. SABC allegedly paid for the Gupta's New Age breakfasts
Veteran journalist Vuyo Mvoko testified on day five that the SABC paid for the New Age breakfasts on the Morning Live show, at a whopping R200 000 to R500 000 per breakfast. He alleged this money was used to build rival channel ANN7. Both the New Age and ANN7 are owned by the controversial Gupta family who are close to President Jacob Zuma.
6. The SABC Joburg office controlled parliamentary coverage
On day five SABC journalist Lukhanyo Calata said the parliamentary office where he worked was considered "problematic" and whenever the president appeared in the House, the broadcast would be controlled remotely by the Johannesburg office. He also received instructions not to air select footage of the Economic Freedom Fighters.
7. Hlaudi made the news: whether he made sense or not
While Calata was explaining how his work as parliamentary reporter was often controlled, he revealed a hilarious tidbit on how Motsoeneng's appearances in Parliament had to be aired. Calata once covered a sitting of the portfolio committee on communications where Motsoeneng's speech was so "incoherent" he could not include any sound bites in his report. His editor however insisted he do so. "Eventually, I settled on a sound bite, where Mr. Motsoeneng said: 'The New Age, as you know, they are new, like the new age.'" That was the most coherent quote I could use," he said to laughter from the MPs.
8. Hlaudi was confident he could appeal to a higher power for a half a million rand increase
On day three acting CEO Phil Molefe testified that Motsoeneng threatened to "go to Pretoria" in 2011 after Molefe refused to give him a R500 000 increase. In a meeting with then chair Ben Ngubane, where Molefe again refused, Motsoeneng allegedly said: "Chair, I told you that this is not our man. So I'm going to Pretoria tonight."
9. Hlaudi's relationship with President Jacob Zuma is "an open secret"
Calata said what everyone was thinking. "I think within the SABC, it's an open secret," Calata said. "Our understanding is that Mr. Motsoeneng has the support of the President."
10. Intelligence services were brought in to investigate SABC staff members
In a moment that shocked MPs on day four, former SABC general manager of labour relations Madiwe Nkosi said the State Security Agency was asked to investigate former group executive of risk and governance, Itani Tseisi, for allegedly having leaked information. "I basically learnt he had been cleared of the allegations, but there was very serious discomfort about him having to come back. They said he was a risk, so he can't come back," Nkosi said.
11. Hlaudi was so powerful he could change the time of day
Okay not quite, but in minutes at least. On day three, former SABC board member Krish Naidoo said Motsoeneng's "group" could change the recorded time of day in meeting minutes. "At times, it got so bad, that if one even argued about the time of the day, the outcome would invariably be what the 'Hlaudi group' wanted."
12. Hlaudi's favourite accusation is that 'you have an agenda'
The man with possibly the biggest agenda was adept at accusing others of the same. On day five of the inquiry, former SABC board member Professor Bongani Khumalo described a common method Motsoeneng would employ when a board member publicly went against one of his or the SABC's policies. "When we were in a board meeting, and a board member participates in a way he doesn't like, he would say so-and-so had an agenda and that 'We could see through this agenda.'"
13. A former CEO was sidelined despite turning a profit
There were two centres of power during group CEO Lulama Mokhobo's tenure which undermined her, despite turning a profit two years running in her two years at the broadcaster. There were many instances where Motsoeneng had meetings with the then board chairperson Ben Ngubane, without her knowledge, she testified on day two. "Many times there were things that were planned that I was not made aware of. I was generally quite juniorised in my position. It seemed Mr. Motsoeneng was the go-to man."
14. Faith Muthambi's actions bordered on illegality
The communications minister wrote to former board member Krish Naidoo criticising his actions during board meetings. "The role of the minister should be one of political oversight. I just think she came too close to the action at the SABC," he testified on day three. He reiterated that Muthambi's actions bordered on illegality when she amended the SABC board's memorandum of incorporation (MOI), Naidoo testified on day three. "The problem with the MOI is that it was done in contravention of the Broadcasting Act and to some extent the Constitution," he told MPs.
15. The last remaining nonexecutive board member may well live in an alternative universe
On day five Mbulaheni Maguvhe, finally appeared at the inquiry after initially walking out and earlier bringing a failed interdict to stop the process. Maguvhe spent much of his testimony claiming not to remember too much, but told MPs he was convinced Motsoeneng was doing a sterling job. "I think he does get things right and I believe anyone, even if you are good at something, you might as well have challenges." ANC MP Makhosi Khoza responded: "I have established you and I don't belong to the same world."
16. Faith Muthambi is mysteriously in the dark about, well, everything
The communications minister said no complaints about Motsoeneng, abuses of power or editorial interference had come to her attention, during her evasive testimony on day six. She also claimed zero knowledge about the R11,4 million bonus Motsoeneng was allegedly paid for his handling of the controversial R500 million SABC deal with MultiChoice to air SABC channels on DStv.
17. SABC board minutes provided to parliament might have been tampered with
ANC MP Juli Kilian spotted the discrepancy during former board member Rachel Kalidass's testimony on day seven, when the minutes Kalidass read out from 7 July 2014 differed to what MPs had been provided with. Dodgy.
18. SABC board chairpersons weren't always such a disaster
Former SABC group executive for risk and governance Itani Tseisi testified on day three that the last three board chairpersons have been a disaster for the public broadcaster. "The last three chairpersons of the board, I don't know how to describe them ... disaster, I think it is," he said in response to ANC MP Hlomane Chauke. Tseisi said he had the privilege of joining the SABC when Vincent Maphai was chairperson between 1999 and 2003. "You compare then to now, it's sad. It's absolutely sad," he said.
The hearings will resume on January 19. The committee will consider a draft report on January 24 and present a final report on February 15.
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