POLITICS

The ANC Needs To Foot The Bill For The SABC's Implosion

We are all applauding Parliament's detailed inquiry into the SABC -- but the mess is the ANC's creation, and it needs to be held accountable.

14/12/2016 15:02 SAST | Updated 14/12/2016 16:31 SAST
Gallo Images
Former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng consults board member Mbulaheni Maguvhe during a media conference on 6 October 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

COMMENT

Thabo Mbeki's defeat at Polokwane in 2007, one steamy December afternoon at the Mankweng Campus of the University of Limpopo, was cataclysmic.

The loss of the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) was a mortal blow to Mbeki's desire to make the governing party in his image and influence national affairs after his term as head of state was to expire in 2009. Mbeki, Oliver Tambo's favourite son, was desperate to leave behind a legacy befitting OR (as Tambo was colloquially known) and to remake the party in modern, Africanistic style.

A third term as ANC leader, even though he could no longer be president, would give him that opportunity. Jacob Zuma's successful, divisive bid for the ANC leadership, however, scuttled these plans. Mbeki still had his hands on the levers of state power though, and was determined to exploit the anomaly created by two centres of power – Mbeki as head state and Zuma as head of party – to maximum effect.

The very first action Mbeki took, after the humiliation of Polokwane was to race back to Mahlamba'Ndlopfu, his official residence Bryntirion, the ministerial estate on Mentjeskop in Pretoria, to appoint a new SABC board.

The very first action Mbeki took, after the humiliation of Polokwane, was to race back to Prertoria and appoint a new SABC board.

His decision was announced almost immediately – Zuma's coalition of the wounded (by then the coalition of the victorious) was still digesting their coup at some of the watering holes around Polokwane when the press release from Mukoni Ratshitanga, Mbeki's spokesperson, dropped.

Mbeki stealing a march on them led to great anger among the new ruling elite. It illustrated quite clearly who still held executive power and how it could be wielded – and whoever controls the SABC, controls the message. And the key to that message was the Board.

This week's revelations at the parliamentary ad hoc committee on the SABC are nothing new. Sure, details about Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the Czar of Auckland Park, are juicy, but the core, the gist of the problems are nothing new.

This week's revelations at the parliamentary ad hoc committee on the SABC are nothing new. Sure, details about Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the Czar of Auckland Park, are juicy, but the core, the gist of the problems are nothing new.

Maladministration, editorial interference, poor corporate governance, ineffective leadership and weak administration are issues that have been raised in meetings of Parliament's portfolio committee on communications for years and years, with concurrent reporting by the media and advocacy by civil society at the same time. It's all there – in the press' archives, in parliamentary minutes and in SABC annual reports.

The hard line taken by ANC MPs, and the committee chairperson Vincent Smith (who has a track-record as a legislator that takes oversight seriously), of course needs to be welcomed. Forensic oversight is one of Parliament's constitutional duties and in this instance it is performing admirably.

The bill for the SABC's implosion, however, needs to be footed, in its entirety, by the ANC. ANC MPs patent lack of oversight, obfuscation and political expedience encouraged the creation of people like Hlaudi Motsoeneng and nurtured the rot that set in and eventually created the culture of impunity now prevalent.

ANC MP's patent lack of oversight, obfuscation and political expedience encouraged the creation of people like Hlaudi Motsoeneng and nurtured the rot that set in.

Within six months of Mbeki appointing his board, they were disbanded, replaced by a new, more pliant board. The argument went Mbeki's decision was politically motivated, taken without support of the new ANC leadership and designed to manipulate the public broadcaster. In came the new board – and then the circus started rolling.

Whenever there seemed to be some semblance of independent thought among board members, or by the group chief executive officers (GCEO), a crisis was manufactured and every man and his dog summoned to the portfolio committee. Political justice was swift and merciless – chairpersons replaced, members resigning and GCEOs given golden handshakes.

The ANC component on the portfolio committee has only ever been interested in safeguarding its political interests on the board, never in ensuring that the SABC fulfilled its mandate as a public broadcaster, not a state broadcaster.

Whenever a new board had to be appointed from nominated candidates, the party, to a man, spoke about the SABC's role, transparency and the need to stabilise the corporation. Opposition MPs were even willing to agree to a compromise that the ANC can select eight board members, while the opposition will select the remaining four.

But there's nobody better than the ANC when push comes to shove. The governing party, like clockwork, always uses its majority in the National Assembly to ensure it appoints all 12 members. Sometimes it hands a sop to Inkatha or the Minority Front, but even then it's always been a candidate vetted by the ANC that is chosen.

The governing party, like clockwork, always uses its majority in the National Assembly to ensure it appoints all 12 members.

The result has been a highly politicised board, contentious executive appointments and chronic and entrenched failures of management.

We can chuckle at the inept performance of someone as abjectly unqualified for his position as Professor Mbulaheni Maguvhe, current chairperson of the board, or shudder at Motsoeneng's megalomania.

Their time is over. We now need to worry about who comes after them – and we also have to accept the ANC, until proven otherwise, will adopt the same approach when appointing a new board that it has for the past decade.

And that is to find the most subservient, politically pliable and ANC-minded underlings out there to do their bidding.

** The writer covered the Parliamentary portfolio committee on communications between 2008 and 2011.