The Sunday Independent has reported that ANC sources have told them the only thing that can apparently save SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s job is the fact that elections are coming up.
The ruling party’s leaders are focused on winning votes and criss-crossing the country, and a decision on the SABC may be unlikely in the short term.
However, pressure is mounting. The party’s spokesperson, Jackson Mthembu, has reiterated his stance that the ANC does not endorse censorship and that recent editorial decisions at the SABC go against the party’s charter on media freedom.
The paper is among others reporting that ANC leaders will meet at Luthuli House on Monday to decide on what to do about the SABC, with the communication subcommittee expected to call for Motsoeneng’s removal, despite his champion, Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, being part of this subcommittee. Mthembu chairs the subcommittee and he made his anti-Motsoeneng stance clear this week, with ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe confirming that Mthembu was indeed speaking on behalf of the party.
The Thabo Mbeki Foundation and many others have joined the call for a probe into Motsoeneng.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Times is reporting that Motsoeneng overruled concerns about an enormous budget for a TV show made for the SABC by one of President Jacob Zuma’s daughters, Gugu Zuma-Ngube. Motsoeneng reversed a decision by a six-member review panel not to renew drama series Uzalo. The paper writes that a panel member told them Zuma-Ngube “complained to Hlaudi” and the decision not to renew was then “overrruled from above”.
The production company that makes the show is co-owned by Zuma-Ngube and the panel allegedly had concerns that the show was not good enough to be expanded from being a limited-season telenovela.
The newspaper has also reported extensively on the SABC’s “cash crisis” that requires it to negotiate for a loan of R1.5 billion in the face of dwindling reserves.
The SABC’s spokesperson said that Motsoeneng’s decision to renew Uzalo was “based on performance in its genre and growth in revenue”, Sunday Times reported.
An internal email the newspaper claims to have seen, however, suggests that owing to the huge amount involved, Uzalo’s business plan should have been signed off by the SABC board, but this did not happen. The board has been in disarray for some time, with CEO Jimi Matthews resigning publicly in protest last month and many key vacancies remaining unfilled.
Zuma-Ngube’s business partner, Kobedi “Pepsi” Kokane, denied that he and Zuma-Ngube had complained to Motsoeneng to have the decision reversed.
As for the enormous loan the SABC requires, the Sunday Times claimed to have seen emails involving loans from various major banks. Treasury would have to guarantee any such loans, which economists told Sunday Times could lead to a ratings downgrade for South Africa.
The SABC could post a loss of R500 million this year, according to Sunday Times estimates, from a profit of R358 million in 2014. Revenue from TV licence collections is down, the broadcaster is making less from advertising and has been spending billions on fixed employment costs, consultants and legal fees. The 90% local content decision on radio is also expected to impact negatively on cash flow.
Despite all this, the broadcaster has embarked on an ambitious plan to commission and schedule massively increased local content for TV (80% local content), in the process jettisoning a number of popular US shows.
Nevertheless, Motsoeneng still has his supporters, with the ANC Youth League and MK Veterans’ League reiterating their stance that he is the man to lead the SABC. A number of South African artists also support him, due to their view that he is responsible for the local content quotas.