Controversial South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) executive Hlaudi Motsoeneng, whom a court of law has found was not entitled to hold any position at the public broadcaster, was doing a sterling job, MPs heard on Tuesday.
Speaking on the back of days of harrowing testimony from former board members, executive managers and journalists, who said that Motsoeneng was a man with a powerful force behind him who made their lives hell, board chairman Mbulaheni Maguvhe sang the former producer turned SABC executive’s praises.
“I was convinced he was doing a sterling job,” as Maguvhe told MPs as he defended his decision to vote for Motsoeneng’s permanent appointment as chief operating officer (COO) in July 2014.
Asked about the massive cost to the public broadcaster, and by extension to taxpayers, of keeping Motsoeneng, who had his 2014 appointment set aside by a court and declared unlawful, in his job, Maguvhe said he did not believe it affected taxpayers money.
Pushed further on why attempts should not be made to recoup the millions spent on legal fees to protect Motsoeneng’s position from him personally, Maguvhe had this to say: “Even those who voted against [Motsoeneng’s appointment] were board members and we take a decision and if the majority says the person should be appointed, then that binds those also who voted against …”
African National Congress MP Makhosi Khoza was not impressed, insisting how Maguvhe as an accomplished man could be comfortable with Motsoeneng, who was without a matric, being appointed to COO.
“We were convinced he has leadership qualities, and that is what we believed [in 2014].”
Fastforward to now, Maguvhe still believed Motsoeneng was the right man for the job.
“Unless if I can be proven otherwise because from where I am, I think he does get things right and I believe anyone even if you are good at something, you might as well have challenges.”
This did not go down well with Khoza who as an aside said: “At least I have established you and I don’t belong to the same world.”
SABC board chair pleads ignorance of SABC controversies, wants staff fired
MPs went on to quiz Maguvhe about his understanding of the broadcaster, asking him who the SABC’s shareholder was. His answer should have been government on behalf of South Africans.
Instead, he said: “As far as I know, the minister of the department of communications represents the shareholder of the SABC. She is representing Parliament.”
ANC MP Jabu Mahlangu corrected him.
“No, she definitely can’t represent Parliament. She is representing the executive,” Mahlangu.
Asked whose money was used to fund the broadcaster, Maguvhe said 85% came from commercial deals, 13% from tv licences and two from government grants.
Mahlangu chose to correct him again.
“That is a public purse. The failure of you as chair to respond to this question adequately raises serious questions about the losses the SABC has incurred,” the MP said.
It was then time to test whether Maguvhe knew what was happening in the SABC newsroom. He said the matter of the group of journalists who were fired, and then reinstated, after objecting to what they called censorship and slanting of news, was never brought to the board’s attention.
“I don’t know. Who are you referring to?” asked Maguvhe.
He was also not aware of the journalists bringing a case before the Constitutional Court on the SABC’s new editorial policy.
The signing of what MPs called the “questionable” deal between the SABC and MultiChoice, giving the latter access to some of the broadcaster’s archives, was something that happened before his time, Maguvhe said.
This is when committee chairman Vincent Smith intervened, reading out the minutes of a board meeting on January 29, 2015, when Maguvhe was already appointed to the board. The minutes show the deal, worth around R256 million, was approved in that meeting.
“How do you tell people of South Africa and Parliament you know nothing about it because it happened before your time?” Smith demanded.
Maguvhe clarified, saying he though he was being asked something else.
His memory faltered when asked whether Motsoeneng signed the deal before or after board approval.
“Honestly speaking, I can’t remember, so I don’t want to even want to attempt to give a response which would not be the truth,” Maguvhe told MPs.
Maguvhe was aware that Motsoeneng received a bonus in connection with the deal, but asked to comment on whether it was between R11 million and R33 million, his memory again failed him.
“The bonus that was paid, I’m aware of it, although the amount being said…I don’t have the figures.”
He did, however, remember the firing of three board members last year, saying there was sufficient proof to merit their removal, despite claims that they were targeted for not agreeing with how the broadcaster was being run.
Maguvhe at some point was also asked to rate himself from one to 10 in terms of governance. He gave himself an eight.
Democratic Alliance MP Phumzile van Damme then asked, given the failures at the SABC under his watch, why he should continue receiving a salary.
This was his reply: “I said Parliament is the appointing authority, if I’m not mistaken, or would recommend to the appointing authority to terminate my services but what I’ve done and I say this with pride, under my leadership, the number of qualifications we receive from auditor general were drastically reduced.
“To me, we have an SABC that was stable financially…it’s a lot we’ve achieved under my leadership, but I cannot respond to issues of why you cannot dismiss me. That I do not have an answer to.”
Despite his achievements, Maguvhe admitted that there was something wrong at the SABC. All, he said, could be fixed if the entire broadcaster’s staff were sacked and someone pressed the reset button.
– African News Agency