Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the controversial South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) executive without a matric certificate, did not receive any protection from President Jacob Zuma, former board chairperson Ben Ngubane told MPs on Friday.
“There is no protection Mr Motsoeneng or we [former board] get from the president,” said Ngubane while testifying in the parliamentary inquiry into the SABC’s affairs.
He defended his tenure as board chairperson from December 2009 until his resignation in March 2013, saying he “saved the SABC” from its financial difficulties at the time, and also defended Motsoeneng, saying he was integral in establishing trust between the board, the executive and employees, despite contrary testimony from former board members and executives last month.
Asked about his relationship with the controversial Gupta family, Ngubane told MPs that he was not comfortable answering any questions on this, as allegations of state capture contained in former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s last report before her tenure ended was being taken on review. In that report, several allegations are made about the Guptas being given preferential treatment by the Eskom board, which Ngubane chairs.
Democratic Alliance MP Phumzile van Damme inferred that whenever Ngubane moved to a new board, the Gupta family would follow.
Gupta company, The New Age (TNA) newspaper, has an agreement with the SABC in which it televises TNA breakfast briefings.
Ngubane denied Motsoeneng had initiated the process of using SABC resources to broadcast the briefings, blaming former head of news Phil Molefe, who had made a presentation to the then board.
Asked whether he had ever met with a member of the Gupta family or one of their representatives, he chose only to say: “When we began participating in the breakfast briefings, I think I gave about three or four opening remarks at water affairs and other departments. I used to sit at the table with executives of TNA.”
“I did not bring the Guptas to the SABC. The whole came though normal channel of news, and we approved the business plan.”
Ngubane said there was no political pressure applied on the board to ensure The New Age briefings, as well as the ordering of 800 TNA newspapers a day.
Turning to the public protector’s report that made scathing findings against both Ngubane, questioning his leadership, and Motsoeneng, who was found to have lied about his matric qualifications, the former SABC board chairperson said Thuli Madonsela’s findings were not based on fact.
“This report is created out of statements I was not asked to corroborate,” he said
“If she [Madonsela] chooses to condemn me that’s her choice … it’s not informed by fact.
“My view is this country is in trouble. People hate each other. They group people into camps, you are in the wrong camp so I take you out, that’s how I view the public protector’s report.”
On the rise of Hlaudi Motsoeneng from producer of a current affairs show in the Free State to the position of chief operating officer, Ngubane said that despite his lack of formal qualifications, he was a skilled person.
“On the issue of matric, Hlaudi was appointed at SABC in 1995, Hlaudi had been street kid without parents, without a home. He reached level of matric but he couldn’t finish that,” he said, adding that Motsoeneng’s information provided to the local radio station, Lesedi FM, had led to the news ratings improving dramatically.
“We took this person because of his skills and incorporated him into SABC.”
As acting chief operating officer, Motsoeneng’s salary had increased by 63%, something found to be irregular by the public protector.
“The SABC is audited by independent auditors and the Auditor General also came … none of the audit findings point to that as irregular as improper, wasteful and fruitless expenditure.”
Asked why he did not challenge the public protector’s report, Ngubane said it was not his responsibility but the SABC’s to take her report on review.
He was further asked whether it was because he did not care about the SABC and was in fact guilty of damaging the corporation.
“I did not cause damage at SABC. I saved the SABC. It was bankrupt when we [former board] came,” he said angrily.
“It was in a mess. We sat around trying to stop the haemorrhaging of money. There was huge theft going on … so don’t accuse me falsely of destroying the SABC.”