There was “gross political interference” in the affairs of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), former board chairperson Ellen Tshabalala said on Friday, citing Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and the SA Communist Party (SACP) as among those trying to put pressure on the board.
“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 told the parliamentary inquiry into the affairs of the public broadcaster.
Tshabalala took over as chairperson of the board in 2013, following the resignation of Ben Ngubane, who testified in the inquiry earlier on Friday, and served until her resignation in 2015 after allegations surfaced that she had lied about having a BCom degree.
She said the question on whether set-top boxes, to be rolled as part of South Africa’s move from analogue broadcasting technology to digital technologies, would be encrypted or decrypted was a technical and not political issue.
Nzimande, as SACP general secretary, is in favour of encryption, arguing that MultiChoice’s monopoly on encrypted TV programming would be protected should government roll out unencrypted set-top boxes in defiance of African National Congress policy.
Tshabalala said the board she chaired received pressure from those in political circles, and was asked why her evidence clashed with that of Ngubane, who denied any political influence in the decisions of the board.
“We were inundated with politicians asking us to support this encryption…there is gross interference…,” she said.
Tshabalala chaired a meeting in July 2014 where board members clashed on the permanent appointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng as chief operating officer, despite former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela finding he had lied about having matric and that his salary was irregularly adjusted several times.
Evidence leader Nthuthuzelo Vanara grilled her on this meeting, which, according to Tshabalala’s fellow board members, happened while Communications Minister Faith Muthambi was in the SABC building.
“You bullied the board into taking a decision. I’m putting it to you because you were doing that because you and the minister had an understanding that come what may, that evening there was going to be a decision for the minister’s consideration,” Vanara said.
Tshabalala denied this.
“I did not bully members. Members of the board had a right to give their views and they gave me their views…even when minister was there,” she argued.
Tshabalala also did not see the need to solicit legal advice on appointing Motsoeneng.
She denied Muthambi had applied undue pressure on the board to make the appointment.
Tshabalala, like Ngubane, challenged the findings of the pubic protector.
“I’m saying having met with Public Protector personally, not the board, she [Madonsela] made certain accusations of Hlaudi’s conniving with ministers and everything and I could be bullied by Hlaudi and I said no that is not a fact,” she said.
“There was a serious imbalance between the factual information and what she [Madonsela] alludes to.
– African News Agency (ANA)