South Africa 13.1.2017 09:00 pm

SABC inquiry hearings complete, someone is lying MPs suspect

SABC inquiry hearings complete, someone is lying MPs suspect

The parliamentary inquiry into the affairs of the embattled South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) concluded witness testimony on Friday.

MPs are expected to compile the first draft of their report into the matter by the end of next week.

The ad hoc committee tasked with the inquiry heard testimonies from former board chairpersons Ben Ngubane and Ellen Tshabalala, putting them in the hot seat and grilling them on several controversial decisions made while they were at the helm of the broadcaster.

Ngubane’s testimony that former acting CEO and head of news Phil Molefe initiated the deal with the Gupta-owned The New Age (TNA) newspaper for its breakfast briefings to be aired on the SABC contradicted that of at least two former executives who had told MPs that it was TNA who initiated meeting with SABC executives.

This prompted a stern warning from committee chairman Vincent Smith.

“Somebody had misled Parliament, somebody has not taken us seriously, and somebody has to pay the price. There can’t be such grave contradictions,” Smith said.

“By the end of our report, we will highlight this, because this is perjury, this is deliberate misleading…quite frankly somebody must go to jail.”

Ngubane’s testimony also clashed with that of Molefe, who had told MPs that he was summoned to the former chairman’s office to sign off on a hefty salary increase for the ever-controversial SABC executive Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

Molefe had testified that at one stage during this encounter Motsoeneng told Ngubane: “Chair, I told you this is not our man, so I am going to Pretoria tonight.”

Molefe took this to mean that Motsoeneng had enjoyed support from the “highest authority”.

“I deny that conversation. I don’t even remember such a meeting. I can’t remember because I think it never happened,” Ngubane responded, adding that he was not “[Jacob] Zuma’s godson” and denied that he and Motsoeneng were favoured by the president.

“There is no protection Mr Motsoeneng or we [former board] get from the President,” said Ngubane.

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He fiercely defended his tenure as board chairman 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.

Ngubane was highly critical of former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s report which made adverse findings against him and Motsoeneng who was found to have lied about having a matric certificate, had irregularly gave himself salary increases, and had spearheaded the purging of staff.

“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,” said Ngubane, who had another set of adverse findings made against him as Eskom board chairman in Madonesela’s “State of Capture” report.

“I’m not challenging the Public Protector (PP), I am challenging the quality of information on which decisions were taken.”

At one stage, evidence leader Ntuthuzelo Vanara asked Ngubane: “Is there any reason that this committee should not recommend to the National Assembly that you be removed from the board of Eskom?”

Ngubane, who had not taken the PP’s report on the SABC on review to the courts despite the adverse findings against him and had resigned from the SABC following a breakdown in relations with fellow board members, said he would fight the state capture report and his removal from Eskom.

“I will challenge that action with all my might. It is based on someone’s conclusions without taking the necessary trouble to find out the truth,” he said.

“You want to remove me from Eskom, do so. I am here to serve this country. I have served this country from 1994.”

Ngubane denied any political meddling in the affairs of the board.

But, his successor, Tshabalala, who took to the witness stand next testified there was “gross political interference”.

She singled out the South African Communist Party (SACP).

“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 or deputy…he was asking me to support [then Communications] Minister [Yunus] Carrim on agreeing on encryption…and I said but how do you get involved.”

The SACP has since rubbished her claims, accusing her of trying to effect “payback” because its secretary general Blade Nzimande in his position of minister of higher education had taken a tough stance on people lying about their academic qualifications.

SACP spokesman Alex Mashilo told African News Agency they would sue Tshabalala if she could not prove her “unfounded claims”.

Tshabalala resigned in December 2015 after a parliamentary committee found her guilty of misconduct for allegedly lying about have a BComm degree from the University of South Africa. Unisa also had no record of her graduating.

She said various politicians had tried to interfere with the work of the broadcaster, but declined to name them, asking the committee whether she could submit the names in a confidential document. MPs gave her until Monday to do so.

Tshabalala was also asked to testify about a meeting she chaired in July 2014 where board members clashed on the permanent appointment of Motsoeneng as chief operating officer.

The meeting 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 PP.

“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.

MPs are set to start drafting their report on Thursday.

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