By: Ed Herbst
“The SABC has moved from National Party to ANC control. Its three television channels and 17 radio stations have greater reach than all the country’s newspapers put together. In the past decade or so, successive compliant SABC boards have ensured that the head of SABC news is not only an ANC cadre, but also supports the ruling faction of the party.” Govin Reddy,Business Day 6/8/2012.
The always flimsy mask of democracy on the face of the African National Congress slipped in mid-September and it showed its totalitarian side when it simply ignored the suggestions of opposition parties and steamrollered through parliament its own exclusive team of deployed cadres to monopolise control over the SABC board.
With its control over news dissemination already paying dividends through avowed Jacob Zuma imbongi, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the ANC’s grip on the throat of the most powerful news medium in the country becomes a stranglehold.
The board is supposed to represent all South Africans but the fact that it does not contain a single white person or a single Afrikaans-speaking person sends a very clear message to minority groups in this country ahead of next year’s elections. Afrikaans is the third most spoken language in the country after isiZulu and isiXhosa and with one important distinction – it is a lingua franca for more ethnic groups than any other language in the country. The SABC’s competition in the Afrikaans television market must be smiling.
The unashamed manipulation to achieve this undemocratic outcome was revealed in a series of articles in the Sunday Times on 22 September. In an article headlined ‘ANC interns used in SABC process’ we read that interns at Luthuli House were among those used to nominate these members.
In an editorial, headlined ‘ANC has hijacked airwaves to gain political profit’ the Sunday Times was unequivocally condemnatory of this blatant corruption:
“How are we to believe that the ANC really does have the mandate of the public broadcaster – delivering an array of services to South Africans – as its best interests when the party deliberately rejected independent-minded candidates with experience in broadcasting in favour of someone like Krish Naidoo, a legal adviser to the ANC’s national disciplinary committee?
“Or how will ANC MP Buti Manamela’s wife, Nomvuyo Mhlakaza, serve the interests of South Africans better than broadcast policy expert Kate Skinner?
“This unashamed manipulation of parliamentary processes is nothing but the ruling party’s hijacking of the SABC before the elections.
“In this context, the ridiculous policy of insisting on 70% of ‘happy news’ by acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng makes perfect sense. Happy news, as defined by Motsoeneng, is about service delivery – access to water, electricity and housing. These are all issues that would aid the ANC in its election campaign.”
Describing the new board as a manifestation of the ANC’s “racial engineering”, IOL’sBusiness Report noted: “Two candidates with a remarkable pedigree in broadcasting, John Mattison, who cut his teeth at the Independent Broadcasting Authority, and Kate Skinner, a star in the Support Public Broadcasting coalition, got short shrift.”
Why did Nomvuyo Memory Mhlakaza, an employee of that cesspit of parasitic corruption, the National Youth Development Agency, get appointed ahead of Mattison, Skinner and author and journalist William John Gumede?
The answer was provided in parliament by the IFP representative on the Communications Portfolio Committee, Liezl van der Merwe.
Clearly angry, she pointed to Buti Kgwaredi Manamela, national secretary of the Young Communist League and ANC MP and said, “Sadly, at the last minute, the ruling party seemingly bowed to pressure to advance specific candidates, and expertise took a back seat. How else does one explain the appointment of a senior manager in the office of the NYDA, chairperson? What exceptional skills made her the best in the pool? Or was the fact that she is an ANC Youth League stalwart and is married to a senior ANC MP the overriding factor here? Only time will tell.”
Crony deployment and jobs for very close pals does not get any more brazen than that.
Unsurprisingly, Manemela is also on the ANC’s strategy committee in parliament and the ANC’s strategy in appointing his wife and others closely associated with the party to the SABC board was cogently summed up by the Sunday Times in its editorial of 22 September: “This unashamed manipulation of parliamentary processes is nothing but the ruling party’s hijacking of the SABC before the elections.”
Thinus Ferreira who closely monitors broadcasting matters on his TV with Thinuswebsite put it more stridently:
“The sheer audacity of trash politicians, tasked with oversight of the SABC but clearly clueless or blatantly unwilling to learn from the past and to educate themselves and to serve the public and the viewing public in South Africa, tactless and in a tacky way, voted their trash friends onto the board of a crumbling institution”
But this manipulation by the ANC of the selection process for the SABC board has a long and nefarious history and I will attempt in this essay to sketch a chronology of how this effectively started in the Mbeki era and continues unchanged today under the Zuma faction of the ANC.
Levers of Power
Their unstated intention was to suborn the SABC by making it not the public broadcaster of integrity that we were promised by the ANC in 1994 but by making it a Stalinist instrument of control, a means of covering up party corruption through a policy of censorship by omission, a means of undermining opposition parties, silencing dissenting voices and a means of fighting internecine battles.
The basis of this approach was openly articulated in the ANC’s stated objective of gaining controls of all “levers of power” in South African society and the means of achieving this was through cadre deployment – as the recently appointed board illustrates
Here is how Gareth van Onselen, then director of communications with the Democratic Alliance but now a columnist for Business Day, described these origins in a paper, ‘His Master’s Voice – The SABC as Propaganda Arm of the ANC’ published in June 2006.
“ANC spokesperson Joel Netshitenzhe, writing in the ANC publication Umrabulo in 1997, defined transformation as ‘extending the power of the ‘National Liberation Movement’ over all levers of power: the army, the police, the bureaucracy, intelligence structures, the judiciary, parastatal, and agencies such as regulatory bodies, the public broadcaster, the central bank and so on.
“The ANC offered a progress report on its goal of controlling the SABC in its 1999 document ‘Accelerating Change: Assessing the Balance of Forces in 1999’ It states: ‘The transformation of the SABC did take much longer than we thought and more needs to be done at middle management level. With regards to the print media, the ownership structures remain a problem.'”
With the Gupta family’s The New Age newspaper and ANN7 24-hour television news channels now firmly behind the ANC in general and President Jacob Zuma in particular and backing up the party’s main propaganda arm, the SABC’s immensely powerful reach of more than 30 million radio listeners and TV watchers, one must assume that Netshitenzhe’s concerns have been overwhelmingly allayed. The SABC is now unashamedly the voice of the ANC – freelance financial reporter Mzwandile Jacks calls SABC acting COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng, “Zuma’s megaphone”.
Netshitenzhe’s concern about the “transformation” of middle management has also been addressed through the ANC’s policy of cadre deployment. And, undeniably, the state broadcaster has, in the process, been “transformed” – like SAA, Eskom, the Land Bank and other parastatal organisations under the ruling party’s control – into a looting machine of frightening venality and efficiency and it has operated as such without surcease since Mbeki came to power in 1998.
That it has continued in the Zuma era with the deployment of Ben Ngubane as chairman of the SABC board was manifest when on 10 September Communications Minister Yunus Carrim tabled a shocking report by the Auditor General which showed just how much the SABC has regressed on the watch of Ngubane, Lulama Mokhobo and Hlaudi Motsoeneng. The Sunday Times aptly headlined its story ‘SABC blows R1.5 billion’.
“Financial mismanagement continues to ravage the SABC, with its latest annual report showing a failure to account adequately for R1.5-billion spent on consultants for services that could have been provided by its own staff.
“What is likely to shock South Africans is that about R913-million in TV licence fees that SABC officials claimed to have collected cannot be backed up with evidence.
“Tabling the public broadcaster’s annual report yesterday, Communications Minister Yunus Carrim said auditor-general Terence Nombembe had slapped a disclaimer on the SABC’s financial result.”
Everyone from Cosatu to opposition parties was outraged.
Levers of power and sacrifice
Of course, as Netshitenzhe would no doubt acknowledge, with much hand wringing, the achievement of the National Democratic Revolution inevitably requires sacrifice and what this means in practice is the sacrifice of whistle blowers who have the temerity to expose the looting.
One such sacrifice was the SABC’s head of internal audits, Elsje Oosthuizen in 2007. The SABC had to give her bodyguard protection when she received threatening phone calls and had her car followed after she expressed concerns about the head of the SABC legal services, Mafika Sihlali, the friend and business partner of CEO Dali Mpofu, who appointed Sihlali but failed to take any action against him when questions were asked and concerns were raised.
That did not stop Oosthuizen’s home from being firebombed and, unsurprisingly, this hugely qualified and courageous woman then left the state broadcaster.
Another whistle blower that the SABC was happy to see the back of was John Perlman.
Levers of power and discipline
Netshitenzhe would no doubt also acknowledge with much hand wringing that the achievement of the National Democratic Revolution obviously requires discipline, obedience and unwavering loyalty to the party. And those who fail in this regard must expect the severest sanction.
An example is Phil Molefe who had the temerity to disobey a direct instruction fromBlade Nzimande to stop broadcasting news about Julius Malema and was duly put on ‘special leave’ a year ago by the newly-appointed CEO, Lulama Mokhobo.
The viciousness with which Molefe has subsequently been treated by the ANC’s proxies on the SABC board and by some of the corporation’s dubiously appointed administrative staff is frightening.
It would seem that the SABC is even prepared, in pursuit of its vendetta against Molefe, for giving entirely justified news coverage to a newsworthy person, Julius Malema, to deliberately mislead parliament and the new communications minister, Yunus Carrim in prosecution of this vendetta – if the front page lead in the Sunday Independent on 6 October is to be believed.
“Molefe’s Johannesburg High Court bid may also land SABC board chairwoman Zandile Tshabalala in prison for contempt of court after allegedly ignoring the fact that the veteran journalist is still pursuing his SCA case to be reinstated by paying the disputed settlement, according to court papers.
“This week, President Jacob Zuma appointed Tshabalala, one of his black economic empowerment advisers, as the SABC board chairwoman and Professor Mbulaheni Maguvhe as her deputy.”