South Africa

SABC crisis no 349: Interim board expected soon

By Sipho Hlongwane 19 March 2013

Six board members of the South African Broadcasting Corporation suddenly resigned, leaving only three, the Presidency announced. This followed two other resignations last week, meaning that the public broadcaster effectively has no board. Parliament is expected to begin the process of finding a new one on Tuesday. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.


The SABC suffered a further setback on Monday when the presidency issued a statement saying that President Jacob Zuma had accepted the resignation of six board members at the public broadcaster.

The resignations were tendered by Media Development and Diversity Agency CEO Lumko Mtimde, John Danana, National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa president Cedric Gina, Desmond Golding, advocate Cawe Mahlati and Noluthando Gosa. 

Last week, the non-executive chairman Ben Ngubane and deputy chairman Thami ka Plaatjie resigned as well. This leaves Suzanne Vos, Pippa Green and Claire McNeil on the board, with too few members to make valid decisions.

The mass resignation and current malaise is centred around former acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who was demoted back to his old position as group head of provinces in February this year by a resolution of the board. In his place, head of radio news Mike Saluma was appointed. However, the veteran journalist suddenly resigned after his new appointment.

A rift appeared when Ngubane and Ka Plaatjie wrote a letter saying that Motsoeneng would continue to act as COO. The rest of the board begged to differ, and Mtimde said on behalf of the other members: “The board meeting [on February 25] was properly constituted and the decision to release Mr Motsoeneng from acting chief operating officer stands… The report [of Ngubane and Ka Plaatjie’s declaration] is regrettable as neither the chairman nor the deputy chairman nor both have the power or authority to unilaterally change a board resolution.”

The chairman of the communications portfolio committee Sikhumbuzo Kholwane said that communications minister Dina Pule and the SABC board would appear at an emergency meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

The move is towards appointing an interim board, according to an insider. Dissolving the board is something that the ANC caucus supports (with its numerical superiority in parliament, the party can have its way with some ease), while at least one trade union and Cope want the public broadcaster to be placed in administration.

DA shadow minister of communications Marian Shinn said, “The legal option is the appointment of an interim board, but it’s an open question whether there are many people of political independence and repute, with relevant broadcasting and corporate governance experience who will make themselves available.”

While the Broadcasting Act makes the appointment of the SABC board a matter of public consultation and Parliamentary discretion (prior to ratification by the president, who has some scope to influence the list), an interim board is appointed on a six-month basis and does not require consultation.

According to Business Day, board member Vos said that she would resign too if she could not meet with the portfolio committee within two days. She said, “I learned of the resignations of colleagues whom I greatly respect. I have requested an opportunity to speak to the portfolio committee on communications, which recommended my appointment to the president. It is the proper thing to do. If the committee is not able to meet, then I will also have to do the honourable thing and resign.”

Some of the resignations were recent appointments, a sign of the instability and uncertain corporate governance that the SABC is labouring under. Danana, who has served on the executive committees of companies like Harmony Gold and Foodcorp, was appointed in June 2011, and former Pan Africanist Congress secretary-general and current ANC member Ka Plaatjie had only served a year of his appointment.

This would not be the first time in the last six years that an interim board of the SABC was appointed following heavy political fighting. In the run-up to the ANC’s 52nd national conference in 2007, the broadcaster was wrecked by scandals of political interference from the very highest office in the country. Several political analysts were placed on a blacklist, while the head of news Phil Molefe was placed on leave after refusing to hand over his news diary to CEO Lulama Mokhobo and Motsoeneng, who felt that Zuma was not getting enough airtime.

In 2009, the SABC took a R1-billion loan from Nedbank to shore up its finances after years of mismanagement. The national treasury guaranteed the debt for up to R1.47 billion, with attached conditions such as increasing audience share, boosting television licence revenue and reducing the bloated wage bill. In February, Plaatjie announced that R778 million had been paid back already.

The COO problem is one that goes back to communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, who apparently promised Mvuzo Mbebe the position. After not getting it, he sued, and that is reportedly why a new officer has yet to be appointed as the matter is apparently still in the air. This is despite the fact that the minister should be leaving the matter of executive appointments to the board.

Mbebe was most recently the CEO of the 2013 African Cup of Nations local organising committee.

Ngubane and the board clashed angrily in 2010 when the chairman took the unilateral decision to appoint Phil Molefe as the head of news. His colleagues fired back, declaring the appointment to be unlawful since it wasn’t made by the board. Molefe’s appointment went ahead anyway, before he was turfed out. Like Mbebe, Molefe has chosen the court option to challenge his special leave.

One of the first orders of business for the members of Parliament and interested parties is to sort out the matter of chain of command between the minister and the board. Matsepe-Casaburri created a five-year problem by interfering in the process, and Pule has now “stepped in” to “ensure the integrity” of the process to appoint a new COO. Last week, she lashed out at the board for suspending the CFO (handpicked by the minister) Gugu Duda and appointing someone else. She went in September last year for signing off a R3 million sponsorship deal for an ICT Indaba which benefited Pule’s boyfriend Phosane Mngqibisa to the tune of R6 million.

“The Minister’s 16 months in office have been characterised by her putting her own closed, crony circles above the best interests of the ICT sector,” the Democratic Alliance said. “It is high time that she be shown the door and that it be done without any delay. South Africans cannot be expected to wait any longer while this looting of her department continues.” DM

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