South Africa

SABC inquiry: Ben Ngubane defends Hlaudi, attacks Chapter 9 institutions

By Marianne Thamm 13 January 2017

If there were two individuals who stood behind Hlaudi Motsoeneng and his rise to almost absolute power at the SABC they were former board chairs Ben Ngubane and Ellen Tshabalala. On Friday both were expected to be called to account, perhaps for the first time since enabling Motsoeneng's meteoric rise at the public broadcaster, in the final day of testimony at Parliament's inquiry into the SABC. A clearly uncomfortable Ngubane tried to wriggle out of it all but committee chair Vincent Smith was having none of it. By MARIANNE THAMM.

A clearly defensive and irritated former board chair Dr Ben Ngubane accused former news Chief and Acting CEO, Phil Molefe, of lying and of trying to damage his reputation when Molefe testified under oath at the parliamentary enquiry into the collapse of governance at the SABC in December.

Ngubane denied that there had ever been a meeting where he had requested Molefe to sign off on a R500,000 increase in salary for Motsoeneng in November 2011.

Molefe had testified to the committee that the increase had been recommended by Ngubane and when  Molefe had refused Motsoeneng had told Ngubane: “Chair, I told you that this is not our man. I am going to Pretoria tonight.”

On Friday Ngubane denied this, saying he had not been authorised to approve or recommend the increase. Later he said he did not recall the meeting and then even later, that it never occurred.

Earlier, at the start of the last day of witness testimonies to the committee, Ngubane objected to the short period of time he had been given to prepare. He complained that he had only received a letter from the committee late in December and as he was preparing to go on holiday.

He also said he had also been unaware that the terms of reference of the committee would include his tenure as chair of the board and was under the impression that the inquiry had to do only with the current board.

Committee chair Vincent Smith gently reminded Ngubane that the terms of reference had long been published and approved by Parliament and that the former chair should have been aware that it would include his tenure at the helm at the public broadcaster.

It was a tenure that the Public Protector has described generally as disastrous in her 2014 report into the SABC, When Governance and Ethics Fail.

Ngubane later told committee members that he rejected the damning findings of the report because it was not “based on facts”. He said he did not challenge it as he would have had to do so in a personal capacity and having left the SABC, “who will pay the millions for that”?

Asked by committee member Hlomane Chauke what his view was of the damning judgement of his leadership by the Public Protector, a furious Ngubane replied that the “golden era” of politics in South Africa was “over” and that today citizens had a very different view of Chapter 9 institutions.

The reply appears to imply that Chapter 9 institutions undermine government. Chauke was having none of it and shot back that it was those who undermined the Public Protector  who had in fact brought an end to the so-called “golden era”.

Ngubane admitted, after a question by the DA’s Phumzile van Damme, that he hadn’t even bothered to collect a copy of the Public Protector’s preliminary report and that he had thought the SABC board would challenge it.

Van Damme charged that Ngubane had opted not to read the report because he felt “untouchable” and that he felt he “did not need to account”.

The former SABC and Eskom board chair refused to answer questions by Van Damme about his relationship with the Gupta family, saying the current State of Capture report was being challenged and dealt with this.

Van Damme asked Ngubane whether Motsoeneng had political protection, as witnesses had testified, and whether this was the reason why Ngubane had altered the qualification requirements with regard to Motsoeneng’s permanent appointment as COO.

Ngubane denied that Motsoeneng was being protected.

Ultimately Ngubane often floundered during the grilling saying he did not recall a matter, wasn’t present or that others who had provided damning testimony had been lying. He went out defending Hlaudi Motsoeneng saying he was very happy about the unilateral decision to introduce 90% local music as well as the manner in which he dealt with unions and other staff.

It was left to the the ANC’s Dr Makhozi Khoza to remind Dr Ngubane that he had only joined the ANC in 2006 while the party had been a part of her life since she was 12. She said Ngubane’s comments about Chapter 9 institutions as well as the fact that the SABC had ignored court decisions with regard to Motsoeneng’s appointment undermined these institutions.

Summing up at the end of Ngubane’s testimony Smith said that “someone is going to to to jail” as the evidence presented on Friday differed substantially from testimony given under oath in December.

The hearing continues. DM

Photo: Dr Ben Ngubane (Netwerk 24)

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