ANALYSIS

The ego has landed: Hlaudi Motsoeneng, King of the Capturers, lands at Zondo

By Marianne Thamm 11 September 2019
Caption
Former SABC chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng announces the formation of his new political party African Content Movement on December 13, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Motsoeneng, whose appointment at SABC COO was declared invalid, says his party will run for the 2019 national elections and that he wants to challenge President Cyril Ramaphosa for the country’s top job. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Thulani Mbele)

From being headhunted as a member of the Chappies Little League to ascending the highest echelons of the SABC without qualifications, Hlaudi Motsoeneng embodies the fuck-you zeitgeist of the Zuma-era of State Capture.

There were many others. Men and women, keen enforcers of orders from above, who were deployed to senior government positions but totally unfit for purpose.

These were the deployees who attempted to white-ant, from the inside, key institutions aimed at protecting and nourishing our constitutional democracy.

Instead, they led us here, to the door of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture which has been wading, since August 2018, through towering piles of affidavits and other evidence detailing industrial-scale fraud, corruption and the subversion of accountability. Prosecutions will follow, we are assured by the NPA.

Apart from the R1.5-trillion lost to State Capture during only the second term of Jacob Zuma’s presidency, we also learned on 10 September that R14.8-million in rental costs have been paid by taxpayers for the auditorium in the Tiso Blackstar building in Parktown where the Zondo Commission is sitting.

The template in the State Capture production line not only produced Hlaudi Motsoeneng but also people like disgraced DPCI head, Berning Ntlemeza, who overstepped his mandate ordering the NPA to illegally prosecute Pravin Gordhan and others, as well as SARS head of IT, Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane, who used the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir to explain away her incompetence.

Then there is the long list of disgraced NPA heads and acting heads as well as prosecutors who operated on a whim using bogus evidence, destroying the lives of many officials viewed as obstacles to the political project. And let us not forget those deployed to destroy SARS in order to protect the politically connected.

But of one thing we can be sure, king of them all (apart from No 1 at the apex of the pyramid) is Hlaudi George Motsoeneng, who made his much-anticipated appearance at the Zondo Commission on Monday 10 September 2019.

While Motsoeneng ultimately ended up on the 27th floor of Auckland Park as the COO of the public broadcaster, he did, he told the commission, “occupy many positions. Every position I went through all the steps, except chairperson of the board” – all of this without finishing high school. In 2013 alone Motsoeneng’s salary grew from R1.5-million to R2.4-million.

Motsoeneng’s feckless and various shapeshifting terms of office left the SABC bankrupt, ruined and in need of a R3.2-billion bailout which government has promised to pump into the gaping hole.

During his term of office, Motsoeneng behaved like an apartheid-era enforcer, attempting to mould the public broadcaster into a state broadcaster, censoring news, forbidding the coverage of protests, firing journalists who defied him and generally running the public broadcaster by illegal decree. All of this aided and abetted by a board, headed then by Ben Ngubane.

Ngubane conceded to the commission on 9 September that while Motsoeneng’s “apparent skills” had impressed him, he should never have been appointed in a permanent position as COO.

While Motsoeneng on Monday settled into testifying and entertaining the Zondo Commission and the country at large about his singular, spectacular and multifaceted talents, the Special Investigating Unit was informing Parliament that it had sufficient evidence to refer 11 criminal matters, collectively worth R267-million and involving the SABC, to the NPA.

SIU head, Advocate Andy Mothibi, told the Portfolio Committee on Communication that the SIU was also chasing 10 civil cases totalling R550-million including around R21-million from Motsoeneng. This in an attempt to recover R11-million the former COO was paid as a “success fee” in relation to contracts entered into by the SABC with MultiChoice.

But in the eternal sunshine of Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s spotless mind, he has committed no sin, is guilty of no transgression and is, in fact, a man of such extraordinary vision and courage that we should be grateful for his selfless service to the country.

Motsoeneng and his performance at the Zondo Commission – where he boasted that he was “very well educated” and had in fact lectured at Wits, that he was “the main man” at the SABC who had influenced 70% of the resolutions of the board, while inventing new phrases such as “glamouratising violence” (sic) – is the embodiment of the fantasist, a person who does not know what they do not know.

Shortly after Motsoeneng’s disclosure that he had lectured at Wits and that these lectures were now “part of the syllabus”, the Wits Business School posted a tweet that “Hlaudi Motsoeneng was invited to take part in a breakfast panel discussion at WBS on 6 Dec 2013. A guest speaker does not make an academic. At no stage has Mr Motsoeneng lectured at WBS, nor has any material authored by him formed part of the curriculum of any of our programmes.”

On Monday the commission wasted much of the morning trying to get to the bottom of whether Motsoeneng had lied about having passed matric or not.

To this end, Motsoeneng deployed several volleys of meandos – blaming an HR clerk for suggesting he should say he had matriculated. Or at least was going to attempt to go to an unnamed destination in Pretoria to “combine symbols” – several Es and an F – in order to see if this would secure him a matric pass.

It didn’t work out.

The HR clerk, Marie Swanepoel, had written “outstanding” next to Motsoeneing’s original job application, which clearly did not refer to the quality of his achievements.

Motsoeneng told the commission after first being headhunted as a freelancer while he was a member of the Chappies Little League, later, SABC head of news, Alwyn Kloppers, had headhunted him again. Motsoeneng said he had declared to Kloppers at the outset that he had not finished his schooling.

Maybe I should not have taken advice from HR,” said Motsoeneng, shifting the blame for having filled in the fake matric symbols with his own hand.

Motsoeneng told the commission that Kloppers had told him, “but you are so talented, I don’t think I need a matric for you”.

In 1995, while still not having completed matric, Motsoeneng said he had done a two-week course and had received a certificate before being permanently employed by the SABC.

The rest is a sad history.

Motsoeneng told the Deputy Chief Justice that he beat many people, clawing his way up the ranks of the SABC. There he had taught “lawyers and doctors” their jobs.

There were many at the SABC who did not have matric and being a good journalist or broadcaster was all about pure talent, said Motsoeneng.

With regard to his relationship with the Gupta family, Motsoeneng said he could not account for the number of times he had visited them.

I ate the curry and I enjoyed it.”

Asked by Deputy Chief Justice Zondo if the Guptas were his friends, Motsoeneng replied, “Mna, I don’t have friends. I have people that I know.”

Turning to what he believed was to be his lasting legacy, the 90% quota for local content, Motsoeneng told the commission that “it is important for all people to bless their own people first”.

And while the idea of promoting and sustaining local content across platforms might have been a good one, Motsoeneng was way out of his depth when it came to understanding the devastating effect it would have on the SABC.

Writing in City Press in 2017, columnist Letepe Maisela set out that while Motsoeneng’s plan had sounded “ideologically well-founded”, it led to the immediate haemorrhaging of listeners and viewers from the SABC stable.

Competitors such as Radio 702 and East Coast Radio and MultiChoice’s DStv could not have dreamt of a better strategy for gaining listeners and viewers. Soon advertising revenue followed the listeners where they had migrated to, leaving the SABC stable dry.”

As Maisela added, “The local artists Hlaudi aimed to help now find themselves in a far worse position than they were as revenue has dried up and they cannot be paid. They had applauded his 90% local content policy and carried him on their shoulders like a modern Mosotho Robin Hood.”

Motsoeneng told the commission he still believed in the quota system and in fact, the interim board, convened after his departure and who reversed the decree, did not understand business.

I came with innovation to make the SABC sustainable.”

With regard to his unilateral order not to broadcast service-delivery or other protests Motsoeneng said SABC journalists were mistaken, he had not attempted to interfere with their work.

I think people, when we talk about media, they confuse issues. They say I was interfering. It was my job to interfere. Their argument is they are independent. Independent to whom?”

His reading of the Broadcast Act was that the independence of the broadcaster as an organisation was the issue and not the independence of individual journalists.

Journalists, he said, should be “creative” about broadcasting footage of violent protests and should not be “influenced by other forces”.

The Broadcast Act, said Motsoeneng, taking care to explain to the Deputy Chief Justice that he was not a lawyer, “was against the glamouratising of violence”. (sic)

This, he submitted, in his humble opinion, “is unlawful”.

Evidence leader, Advocate Thandi Norman, asked Motsoeneng how he would have liked a story “in terms of your policy, if a library is being burnt down” to be reported on.

To which Motsoeneng replied, “My interpretation is you can show the visuals but you should be selective what kind of visuals you can show. People toyi-toying in my understanding, I may be wrong, I am not even a lawyer but what I understand is we are not supposed to be glamouratising.” (sic) DM

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