SABC interviews gear up – and pose a mystery

2013-08-22 08:46

Today is ANC nominee day at the interviews to find the 12 members of the next SABC board. Six of the seven candidates have the ruling party’s stamp of approval. The seventh is something of a mystery, a little known lawyer nominated by a member of the current interim board.

Yesterday was another long day with tough questions from the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications. It offered a string of strong contenders, though.

This will be the fourth SABC board in five years and the committee paid a great deal of attention to corporate governance and how to avoid conflict between the nonexecutive board and the broadcaster’s – often feisty – executives, as well as between managing and editorial executives at the broadcaster.

Journalist and communications worker John Matisonn, former board member Lumko Mtimde and author and academic William Gumede clearly impressed the committee with a thorough grasp of the issues facing the SABC.

Gumede voiced a common theme when he proposed that “a firewall” be built between the SABC’s operations executives and its editorial bosses. He said the public broadcaster faced a “golden opportunity” to become the next Al Jazeera – if it is a fully accountable institution.

Former banker Mia Mahmood also impressed with vast experience of board governance, if not broadcasting politics.

Auditor Paul Serote was another solid candidate. He was chastised by the committee, however, for repeatedly referring to the SABC as a “state broadcaster”.

Brand expert Merle O’ Brien seemed to lack focus, but delivered big ideas for the national role the public broadcaster should be playing.

Current interim board member Ronnie Lubisi found himself in a tricky situation, reserving full comment on matters before the interim board. One member of the committee was annoyed, saying that Lubisi was answering as a board representative, not an individual. This was attributed, by another member, to Lubisi being asked questions in his capacity as a board representative and not a candidate.

The youngest candidate of the day, Martin Mhlanga, was also the most rattled by the end – especially after slipping up and referring to the committee as “you guys”. They parliamentarians did not take kindly to this.

Mhlanga, a telecommunications scientists, was challenged by the committee for having no experience in broadcasting. He insisted he wanted to be part of the industry – and was given reprieve right at the end of his interview. A committee member said she has full confidence in him; that he was bright enough to be able to learn the acts governing the SABC “in a day”.

The hearings continue in Cape Town today, but will not go ahead on Friday as planned. Instead the committee agreed that they will move to Johannesburg from Tuesday next week as most candidates live in Gauteng.

City Press and SOS Coalition will again be covering proceedings.

Today’s candidates are profiled below, including the little bit of information there is available on lawyer Deborah Thompson.

Nomvuyiso Memory Mhlakaza

When, earlier this year, the ANC announced a national task-team to try to mend the splintered structures of its youth league, one newspaper called the 22-member team a “new breed of ANC young lions”. It was made clear they were not appointed because of their perceived alliance with President Zuma, but because of their “activism profiles”.

On the list was Vuyo Mhlakaza-Manamela.

Mhlakaza is the wife of Buti Manamela, national secretary of the Young Communist League (YCL). She refers to herself as an activist and has served as Gauteng chair of the YCL. She works as a manager at the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA).

A year ago the couple made the headlines when Manamela was accused of securing Mhlakaza a senior post at the NYDA because they were romantically involved. Mhlakaza insisted she won the job legitimately.

“I have got qualifications. I went to school for human resources,” she told The New Age.

Mhlakaza is a ministerial appointment to the council of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. She also serves as a nonexecutive director on the board of Sita, the State Information Technology Agency.

Constance Seoposengwe

ANC stalwart Connie Seoposengwe was said to be a contender for premiership in the Northern Cape earlier this year, but returned only as a member of the provincial legislature, as she has been since democracy.

In the past she has served as a provincial MEC and as speaker.

The Kimberley firebrand has made her share of headlines over the years. She famously exposed a group of drunk, white policemen who racially insulted her during a station visit when she was safety and liaison MEC in 2000.

She has been a campaigner for the changing of place names in Kimberley. Two years ago she led a charge to change the name of the Transvaal Police Station.

When she was 22, in 1987, a pregnant Seoposengwe had been detained and tortured on the station’s notorious sixth floor.

She was a UDF member and organiser for the SA Domestic Workers Union at the time. She began her career as a teacher.

Joe Makhafola

He’s only 38, but Joe Makhafola is already Altech’s group executive for corporate affairs, marketing, government liaison and regulatory affairs – and has been for several years. He joined the JSE-listed telecommunications and IT company in 2009.

He made the news in 2011 for signing over a R50 000 cheque to the ANC at a local elections fundraiser.

After qualifying with a BA and specialising in telecommunications law at Wits university, the dynamic Makhafola spent seven years in corporate communications. By 2007 he was spokesperson for Denel.

What’s of particular interest to the SABC board interviews, though, is that from 2007 until 2009 he worked as ministerial liaison officer for the department of communications.

He was Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri’s spokesperson, tasked with ringing in the new era of digital broadcasting and the soon-to-be-available set-top boxes that SABC viewers would have to buy but that would offer multiple new channels.

In 2007 it was his job to tell the world that digital terrestrial television would be up and running by the 2010 World Cup. By 2008 he is quoted as saying: “There are no signs to suggest that we will not be ready by 2011.” By 2013 South Africa still has no clear idea of when to expect the switch-over.

None of this, of course, can be held against the former spin doctor, but it is a core task of the next board to guide the implementation of digital broadcasting.

An opinion maker with corporate skills, it will be interesting to see whether Makhafola has kept up to speed on the intricate details of the public broadcasting terrain that he knew so well when he was working for the department.

Noluthando Gosa

Noluthando Primrose Gosa is vying to return for a fourth innings at the SABC, having previously served on the board as well as currently serving on the interim board.

In 2005 she resigned after accusing board members of tolerating corruption within the SABC – while she, herself, was under investigation.

She was subsequently reappointed to the board in 2012, replacing Clifford Motsepe who had resigned.

Gosa was appointed deputy chair of the current interim board.

A budding property investment mogul, she is CEO of Akhona Properties. She also holds various nonexecutive director positions in leading companies in the property and asset management industries. She holds an MBA from the University of Brunswick in Canada as well as an International Certificate in Telecoms Regulation from the City University of London.

She is currently pursuing an MPhil degree in Economic Policy through the University of Stellenbosch.

Vusumuzi Mavuso

Vusi Mavuso is another current interim board member – a board which, incidentally, the opposition accused the ruling party of bulldozing into place. It was reported that he battled to make it through early ANC interim board nominations before being given the nod.

Although he today owns and runs VGM Management Consulting, he is best known as a city manager and former ANC MPL in Gauteng.

Mavuso served as a regional director for the City of Johannesburg from 2004 until 2011 – with a stint away as acting municipal manager of Buffalo City in 2009. He was chair of the Institute of Local Government in Gauteng.

Appropriately enough – given some of the criticism of the public broadcaster’s operations – Mavuso is a champion of accountability. He is a former chair of Transparency International in South Africa. He served on the Public Service Commission, part of its ethics cluster, and was a member of the national anti-corruption task team.

In 1999 he co-authored Fighting Corruption: Vol 4: Invitation to Ethics Management. A former trade unionist, activist and community development worker, Mavuso has a post-graduate degree in management from Wits University. He serves on the board of the Kasi Ballet Theatre.

Deborah Thompson

Deborah Thompson is a fairly common name and it was a battle to discover which Deborah Thompson has been shortlisted for the SABC board. CVs of board candidates have not been made publicly available.

Debbie Thompson turns out to be a lawyer in private practice at DA Thompson Attorneys. The company does not appear to have a website.

Thompson holds LLB and BComm degrees from Unisa.

She has worked at attorneys Leslie Cohen Associates, at the Gordon Institute of Business Science, at the University of Pretoria as a facilitator, at Milpark Business School as an external examiner, at Damelin Education Group as a facilitator and academic head and at Rosebank College.

It is believed that she was nominated by a current interim board member. It is not clear why.

Tshilidzi Ratshitanga

At the time of the ANC’s national conference in Mangaung last year Tshilidzi Ratshitanga was being quoted all over the media – because he was serving as an electoral commissioner for the party.

Ratshitanga began his career in the liberation struggle. He served as general secretary of both the Congress of South African Students and the South African Student Congress and as a Gauteng provincial executive member of the ANC Youth League.

Today he is MD of Mitupo Investment Holdings, chair of Bokamoso Investment Trust, director of Vuselela Mining and of Rakhoma Mining Resources.

He is on the council of the National Small Business Advisory Council.

Ratshitanga’s professional life began as spokesperson for Mary Metcalfe at the Gauteng Education Department. He rose to deputy director in then-premier Mbazima Shilowa’s Strategy Unit before moving to the Government Communication and Information System, where he became chief director.

By 2005 he was playing a role in major black economic empowerment deals, particularly in the commercial and retail property sector.

Ratshitanga holds a BA Honours in politics and development and an MPhil in political economy as well as numerous other academic certificates.

He was part of a consortium that bid for the 2010 regional commercial radio licence eventually won by Given Mkhari’s PowerFM, but it is unclear how deep his broadcast knowledge runs.

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