SABC loses seven directors in two years

2013-02-03 10:01

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The news of the departure of Dr Patricia Makhesha from the SABC board brings to seven the number of resignations from the 12-person non-executive in the past two years.

This high level game of musical chairs has led to the board being labelled dysfunctional and resulted in the department of communications being on a constant quest to find replacements.

Former board members, however, have never spoken out about their resignations.

City Press believes this is because of confidentiality agreements they signed.

But now their grievances have come to light – thanks to a Promotion of Access to Information Act application by the SOS Coalition.

City Press is in possession of five of the letters of resignation.

They point to two distinct complaints: a lack of proper corporate governance procedure by board chair Dr Ben Ngubane; and interference in the running of the board by the department of communications.

Following a financial crisis and the dissolution of the interim board in 2009, a new permanent board was appointed in 2010 – with high hopes and much fanfare.

Just eight months into her tenure, though, high profile member Barbara Masekela resigned.

Her letter of resignation to Ngubane cites “many reasons” but the last straw appears to be “the irregular appointment of GE – News and Current Affairs” Phil Molefe. Masekela says the interviewing procedure was predetermined and that “relevant information had been deliberately withheld from the board.”

She further cites “a crisis management style” and “tardy documentation” as reasons for her resignation.

“We have lurched on from one crisis to another, relegating corporate governance to the bottom of the pile,” writes Masekela.

She concludes that: “Sadly our own internal debates as a board have taken precedence over our responsibility to the public.”

Just a month later, Felleng Sekha followed suit.

Her resignation letter to Siphiwe Nyanda, then minister of communications, states that “circumstances prevailing in the board make it impossible for me to properly discharge my fiduciary duties”.

She says “the majority of the board” has repeatedly raised the problems they have but “to no avail”.

Her letter seems to indicate that Ngubane and the minister were running the show and disregarding the board.

The most scathing of the letters is from David Niddrie, who resigned a month later.

Writing to President Zuma, he says the board has “comprehensively failed” in its duties and serving on it is “an exercise in futility”.

He cuts to the chase, saying that both parliament and the department of communications have failed to oversee the SABC – particularly the matter of the board being powerless to address the “multiple breaches of law by the chief executive officer (Solly Mokoetle) and the chairperson (Ngubane).”

It appears, from Peter Harris’s resignation letter to the president in June 2011, that the department of communications was again over-involved in the running of the board. Harris refers to “intolerable interference from the ministry”.

He also calls into question the functioning of the board.

The resignation of Cliff Motsepe was due to his appointment as a MEC in Limpopo. Magatho Mello lodged an appeal against his letter being released.

SOS say they will be lodging an application for Makhesha’s letter on top of numerous others they have lodged, including minutes of board meetings.

“The resignation letters collectively viewed tell the same story of a board beleaguered with internal strife, poor governance, undue interference from the communications ministry which has frustrated the proper functioning of the board,” says SOS spokesperson Sekoetlane Phamodi.

He adds that there is “a lack of support or political will from oversight structures to champion the board’s efforts in turning the SABC around.

This seems to continue, given the very public tussle between Ben Ngubane and Cawe Mahlati. Given these problems we suspect that Patricia Makhesha has resigned for the same reasons.”

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago did not answer detailed questions about the letters, but said, “There is no crisis in the board. In fact there is more progress.”

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