The SABC: SA’s best soapie

2014-12-21 15:00

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Programme: SABC: The Legacy

Starring: Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Ellen Tshabalala, Thuli Madonsela

When: Daily

This year the long-running drama SABC: The Legacy became must-see television, even giving Khumbul’ekhaya and Eskom a run for their money in terms of far-fetched plots containing shockers, crazy twists and lurid headlines.

Not even Mfundi Vundla could script a soap opera like this one.

Unlike a meandering Muvhango, SABC: The Legacy’s story lines kept unravelling at a breathtaking pace – akin to watching Fawlty Towers in fast forward.

In the existential drama that gripped the nation, there came a moment when the inexorable slide to losing all semblance of systemic sanity couldn’t be covered up any more.

In SABC: The Legacy this year, the rundown state broadcaster lost yet another CEO (Lulama Mokhobo, remember her?) after just a brief stint at the helm. That role and several other crucial ones remain unfilled.

The Hlaudi show

At the centre of this year’s action at Auckland Park’s national key point was the red-eyed, ambitious Hlaudi Motsoeneng. In a series of witty subplots, punctuated by press conferences, he was given cows, a potential bride and a diploma in Christian fellowship.

His main story line was a clash with his nemesis, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. In February’s final, scathing report, Madonsela declared that he lied about his matric and should never have been appointed at the SABC, and directly implicated him in improper conduct, maladministration and abuse of power.

Enter Ellen

The mesmerising psychodrama intensified with the introduction of a new lead character, Ellen Tshabalala, late last season.

She quickly stirred the pot of the dramatic story, funded by taxpayers and licence holders.

In February, an independent skills audit – a shocker in its own right – revealed that there are 2?200 staff for whom the SABC has no proof on file that they passed matric; that staff “lack critical thinking skills”; that there are hundreds without personnel files; and that 60% of management does not meet the minimum requirements for leadership. How audiences chortled when the finance administrator was revealed as having a diploma in beauty and health.

Ellen went on air blaming apartheid and apartheid-era tests being used, while Hlaudi said people with university degrees were a “drain” on the SABC.

But the producers had a much bigger rabbit up their sleeves.

Later in the year, Ellen was exposed for misrepresenting her own qualifications, claiming her Unisa degree and labour relations diploma were stolen. She went to court to prevent an inquiry.

In a genius location shoot, the action switched to Cape Town, where Parliament eventually found her guilty of lying. More hilarious than Ellen DeGeneres and more victimised than Sue Ellen from Dallas, Ellen became the star of the series for a few weeks.

Although at risk of being a repetitive plot point, one thing that is qualified at the SABC is its annual financial report. The broadcaster received its fourth consecutive qualified audit, meaning it can’t explain where all the money went – like that R3.9?billion in irregular spending over the past three years.

Fawlty Towers

SABC: The Legacy cunningly deployed humour to keep audiences gripped in this sprawling saga punctuated by numerous public protests against perceived SABC news bias and several blackouts, which took SABC TV and radio signals off air.

In September, the Aucklandparkia lifts were in a state of disrepair and a worker put up a note many staff – whom the SABC refers to as “first citizens” – actually mistook for the real thing.

“You are encouraged to use the stairs to proceed to your various work stations. Those of you unable to ascend to the top do not have ambition, in any case, and are encouraged to resign. We appreciate your patience and know many of you will reach retirement age by the time the lifts are fixed,” it read. The SABC called it sabotage.

In November, the SABC suspended its chief technology officer after he filed a report about the shocking state of the broadcaster’s infrastructure.

The show developed its own mythology in popular culture and the media. The Mail & Guardian reported in September that two of President Jacob Zuma’s wives were invited to the same interview, on the same day, to the same third-floor studio – neither of them were aware the other was in the house. Cue backstage screaming and drama when they discovered each other. Both left without doing any interviews, accusing the SABC of setting them up.

Show within a show

And then a whole new plot was hatched and gorged on by viewers. The SABC’s biggest moneymaker, the soapie Generations, completely derailed and vanished for two months while the majority of the principal cast and the show’s producers traded (metaphorical, so far) blows.

Stay tuned

The nation now waits, poised on our couches, to see what next year’s season of SABC: The Legacy will bring. It’s going to be tense. Viewership is falling, casting a pall over Aucklandparkia. The SABC warns it can’t keep broadcasting all the sport of national interest that it’s mandated to. Motsoeneng, who is now in charge of editorial policy, wants all South African journalists “licensed”. Whoever writes this stuff deserves an Emmy.

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