SABC interviews – Now for the tough work

2013-08-29 10:54

The SABC board interviews ended in Johannesburg yesterday and the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications will now return to Cape Town.

There will be deliberations, horse trading and a new board will be announced to Parliament, most likely by September 12, the last sitting of the National Assembly.

Yesterday’s proceedings continued in the same vein as the day before, with lesser known candidates making their bids. The common theme of the day was regaining viewers and how the SABC will reconnect with a public that no longer feels it is receiving relevant content.

There were two stand-out candidates – academic Thidziambi Tshivhase-Phendla and lottery boss Bongani Khumalo.

The former defended herself after a public drama involving tenders and sexual harassment claims at the University of Venda. She impressed with her massive academic CV and cultural opinions.

Khumalo is a man who has run boards like the SABC’s in the past and his corporate governance skills could make him a candidate for chair.

In forming the new 12-person board, the committee will no doubt select seven or eight ANC-nominated candidates, and four or five opposition and civil society-nominated candidates, as per previous boards.

The president will rubber-stamp the process and the new board will begin its work from October.

It faces a huge challenge as it has to steer the broadcaster through the new digital landscape. The era of free television is basically over.

Although content will still be free, viewers will have to buy decoders. In exchange, we will have dozens of new TV channels to choose from.

The new board must compel the SABC to reconnect with viewers and up its local content offerings, especially educational programming.

It also needs to find ways to reconnect with demotivated staff and to make permanent executive appointments, starting with acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng and acting news head Jimmy Matthews.

According to industry insiders, a need for stability and continuity will most likely see both men appointed to permanent positions.

The last board fell apart through infighting and conflicting agendas. What was made very clear in the past two weeks of interviews was that to achieve success, the new board will have to be unified and focused on working together if the SABC is to remain relevant in the new age.

Given past choices, the ANC-dominated committee will be looking at older, stable candidates with corporate governance experience to chair the board and to deputise – candidates like Ellen Tshabalala, Krish Naidoo and Khumalo.

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