Jan Gerber

A loss of Faith brings hope

2017-05-23 10:56
Minister of Communications Ayanda Dlodlo. (Photo: GCIS)

Minister of Communications Ayanda Dlodlo. (Photo: GCIS)

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I was a little bemused when the doomed acting CEO of the SABC James Aguma came to Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications the week before last and said "consistent negative reporting by the media on events at the SABC which ultimately results in decreased revenue collection, reputational damage and staff morale" is one of the reasons for the financial doldrums the public broadcaster finds itself in.

I spent the best part of the last three and a half years writing consistent negative reports about the SABC. It was like shooting fish in a barrel, unfortunately. You hardly had to dig for these stories, all you needed was Hlaudi Motsoeneng opening his mouth or giving himself a raise. And that he did often. 

The thing is, the reporters on the SABC beat didn’t make up those shameful tales of corporate insanity that made it into print and pixels. If we did, people would think we’re insane. It happened, and Aguma played a big part in it. If these things were not brought into the open, I’d wager there would by now only have been a big gaping hole in Auckland Park where the SABC’s head office once stood.

And we don’t even know the half of it yet, as I found out last Wednesday.

The SABC’s bigwigs were in Parliament again. This time to appear before the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa). The committee has shown little mercy to government’s miscreants of late, as the hapless Social Development Minister, Bathabile Dlamini, would know.

The topic to be discussed was a contract the SABC awarded to consultants to clamp down on the broadcaster’s raging irregular and fruitless and wasteful expenditure. The twist? This contract was itself seemingly awarded irregularly. I enjoy a bit of irony as much as the next guy, but paying an R25 million bill for it seems a bit steep.  

The MPs on Scopa had their napkins on their laps, their knives and forks at the ready, salivating at the prospect of eating Aguma alive.

But Aguma was a no-show. He got a sick note. For a bruised ego, perhaps? When he appeared before Scopa earlier this year, he was beaten like a gong.

But enough kicking a man while he’s down, for now. Here’s some positive reporting for you, Mr Aguma. 

With Aguma in the sickbay, new Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo faced the music. I know it’s hardly in vogue to praise Jacob Zuma for anything these days, but Ol’ Msholozi did a good thing, probably unwittingly, when he replaced Faith Muthambi with Dlodlo, who is held in high regard by colleagues who have reported from Parliament much longer than I. 

The dark cloud to this silver lining is of course that Muthambi is now at the helm of the massive public wage bill in her new capacity (if one can use the word in relation to Muthambi) as public service and administration minister. But we’ll deal with that fresh hell, which is bound to follow, later. 

Never before has a loss of Faith filled me with so much hope.

Dlodlo dealt with the SABC’s problems with a frankness and clarity her predecessor never could muster. Admittance is the first step to recovery, if the AA is to be believed. And who am I to argue with the Automobile Association? 

Also, Dlodlo made the right noises at a recent post-Cabinet briefing, where she stunned the press gallery by actually answering questions rather than plying us with the bureaucratic claptrap we’ve become accustomed to. I asked her about the SABC’s finances, and she made it clear that she isn’t looking for a quick fix, a little band-aid on the SABC’s gushing money wound, but a long term solution. Again with an unexpected frankness. 

She must know this won’t be easy, and kudos to her for taking the hard path, when it would have been easy to take the short-term populist route (a road well traversed by so many of her comrades). 

Similarly, I’ve been quite impressed by what I’ve seen and heard from the SABC’s interim board, led by Khanyisile Kweyama and her deputy, veteran journalist Mathatha Tsedu. They have had a little bit more than a month to come to terms with the massive task ahead of them, and when they presented their plans to the communications committee I got the impression that they have laid good groundwork to turn things around. The fact that their presentation didn’t include the demented ravings of a red-eyed, purple-suited fool, no doubt helped in this regard.

So, for the first time in the three and a half years I’ve been reporting about the SABC, I’m starting to get the feeling there might come a day when I won’t be writing “consistent negative reports” on the goings on at Awkward Park. This day won’t be tomorrow, there are still too many problems to list here, but I hope that day comes soon. 

I’ve come to know some of my colleagues at the SABC. They’re good journalists, and good people. They don’t deserve this perpetual bedlam at the SABC, and neither do you, me or any other South African. Except for Hlaudi Motsoeneng, James Aguma and their sycophants. They deserve whatever is coming to them.  

- Jan Gerber is a reporter at News24. He cover Parliament and politics.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

Read more on:    faith muthambi  |  scopa  |  sabc
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