'Gloomy, mad, courageous, a mess' - SABC inquiry thus far

Cape Town - Hectic, gloomy, crazy, and courageous are some of the adjectives MPs on Parliament's ad hoc committee looking into the SABC board have used to describe inquiry testimonies thus far.

The SABC inquiry concluded its last day before the Christmas break on Thursday, with testimony from former board member Rachel Kalidass.

Over seven full days, more than 20 witnesses painted a picture of widespread impunity, irregular finances, board divisions, staff purges, editorial interference, and employee fear at the broadcaster since at least 2011.

At the centre of most testimonies was the role of former chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, whose own rise at the broadcaster was described as “meteoric” since being “parachuted” in from its Free State office in 2010.

MPs of the three biggest parties on the committee gave News24 their thoughts on the last seven days.

Motsoeneng ‘a law unto himself’

ANC MP Fezeka Loliwe said the impression created was that Motsoeneng was a law unto himself, with few bold enough to challenge him.

People who dared to speak out were either removed or faced disciplinary hearings, she said.

Her colleague Makhosi Khoza said it was a scary time for journalists at the broadcaster, considering previous purges of senior staff.

She praised the courage of witnesses who testified. Some of them received death threats this week.

It was clear Motsoeneng had become an institution at the broadcaster, she said.

“His imprint is still there and it’s well-entrenched, and we must deliberate now on how best to move forward.”

Both Loliwe and Khoza said the extent of Motsoeneng’s power was the most alarming thing to emerge at the inquiry.

Khoza said they still had to establish what “going to Pretoria” meant when Motsoeneng threatened acting CEO Phil Molefe in 2011. He had wanted Molefe to sign off on a R500 000 salary increase for him.

Loliwe said it had been a hectic seven days, during the course of which they had to try and determine if witnesses were telling the truth.

The SABC would again become a beacon of hope for South Africans, she said.

State capture, political protection

DA MP Phumzile van Damme said state capture, the collapse of good governance, and political protection at the SABC were the three themes to emerge from the testimonies so far.

The SABC's deal to host The New Age’s morning breakfasts was “money laundering”, and former TNA CEO Nazeem Howa's alleged attempt to take over news production at the SABC was “absolutely mad” she said.

“These three things are not unique to the SABC. I think they are also happening at other state-owned entities. The common thread here is the Guptas, the president and state capture.”

Van Damme said she was disappointed that acting SABC political editor Sophie Mokoena did not appear before the committee on Thursday. Her absence was not explained.

She said she would have loved to have heard from SABC executives, but that they had declined invitations to appear before the committee.

Van Damme, like Khoza and Loliwe, said she was confident the committee had the power to correct the wrongs at the SABC.

'Web of criminality'

EFF MP Fana Mokoena said he was concerned that the inquiry had unearthed other problems facing the country.

“The SABC is clearly in a mess. It's a huge mess, and it needs to be addressed quickly.

“There seems to have been an amazing weaving of an incredible criminal syndicate that has literally taken over the country and state-owned entities and there is looting on a massive scale.”

The common thread was President Jacob Zuma and the Gupta family.

It also emerged that the SABC was carrying the R200m to R500m cost of hosting the New Age breakfasts on Morning Live, and did not see any of the R30m profits in return.

R100m in irregular deals

Mokoena said his biggest concerns were the amendments to the board's memorandum of incorporation by Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, and another made to the delegation of authority framework.

The two documents allowed the chief executives, and not the board, to have complete authority over appointments of executives, and complete control over procurement processes, according to witness testimonies.

Former procurement head Madoda Sushu testified on Monday that at the time of his departure in 2015, the SABC had irregular procurements totalling at least R100m under Motsoeneng's watch.

Mokoena said if he could, he would have liked to have heard Zuma testify.

The committee would resume its work on January 10. There would possibly be one more day of witness testimony from former board chairpersons Ben Ngubane and Ellen Tshabalala, depending on if the committee could contact them.

It intended to present a report to the SABC for reply by January 28, and make a presentation to the National Assembly on February 15.

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