The Hlaudi swagger

2016-07-12 06:05

IF there is one person who has learnt how to wield power, it is SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

South Africa has had many powerful politicians, trade unionists and business people, but Motsoeneng has emerged out of obscurity to become South Africa’s most colourful and influential media personality.

This is not because of any particular achievements in the field of broadcasting but because of his inflated sense of importance and his ability to keep his grip on the SABC in spite of a damning public protector report and court judgments against him.

Motsoeneng has embarked on an unapologetic mission to turn the SABC into a pro-government propaganda machine, going to the extent of banning negative coverage of President Jacob Zuma because “he deserves a certain degree of respect”.

Motsoeneng previously issued a decree that the SABC should broadcast a 70% quota of positive news in its bulletins, irrespective of what is actually happening in the country.

Recently, Motsoeneng banned coverage of violent protest action on television news bulletins. Journalists who questioned this decision were suspended, sparking a backlash from the media fraternity and media freedom institutions.

This has not altered Motsoeneng’s swagger. He believes himself to be invincible and is dismissive of whatever criticism comes his way.

Following the sudden resignation of the acting group chief executive officer, Jimi Matthews, Motsoeneng waved off suggestions of a crisis at the SABC.

“Just because one or two people cough here, it does not mean we are all sick. All is well here at the SABC; we are not all sick,” he said at a media briefing last week.

He was even more dismissive of criticism of the SABC’s new editorial policy of censoring negative news and violent protests.

“What is this censorship thing? It is English so I don’t know it. There is no censorship here.”

Motsoeneng clearly undermines the public’s intelligence and is blinded by his own egotism.

There are few people who would have the audacity to retain an in-house choir, at a cost of close to R4 million a year, to sing praise songs about themselves.

His pomposity knows no bounds. South Africans once had to watch a group of religious leaders praying over Motsoeneng on all the television news bulletins of the day. How is this news?

In one of his most bizarre acts of vanity, Motsoeneng said he wanted SABC camera operators to be retrained as they “make him look shorter than he really is”.

Motsoeneng has been given free reign at the SABC for far too long, supposedly because he has high-level political protection. After allowing Motsoeneng to run the public broadcaster like a feudal lord, the ANC finally spoke up this week. ANC chief whip and chairperson of the party’s communication’s subcommittee Jackson Mthembu lashed out at the decision to censor the news and the poor leadership at the SABC.

“I can assure you, at the highest managerial level we are lacking. That is why we keep on moving from one crisis to another,” Mthembu said. “Truth be told, we are not happy at the expertise the SABC has at the highest level.

“You need to ensure that we have people who know how to run an institution as big as the SABC. You can’t bring any Tom, Dick or Harry to run the SABC.”

The SABC board hit back at the ANC, disputing that the management is not adequately educated, skilled and experienced to run the public broadcaster.

This is despite it being proven that Motsoeneng does not even possess a matric certificate.

The situation at the SABC is no different from other state-owned companies that are moribund through bad leadership. Motsoeneng was left to his own devices for far too long and allowed to fashion the SABC like his own kingdom.

Those who have only woken now to the fact that a megalomaniac is in charge of the public broadcaster will battle to dislodge him.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick.

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