SABC’s ‘straight up honest nice guy’

2018-02-04 06:00
Chris Maroleng

Chris Maroleng

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‘You get to work and Chris is already there. He’ll leave late, but in time to be with his family and his dogs.” This is how a former colleague describes Chris Maroleng’s work ethic, an account confirmed by colleagues I contact wherever the 41-year-old Africa and broadcast expert has worked.

True to form, his social media networks are revamped and ready on Thursday morning, the day he starts work in the hot seat that was previously Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s throne. The SABC’s rainbow logo has replaced MTN’s yellow on his Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, listing his new position as chief operating officer.

He’s used to big changes, or what he says is a “sudden left turn”. The former academic and Institute for Security Studies (ISS) researcher later became a TV anchor at eNCA’s Africa division, followed by MTN’s group executive of corporate affairs. Now he has the challenge of running the country’s largest media outfit.

Some see it as a demotion. There was not exactly a rush of candidates for the job.

But Maroleng believes he has a duty, “as they say on Twitter, a #CountryDuty”, to wade through the politicking and personality cults to turn the broadcaster around and steer it into a digital future. And make South Africans love it again.

When his job was announced he posted a thank you message on social media – where he talks about Africa, family, God and gadgets – to the SABC’s no-nonsense new board “and to all South Africans”.

When his position was announced he was congratulated by Thuli Madonsela, Redi Thlabe and Felicia Mabuza-Suttle. Perhaps there are those who do not approve of Maroleng’s appointment.

Some speculate new Communications Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane is one of them. She has, in a recent High Court case she’s appealing, lost her ministry’s powers to control executive appointments at the SABC. This week Kubayi-Ngubane dismissed claims she doesn’t support Maroleng: “I have never met him, so I have no intention of not liking him.”

In an apparent battle of wills between the minister and the board, Maroleng felt the pinch of politicking. Rumours have been swirling that he is from Zimbabwe and that he faced sexual harassment charges at MTN. Both rumours are easy to dismiss with a few calls.

“I don’t call him Chris. I call him Walter,” says former eNCA managing director Patrick Conroy, who recruited Maroleng from ISS. He referred to a letter Maroleng received from former president Thabo Mbeki after Mbeki was the first guest on his show, Africa 360, in which Mbeki called him the Walter Cronkite of Africa.

Conroy found Maroleng at the ISS after eNCA’s Ben Said did a series of interviews with him.

Maroleng joined the ISS after completing a master’s degree in political science at the University of Cape Town. Although he comes from a household with little money – his father is an Anglican Church vicar and his mother a teacher, who had six sons to feed – Maroleng secured bursaries to study security and intelligence.

His South African father met his Zimbabwean mother in Bulawayo when he went into exile.

“My father had a revelation when trying to fight the political battle: that it would be more useful to change souls than ideologies,” says Maroleng.

“I was the last of six sons. He [his father] was ordained as an Anglican priest the year I was born. I was given the name Bandlalenkosi, meaning congregation of God.”

The exiled family moved to the UK when Maroleng was three and he fell in love with the military. He attended primary school in Botswana and Christian Brothers’ College in Bulawayo, a prefect and leader all the way, before the family returned to South Africa in 1994.

Today he and his wife of 13 years – whom he met in church and wooed over tea afterwards – and his three daughters and 80-year-old mother still attend his father’s last parish in Pretoria.

After university he rose to the position of senior researcher at ISS, travelling extensively across the continent but specialising in Zimbabwe’s security

“After he left for TV he still stayed in touch. He would invite us to be interviewed on eNCA,” says the ISS’s Ottilia Maunganidze.

“What was striking when he interviewed you was that he and his team had thoroughly researched the topic, had read the reports, had questions ready.”

Maroleng produced one of the country’s biggest memes in 2010 when Andre Visage of the right-wing AWB started verbally attacking and physically threatening political analyst Lebohang Pheko live on air. Maroleng repeatedly yelled, “Don’t touch me on my studio!” giving birth to an entire Wiki page and numerous remixes.

“I struggled to find the humour until very recently,” says Maroleng. “A lot of emotions came out and then the first thing that goes is grammar.”

Conroy says: “We were very proud of how he handled it ... Look, Chris is genuinely a straight up, honest, nice guy. What Chris has got is an understanding of media and the importance of revenue ... But he may need to become a little more ruthless at the SABC. He’s not someone who plays the political game. He will quickly have to learn to survive in that environment.”

Maroleng agrees, saying he’s only just realising how complex the SABC operation is, but is armed with a slew of strategies to tackle the broadcasters’ many problems caused by “bad financial management, yes, but also a significant loss of reputation which affects the staff. What’s surprised me most is the level of goodwill I’ve found here. A sense that change is required.

Read more on:    sabc  |  chris maroleng

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