‘Hlaudi has the president on speed dial’ – Here’s what you need to know from SABC inquiry

Hlaudi Motsoeneng. (Picture: Felix Dlangamandla)
Hlaudi Motsoeneng. (Picture: Felix Dlangamandla)

The Guptas tried to take control of the SABC's news production, the State Security Agency (SSA) investigated certain staff members, and the real power was with Hlaudi Motsoeneng and not the CEO.

These were some of the revelations yesterday – day four – at the parliamentary inquiry into the SABC.

On the same day when the Western Cape High Court ruled that Motsoeneng’s appointment was unlawful, Parliament’s ad hoc committee heard shocking testimony about the shenanigans at the public broadcaster.

Here’s what you need to know from the inquiry:

  • The SSA investigated certain SABC staff members after they allegedly leaked information about the SABC. Former SABC general manager of labour relations, Madiwe Nkosi, said the SSA was asked to investigate former group executive of risk and governance, Itani Tseisi, for allegedly having leaked information. Tseisi was suspended in May 2014 for opposing key appointments and abuse of procedures. He returned in September this year but left permanently in October. Nkosi said the staff’s morale was affected by the SSA’s involvement and there was “an atmosphere of paranoia”. This confirmed allegations by senior staffers, made during a City Press investigation last month, that Motsoeneng had roped in the SSA to investigate leaks.
  • Former SABC group executive of human resources, Jabulani Mabaso, said everyone including the CEOs "knew where the power was" – with former COO Motsoeneng.  “At the SABC the CEO is on the 28th floor, the COO the 27th floor,” he said. “But the meetings are held on the 27th floor, and the CEO ‘gets called in’.” According to Mabaso, the four CEOs he served under between 2013 and 2016, including Tian Olivier, Anton Heunis and Lulama Mokhobo, were all undermined by Motsoeneng.
  • The Gupta-owned TNA media group tried to take control of the SABC's news production, before launching ANN7 in 2013. Former SABC chief technology officer, Sipho Masinga, testified that The New Age’s former CEO Nazeem Howa proposed that TNA media take over news production for the SABC's 24-hour news channel – for free.
  • Freelance journalist Vuyo Mvoko testified about how the SABC’s resources were being used to help ANN7. The SABC paid for the costs of The New Age breakfasts on Morning Live, he said, without getting any of the money. Mvoko said it could cost up to R500 000 for a New Age breakfast to be aired.
  • “It's an open secret. Our understanding is that Mr Motsoeneng has the support of the president.” This was revealed by journalist Lukhanyo Calata, who also said it was spoken about in the office like Motsoeneng has Zuma on speed dial. Calata also explained how the broadcaster banned footage of the EFF chanting "pay back the money" in Parliament.
  • Economics editor Thandeka Gqubule said a colleague, Kgaogelo Magolego, was dismissed after interference from Communications Minister Faith Muthambi. Magolego had asked Muthambi during an interview about the delayed digital migration process. Muthambi was recorded as saying: “We are not doing any digital migration, or you didn’t get a proper briefing, because you are losing it. This interview on digital migration several times is very boring on a serious note, and I wouldn’t like you to play that clip.” Magolego was charged with bringing the SABC into disrepute by disrespecting the minister and summarily dismissed. Former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe, who was Transnet CEO at the time, also interfered in the broadcaster’s affairs. Molefe was unhappy with questions from journalist Francis Heard about the purchase of locomotives. Gqubule said she was told to discipline Heard, but she refused.
  • SAFM current affairs producer Krivani Pillay said Motsoeneng told them: “You must defend the organisation. No journalist is independent. The COO has final responsibility over the news … you cannot have people who question management.” Then acting CEO Jimi Matthews told them: “It’s cold outside. If you don't like it, you have two choices: the door or the window.”
    She said the blame didn’t lie with the SABC board alone. “Parliament failed us – when the board sat here and told you stories and called us names, you accepted it,” she said. “Parliament failed us. Jimi Matthews failed us. Hlaudi failed us. The board failed us.”
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