By Ed Herbst*
‘I once worked for a white editor – a terrible human being indeed – who often and tirelessly kept asking staff members not to discuss with each other how much they earned.
‘I can only assume the reason for this was to avoid exposing that he was not paying people according to their qualifications, experience and skills, but because of their skin colour.’
“The inequality scourge” Mzwandile Jacks, Fin24 14/3/2014
This is an article about the remuneration of news reporters to which Mzwandile Jacks refers in the anchor quote to this article.
I use my own career as a case study in the hopes of showing aspirant reporters the way and the light so that, in the twilight years of their news gathering and dissemination careers, they do not end up as I have, living in a single room in a home for the elderly.
Perhaps the way and light that I will describe for you – the ANC modus operandi – will come at a psychic cost too great to contemplate but that is your choice – ask Jimi Matthews, he’ll tell you.
Christiane Amanpour is probably and very justifiably a dollar millionaire several times over and she is remunerated because of her skill as a reporter/political analyst and talk show host whose programme has a huge international audience.
In the USA she remains within her area of core expertise but in South African journalism the only way to earn a vaguely decent salary is to give up your passionate vocation and agree to get kicked upstairs into Mahogany Row.
Rob Rose pointed out the anomaly in an interview carried on the Media Online website.
Are there any disadvantages to turning great journalists into editors?
“Many. I’ve worked with good journalists who’re useless managers and editors. Also, it takes years to develop that vital skill of nailing down a story properly and tightly – so removing people who’ve finally got this skill from the frontline weakens your core product.
"Someone said recently we need more editors in this country: self-evidently, we don’t – we need more good journalists. It baffles me that media managers in this country are paid more than journalists: a good journalist is worth 10 of them”.
A few years ago former Business Day editor, Peter Bruce, said he doubted if the three outstanding investigative journalists in the Sunday Times team, Rob Rose, Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstatter, were earning more than R45 000 a month.
That is, in part, because they do not have close links with the ANC or the generous blessers within that organisation.
If you do, you can, as a very ordinary news hound, become a millionaire overnight and I will provide four examples.
Snuki Zikalala was the first SABC reporter to become an overnight millionaire when he left in May 2002 with a R2m golden handshake to join the Department of Labour as an ANC imbongi. There was no publicity given to this, as always, taxpayer – funded largesse and he left because his power was being curbed by Vincent Maphai, chairperson of the SABC board and the new CEO, Peter Matlare.
Within two years he was back to snout still more millions and to abuse the SABC and its staff to promote the Mbeki faction of the ANC and its financial interests.
The second person to become an overnight millionaire was the politically connected reporter Sophie Mokoena. In May 2007 she received, for no investment, Batho Bonke shares worth some R3m.
At the time Tokyo Sexwale had thrown his hat into the ANC leadership ring and, in the hope of moving himself up the slate, started dishing out Batho Bonke shares like confetti at a wedding to people of influence – from journos to judges as a Mail & Guardian article subsequently pointed out.
This was subsequently reflected on SABC programmes. Pippa Green, former head of SABC radio news observed in a Mail & Guardian article, ‘The rise and fall of the SABC’ on 27/7/2007 that our Sophie, duly grateful, duly went on air to point out that Sexwale was a stellar fella:
… the acting TV political editor, Sophie Mokoena, accepted a generous gift of shares from Tokyo Sexwale and proceeded happily to file a story on his presidential candidacy without mentioning that she had benefited from his munificence.
The third person was Phil Molefe who, in terms of hallowed ANC practice, was put on paid leave for two years (euphemistically referred to as ‘suspension’) and then, in June 2013, given a R4m golden handshake.
The fourth person, obviously, was Hlaudi Motsoeneng who is looking forward to an R11m bonus as a reward for leaving the SABC with debts of close to R5bnand decaying infrastructure that will cost an estimated R2bn to counter – because snouting, as always when the ANC is involved, took precedence over preventative maintenance.
In my case, not only did I lack those pre-requisites of close links with senior ANC Big Vegetables or their generous blessers but I also did not fit the necessary Jimmy Manyi-defined demographic profile , as advocated by the ANC’s ‘New Verwoerdians, and which has been condemned by the United Nations as just another form of apartheid.
In 1994 I thought I was set fair for a rewarding career as an SABC reporter. I had won the Medical Association of South Africa’s award for medical reporting for a documentary I had done on a young Mitchell’s Plain woman who had been crushed to death in Pollsmoor Prison in a straitjacket. That documentary ended the punitive use of straitjackets in our prisons.
Zwelakhe Sisulu, Barney Mthombothi and Allister Sparks were in charge at Auckland Park and as I interviewed Ronnie Kasrils and Marcel Golding at the airport in Cape Town when they arrived to take up their seats in the first democratic parliament, I cheerfully believed that the Camelot years had started at the SABC and for the country as a whole.
They had – but it was very brief Prague Spring and, as we hurtle towards junk status with the Zuptas at the helm, let’s look back at the start of the current SABC circus.
The fact that there is not a single white or Afrikaans-speaking person on the current SABC board tells you all you need to know about the alleged ANC commitment to ‘representivity’, but the current ethnically-defined pattern for the remuneration of white reporters at the SABC was set at the time that the ANC became the governing party.
Purge of white staff
When the late Zwelakhe Sisulu was appointed CEO of the SABC in 1994 he was told by the incumbent chairperson, the late Dr Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri that the time had come for a purge of white staff.
Retrenchment packages were offered just as they were to get rid of the centuries of institutional knowledge and expertise of white teachers – one month’s salary for every year’s service for a maximum of 24 years.
In other words you were, as a white SABC employee with an unblemished and impeccable career record and decades of institutional knowledge, offered two years’ salary to walk away. (Which brings to mind the rhetorical question – how long does it take to acquire 20 years’ experience?)
That was the carrot. The stick was that if you chose to stay it was made clear that you would never again be promoted and the later years of my career as an SABC reporter testify to that.
In 2005 I took early retirement from the SABC with no employment in prospect because of pervasive corruption, unaddressed human rights abuses of which the SABC was repeatedly made aware, wall to wall censorship by omission of anything detrimental to the ANC and wall to wall abuse of the airwaves to promote the ANC.
My last promotion had occurred 13 years previously in 1992 and, had I remained an SABC employee for another decade, I would not have been promoted because I was white and opposed to the suffocating censorship and pro-ANC bias that we, in the Cape Town news office, experienced from 1998 onwards.
After a 38-year career as reporter, 28 with the SABC, my pension was R11 000 a month – about a quarter of the amount which Snuki Zikalala was, according to an October 2010 newspaper report, claiming for his alleged monthly expenditure on petrol.
That was in addition to the R2m a year he was snouting as an annual salary while driving the SABC into bankruptcy with his multi-million rand ‘African Al Jazeera’ blunder, flouting labour laws with his Bi-media folly and destroying the news credibility of the SABC with his blacklisting scandal – all of which brings into question the practical value of a Bulgarian PhD.
I mentioned the fact that I did not fit the Jimmy Manyi profile and this is a matter of record. In issue 143 of the SABC house journal Interkom, (September 2000) the then producer of 50/50 Danie van der Walt wrote: “Is this the same Zikalala who in the name of transformation walked into a Morning Live studio saying that he is still seeing too many white faces?”
That was not an isolated incident.
As Max Du Preez also pointed out in his book, Pale Native: Memories of a Renegade Reporter, Zikalala told his black colleagues that it was ‘symbolically important’ to drive whites like him out of the SABC, which Zikalala duly did. This is hardly surprising.
In an interview, “Snuki-sikelel-iafrika” with Angella Johnson carried in the Mail & Guardian on 17 October 1997, Zikalala made no attempt to hide his hatred of whites – the antithesis of what Nelson Mandela stood for.
Furthermore, in an article ‘Making Patriotism a Virtue’ published in Business Day on 31 July 2001, Zikalala alleged that all South African whites were unpatriotic – without offering a shred of scientific research to back up his contention.
The concluding paragraph in the article, “The Inequality Scourge” by Mzwandile Jacks which anchors this article reads
‘The blame for unequal salaries between races lies squarely on the ANC-led government, which has allowed this to happen right under its nose.
‘Something should have been done a long time ago to address this issue. Systems to check this out should have been put in place.’
It wasn’t the Democratic Alliance who got people like Snuki Zikalala, Phil Molefe, and Hlaudi Motsoeneng appointed to their millionaire-status positions at the state broadcaster or who made Sophie Mokoena a share millionaire overnight, while whites like myself went without promotion for decades purely because we were white and opposed to the pervasive and draconian SABC censorship which is driven by Loothuli House.
The purge of white staff that Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri ordered at the SABC has been echoed by the similar purge of whites when Sekunjalo took over the Independent Newspaper company in 2013, a purge which saw the once-respected Cape Times lose the services of news personnel like Alide Dasnois, Tony Weaver, Janet Heard and Melanie Gosling and columnists like John Scott, Max du Preez and Allister Sparks.
‘Left with the scum’
Looking back at the implosion of the SABC as a result of ANC cadre deployment and the party’s contempt for the institutional knowledge of white people with decades of professional experience, one is struck by a remark made by Krish Naidoo when he resigned from the SABC board recently:
“If you take out the quality you are left with the scum.”
Nothing remotely like this happened at the SABC prior to 1994 not only with regard to reporters becoming millionaires overnight but also executives – think Dali Mpofu, Christine Mampane, Solly Mokoetle, Lulama Mokhobo, Frans Matlala – and on and on.
In fact, both Zwelake Sisulu and Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri are on record expressing their sincere appreciation to the SABC executives who, at the time of the transition, gave them empathetic support and handed over a public broadcaster that was R185m in the black, a public broadcaster where the buildings met all requirements of the OSH Act because preventative maintenance was, back then but no longer, a corporate norm.
That was, of course, before the ANC turned the SABC into just another Luthuli House-orchestrated trough for the benefit of its venal scavenging elite.
In closing: The recently-dismissed SABC 4 were elated when the courts ruled that they could return to work. They will quickly learn that, with the ANC as the governing political party in South Africa, it will be a pyrrhic victory. Their victimisation and harassment has already started and they can rest assured that, as I can testify, they will never again experience promotion on merit.
That’s how the ANC rolls.
- Ed Herbst is a retired veteran journalist who writes in his own capacity.