Ben Ngubane, the former chairperson of the SABC, testified on Monday that the public broadcaster's ex-COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng was appointed because he was a skilled communicator and troubleshooter.
Ngubane was testifying at the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture, which is currently investigating allegations of corruption and fraud at the public broadcaster.
In addition to praising Motsoeneng's communication skills, Ngubane said that the controversial New Age business breakfasts that the SABC hosted were solid business decisions and good for the public broadcaster. The former chair also denied having close links with members of the Gupta family, saying the only member in their circle he became close to was The New Age's former editor Moegsien Williams.
Ngubane's tenure as SABC chair corresponded with the fast rise up the ranks of Motsoeneng, from the head of news at Free State radio station Lesedi FM to being appointed the SABC's acting chief operating officer.
Last week the inquiry heard evidence from journalist Krivani Pillay, who said that staff in the SABC newsroom felt "abused" during Motsoeneng's reign. Pillay, one of the so-called SABC 8, told the inquiry of how a SAFM radio show was immediately cancelled by Motsoeneng after it criticised his decision to ban protest coverage ahead of the 2016 elections, as News24 reported.
Ngubane told the commission on Monday that Motsoeneng was transferred to the SABC head office as stakeholder relations manager in the office of its CEO due to his top-notch communication skills.
"Hlaudi was seen as a troubleshooter – he was very proactive – with all issues that came up he would be there, hands on," he said.
Ngubane said that when he was appointed SABC chair in 2010, the broadcaster was "technically insolvent". It needed a communicator to interact with staff and unions around a turnaround plan, and Motsoeneng was perfect for the job.
"I would say, in short, the skills he had were people skills, and that is what we needed at the time."
Motsoeneng was appointed acting COO in 2011, a position that was made permanent in July 2014, despite not having a matric certificate or university qualifications. He was suspended later that year by a high court order, the first stage in what would become years of court challenges around his role at the SABC.
In February 2014, just months before his permanent appointment, a report by former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela had found him guilty of lying about his qualifications.
"The allegation that Mr Motsoeneng was appointed to several posts at the SABC despite having no qualifications as required for such posts, including a matric certificate, is substantiated, and this constitutes improper conduct and maladministration," stated Madonsela in her report 'When governance and ethics fail'.