Motsoeneng's qualifications were irrelevant in his appointment at SABC – ex board chair

Former SABC chair Ben Ngubane. (Pic: Gallo Images)
Former SABC chair Ben Ngubane. (Pic: Gallo Images)

Former SABC board chairperson Ben Ngubane has said that despite not having a matric qualification, Hlaudi Motsoeneng was appointed to executive positions at the state broadcaster because of his sterling track record.

Ngubane was on Monday testifying at the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture, which is led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. The inquiry is currently investigating allegations of corruption and fraud at the public broadcaster.

The former board chairperson was providing evidence on the circumstances surrounding former SABC Chief Operations Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Earlier Ngubane told the commission that Motsoeneng was appointed because he was a skilled communicator and troubleshooter.

"He knew the SABC backwards, he knew exactly who was doing what. What system was being overwritten, how false commissions were being generated. He knew a lot. He was very valuable to us to stop money flowing from the SABC illegally," Ngubane said in response to a question from Zondo about Motsoeneng's outstanding qualities.

During questioning, Motsoeneng's qualifications, or lack thereof, came to the fore.

Motsoeneng did not have a matric qualification at the time he was appointed to work at a Free State radio station, Lesedi FM. Subsequently, Motsoeneng's qualifications were not probed by relevant authorities at the SABC for his promotion to executive positions – stakeholder relations manager and acting COO, the commission heard.

'SABC was burning'

The reason for this was that Motsoeneng had the relevant experience for the job, Ngubane said.

"When a house is burning, anyone can pass a bucket of water as long as he can carry the water. That was the situation.

"The SABC was burning with a lot of degreed (qualified) people, it was being reduced to ashes. So, anyone who could carry a bucket of water to put out the fire would be allowed to do that," Ngubane said in defending the board's reasoning for allowing Motsoeneng's appointment to acting group COO.

"Prior experience is important - if a person demonstrates special knowledge, or special capability. I think that is the reasoning that we (board) went on," he said.

When probed by Zondo as to why the board did not seek to look into Motsoeneng's qualifications, Ngubane said that qualifications do not "come in" when that type of decision is made.

"It is about the track record and their level in the organisation. That is how acting people are appointed. They must be at group level then appointed to act," Ngubane said.

"When he (Motsoeneng) came to head office, no one paid attention to his qualifications, because he was already at the SABC… The people who employed him [to Lesedi FM] found him fit. We were not going to revisit that [the qualifications]," Ngubane said.

Falsified qualifications

When asked if the board was aware the Motsoeneng had falsified his Matric qualification in his application to the radio position, Ngubane said the issue of falsification did not come up when Motsoeneng was appointed to executive level.

"He told us he did not have matric. So we knew that. We did not search for all sorts of things. We knew he did not have matric, but he could do the job. The issue of [matric] symbols did not arise. But the senior people in the SABC saw fit to appoint him."

He added that the fact that Motsoeneng was promoted without appropriate qualifications was not a precedent at the SABC. The Human Resources department could also reveal the staff's qualifications. "There are people at SABC who do not have matric," he said. "Some of them come from the old dispensation, before 1994, and did not have matric but have been doing their jobs well," Ngubane added.

Significant jumps

Ngubane further told the commission that Motsoeneng made significant career jumps at the SABC. He was promoted from Lesedi FM to stakeholder relations manager - in the office of the CEO - before being made acting COO. These promotions also meant significant salary changes, Ngubane told the commission.

When Zondo asked how the board justified the significant career jumps and salary level jumps, Ngubane said it was based on Motsoeneng's "previous performance".

"He succeeded as a stakeholder manager. There was a new challenge and he was thought to be able to do it. He was able to go from that (stakeholder relations manager) to acting COO. It is not a matter of qualification, it is a matter of being able to do the job," Ngubane said.

"We knew he did not have matric. But we knew he could deliver what we wanted and that's what guided us (the board)," Ngubane said.

By the time Motsoeneng was made permanent COO, Ngubane had left the SABC as chairperson. The position of permanent COO was advertised, Ngubane emphasised.

The commission has adjourned and will resume on Tuesday.

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