Vincent Smith may be excused if he is feeling a little edgy. The immediate hope of a brighter future for the country’s public broadcaster is in the hands of his 11-member multiparty parliamentary committee, which has been digging up the dirt at the SABC – in front of live television.
The SABC inquiry ad hoc committee has a limited mandate and fast-approaching expiry date. However, its energised performance and determination to put things right should set a precedent at Parliament this year. Members of the communications portfolio committee, which has the crucial responsibility of overseeing the appointment process for an interim SABC board from Tuesday, need to follow their example. This board will be tasked with implementing many of the urgent recommendations of the SABC inquiry. So, if the communications committee reverts to type and appoints a malleable or politically compromised board that does not ensure accountability, we will be back at square one, with no hope of a turnaround.
To the public eye, Smith’s committee members have been united in their dedication to the job at hand. It has been invigorating to see the camaraderie between members of rival parties who traditionally draw a line in the sand to score cheap political points. This uncanny togetherness was captured on Thursday as deliberations on the working document were due to start in the Old Assembly. The DA’s Phumzile van Damme gathered around the Economic Freedom Fighters’ Fana Mokoena, ANC’s Makhosi Khoza and Inkatha Freedom Party’s Narend Singh to take a selfie – and they all happily smiled for the camera.
During testimony, ANC MPs have shed defensiveness and rediscovered their sense of purpose in Parliament, excelling in their tough line of questioning. The chair himself warned of harsh consequences, possibly a jail sentence, for witnesses who had misled Parliament – an underlying theme of the inquiry.
Smith’s committee has earned dollops of public trust. But it would be premature to think that oversight has won the day. As the transparent inquiry reaches crunch time, the tightly knit gees among committee members has the potential to fray.
No matter how positive things look from the public glare of the TV screen, the real test is to come when the final report is released. It will be telling how much the draft report – due to be completed this week – has been watered down after being circulated for comment to affected parties, and after yet another round of unforgiving behind-the-scenes lobbying.
The stakes are high. MPs across the political spectrum are at risk of being influenced by implicated parties – and hardened thugs. ANC members in particular will be beating off verbal body blows from Luthuli House – or factions within Luthuli House and their acolytes – to toe a particular line.
To date, the country has cheered on as 11 MPs have raised the bar for parliamentary oversight. Smith and his team must not bow to pressure now. They must not drop the ball.
Heard is Media24’s parliamentary editor