EXCLUSIVE: New SABC board chair shrugs off 'exaggerated' Zuma links

Bongumusa Makhathini
Bongumusa Makhathini

Cape Town - New South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini has shrugged off, what he terms, "exaggerated" perceptions of political links to President Jacob Zuma.

Makhathini, 40, was appointed SABC board chairperson on Tuesday by Zuma, more than a month after Parliament's approval of candidates.

He was one of 11 candidates appointed to non-executive board positions, with Febe Potgieter-Gqubule serving as deputy chairperson.

Speaking to News24 on Wednesday, Makhathini was quick to dismiss concerns many in the public had raised, after learning he also served part-time as chairperson of the Bongi Ngema-Zuma Foundation, whose patron is one of Zuma's wives.

His full-time occupation is as a director at British American Tobacco.

On Wednesday, he resigned from the NGO, saying the perceptions around a potential conflict of interest dictated that he put the issue to bed.

"The reason why I had to resign - although I don't think there was a conflict of interest, if you look at what the SABC is about and what the foundation does - [is] because there was a perception of conflict of interest, I had to deal with that decisively.

"But secondly, my priority really is to help restore the integrity of the SABC and ensure the independence of the institution. So anything that caused controversy, I had to deal with it decisively, and that's the reason why I resigned."

READ: Concerns about Zuma links of SABC board chair, deputy

Makhathini nonetheless said the accusations were "unfounded".

"They are exaggerating the link. I was chairperson of the Bongi Ngema-Zuma Foundation. That has nothing to do with the President of the country.

"And it was assumed that because I served for an NGO to assist in fighting diabetes... they are making too much of a link and exaggerating this thing.

"It's like if you decide to serve in your local committee, or in your street, all of a sudden you are close to the mayor."

Perception though would become other people's reality, and thus he felt he needed to do what was right for the SABC.

When asked how he was approached to volunteer there, he said he joined the NGO after a colleague at Accenture informed him about a small volunteer post.

He agreed to join and assist with strategy and projects as his father is diabetic. He felt it was a disease that did not get the same attention as others, like TB and HIV.

"Then they asked me: Bongumusa, can't you help lead us? And I became chairperson. But I wasn't earning any salary or anything like that."

The SABC post is also a part-time position, so he will remain working full-time in his current post at British American Tobacco.

Harvard graduate, director at BAT, SAB

Makhathini boasts an impressive CV.

He works as a director at British American Tobacco and was a former director at South African Breweries. Before that, he worked for Accenture for eight years.

He is a recent Harvard graduate with a one-year masters course in management, has a masters from the University of Johannesburg in Business Management, and honours and Bachelors degrees from the University of Zululand in education.

He also has two one-year diplomas in HR and finance respectively.

Makhathini did not want to go in-depth into potential plans for the SABC just yet, saying it was premature. He had not even been inducted yet, and there were people there who could brief him.

He acknowledged that the SABC's pending financial crisis, top-level vacancies and general governance issues would occupy their first few months in the post.

"When I look at what the interim board has done, they have done a good job on putting us on a journey of recovery, and the new board is now going to take it to the next level," he declared.

He and his colleagues will go through a three-day process of induction in the coming week, and he hopes to hit the ground running from next week.

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