Zondo commission: We had to 'smuggle' Madonsela onto our show after she released her report - SABC employee

(File, Supplied)
(File, Supplied)

Mwaba Phiri, who was the executive producer of the SABC's Question Time programme, has told the state capture inquiry that after former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela released her report into the broadcaster, she had to be "smuggled" into a studio for an interview.

The programme was aimed at interviewing newsmakers in different sectors, daily. It provided in-depth coverage of current affairs, he said on Thursday.  

Phiri told inquiry chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo after Madonsela released her report titled When Governance and Ethics Fail - which investigated, among other things, irregular appointments, promotions and salary hikes at the broadcaster - inviting her into the studio had to be done discreetly.  

"There was a very, very stifling atmosphere at the SABC at that time. So much so that even the inviting of Ms Madonsela was done discreetly. We didn't want top management to be aware of who we were bringing," he said.

READ: I found the SABC in a state of decay - head of news tells state capture commission

"We recorded Ms Madonsela and we hid the tape … we hid that tape from everybody, we wanted to hand it in 30 minutes before going on air. 

"The team gave the tape to me to keep. I was holding on to the tape and I ran away from the office because I was anticipating this query."

Phiri also told the commission the programme was halted under controversial circumstances. 

He said during former COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng's reign at the public broadcaster, the programme was controversial in that they had brought in people whom "management was not happy about".  

"We ended up ... fulfilling our mandate rather secretly. We had to smuggle in Ms Thuli Mandosela after she had released the report on the SABC."

Phiri also told the commission about the interview they had with EFF leader Julius Malema in 2014, after he released his party's election list.

"Bringing him [Malema] in was going to be difficult," Phiri said. He claimed when Malema arrived at the building, then-acting CEO Jimmy Matthews was going to an election workshop.

"I don't know what happened, I heard that immediately when he saw Malema coming in, he looked for somebody to follow him and see what he was doing and to stop whatever interview he was doing," Phiri testified.

ALSO READ: SABC 8 outraged over Bosasa funding allegation

He said after the interview was concluded, they decided to make two tapes and hide one of them. Later, disgraced former head of news Simon Tebele approached his team and asked for the tape, Phiri said.

"He had gone behind my back and [spoke] to my juniors and asked for the tape, so they gave him the tape."  

Phiri told the commission he was told in 2018 the programme would not continue, adding no reasons were given.  

News24 previously reported Tebele was found liable for part of the legal costs in a case relating to the wrongful dismissal of the SABC 8, together with the SABC and Motsoeneng. 

The SABC 8 was the term given to eight journalists who were fired in July 2016 for criticising Motsoeneng's policy on footage of violent protests, News24 previously reported.

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