Parties split on how to solve SABC ‘anarchy’

Political parties are divided over what to do about the latest controversy at the SABC, with the African National Congress (ANC) calling on Communications Minister Dina Pule to exercise her oversight responsibility as the government’s shareholder representative, while the Democratic Alliance (DA) wants board chairman Ben Ngubane fired.

The Congress of the People (COPE) would rather have the whole board sacked and a commission of inquiry into corporate governance at the state broadcaster appointed.

Last week, the corporation’s board resolved to relieve its acting chief operations officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, of his position, and return him to his permanent position as head of provinces, only for Mr Ngubane to instruct the deputy chairman, Thami Ka Plaatjie, on Friday to reinstate him as acting chief operations officer.

On Monday, the board issued a statement saying it wanted an explanation, as neither the chairman nor his deputy had the authority to overturn a board resolution.

In removing Mr Motsoeneng, the board appointed Mike Siluma, the head of radio and current affairs, as his acting replacement.

However, Mr Siluma subsequently resigned. Mr Motsoeneng’s appointment to the powerful chief operations officer post has been clouded by controversy. He is alleged to have faked his qualifications, and has also been accused of being President Jacob Zuma’s "enforcer" at the SABC, where he is also accused of meddling editorially.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela is conducting an investigation into Mr Motsoeneng’s fitness to hold office. Ms Madonsela said she hoped to release her full report by March 15, but still has to present the draft version to the SABC board as is standard procedure.

MPs from the ANC, the DA and COPE have called for strong action, but differ markedly on what form this should take place.

Parliamentary communications portfolio committee chairman Eric Kholwane described the situation as "anarchy", saying corporate governance at the SABC had disintegrated almost completely.

"We have a problem in that one or two people here think they are the executive and can do almost what they like," he said.

Mr Kholwane said it was up to Ms Pule to hold the board to account and then to report to Parliament on the matter. "Calling for the resignation of the board now would be premature," he said.

DA communications spokeswoman Marian Shinn said while a commission would be good in the long run, the SABC had urgent operational matters to manage — such as its project to migrate to digital TV — that should not be upset.

Save Our SABC Coalition organiser Sekoetlane Phamodi said the corporation’s board has been plagued by instability since it was first appointed in 2010.

"The board has had seven non-executive directors resign and the recurring theme of these resignations has been that of bad governance and ministerial interference," he said.

Mr Phamodi said it was important for Parliament to hold a public meeting on these issues and the shareholder compact between the SABC and Ms Pule, which they have refused to make public.

Media Workers Association of South Africa general secretary Tuwani Gumani said the SABC should be placed under administration, as it was clear that corporate governance had disintegrated to a dangerous level.