Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

A few years back, one SABC executive described how Hlaudi Motsoeneng, a man cut from the Idi Amin cloth, was essentially a useful thug. "He beats people up in the dark for a living, but he gets things done," he said, approvingly. The message was clear: sure, he’s a Frankenstein’s monster, but he’s our monster.

Perhaps more accurately, it appears he’s really been President Jacob Zuma’s monster all along.

Until now, it hasn’t been totally clear how it was that Motsoeneng could remain untouchable despite having taken a sledgehammer to the SABC’s integrity, and despite furious opposition from ANC heavyweights like Jackson Mthembu.

Finally, we have a lucid answer, emerging from the carnage described by the "SABC Eight", the whistleblowers who told parliament this week, in gory detail, how Motsoeneng turned the broadcaster into a propaganda arm for the more unsavoury elements within Zuma’s ANC

Vuyo Mvoko, an SABC editor, described how taxpayer money — your money — was effectively laundered through the public broadcaster to the Gupta family’s media company, TNA Media.

"SABC executives ... allowed SABC money to be used to build a rival channel, ANN7. Morning Live resources get diverted to pay for the production costs of (The New Age breakfast briefings). The money the owners of TNA make, none of it — not a cent — goes to the SABC," he said.

In other words, Zuma’s friends benefited from public funds, a funnel facilitated by the delinquent stewardship of Motsoeneng. Here then, is an eloquent answer to the baffling question of why Motsoeneng hasn’t been given the boot.

As journalist Lukhanyo Calata put it: "It’s an open secret ... our understanding is that Mr Motsoeneng has the support of the president."

These tales from the coalface were a step-by-step guide to throttling a public broadcaster.

We heard how former CEO Jimi Matthews instructed staff to find "positive soundbites" of Zuma’s speeches; we heard how communications minister Faith Muthambi told SABC journalists which clips she didn’t want played; we heard how former SABC chair Ellen Tshabalala grilled economics editor Thandeka Gqubule-Mbeki for the impertinence of posing tough questions to (then Transnet CEO) Brian Molefe.

Gqubule-Mbeki revealed how she was pressured to stifle reports on how Zuma had crashed the rand by axing finance minister Nhlanhla Nene. "Public service journalism is dying at the SABC. Every day, we — its journalists and editors — bear witness to a mandate betrayed," she said.

At the centre of all this sits Motsoeneng. Perhaps ex-SABC director Bongani Khumalo put it best: "There has been a kind of malevolent power [at the SABC]."

Those who have enabled Motsoeneng to prosper have leapt to his defence. When asked about the SABC Eight, CEO James Aguma described them as merely "discontented journalists".

While it would be tempting to blame Motsoeneng, it seems futile. Can you blame Idi Amin for being a despot, can you blame Donald Trump for being a narcissist?

No, it is those who enabled this who should carry the shame. As Krivani Pillay, SAfm current affairs producer, explained: "Parliament let us down, the board let us down, the minister let us down, our acting CEO at the time, Jimi Matthews, let us down. All these people sold out journalists."

For allowing this to flourish, history will pass harsh judgment on Muthambi, Tshabalala, Aguma and Mbulaheni Maguvhe.

Had their loyalty been to the country, rather than to one venal man, their conscience would
be clear.

Please login or register to comment.