Former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneg. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI
Former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneg. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI

Former SABC operations chief Hlaudi Motsoeneng boasted about his proximity to former president Jacob Zuma as he bullied executives and the board at the public broadcaster, former SABC CEO Lulama Mokhobo told the Zondo commission on Wednesday.

It was for this reason that  Motsoeneng unilaterally signed a deal with MultiChoice in 2013 that robbed the SABC of hundreds of millions of rand of potential revenue.

Motsoeneng apparently opposed the government’s digital migration strategy, which would have seen the SABC move into the age of digital terrestrial television (DTT), which would enable households with TV sets to connect through set-top box decoders. But because the move would have threatened the dominance of pay-TV channels, said Mokhobo, Motsoeneng became their “soldier” at Auckland Park, intimidating and purging everyone who agreed with the government’s policy on digital migration.

Mokhobo said the professional relationship with Motsoeneng soured from the onset when she joined the institution.

She said even the SABC at the time, which had initially defended Motsoeneng’s “disruptive style of leadership”, woke up to the reality that he was a “very, very dangerous man” when he wanted individuals removed by wrongly suggesting they were implicated in improper conduct.

The memorandum of agreement Motsoeneng entered into with MultiChoice injected only R500m into the SABC, which, according to Mokhobo, was “too little” compared with the revenue the SABC would have generated by going digital.

Mokhobo created a scenario of how much the SABC would have made last year had it gone the DDT route instead of continuing with its channels being hosted on DStv.

She said the SABC, with a monthly subscription of R40 for a set-top box decoder, would have collected more than R1bn just last year, a period in which DStv subscription revenue in SA was R40bn, thanks in part to people who subscribed to access SABC channels.

The blame, she said, should be laid squarely at the door of Motsoeneng, who favoured MultiChoice at the expense of the SABC.

“There were people who reported to other important people in powerful places and they would throw their weight around and impose their will,” said Mokhobo. “[Motsoeneng] had told me many times how he was close to [Zuma] and how he had stayed at the president’s house until 2am. Then there would be ministers coming into the SABC to meet Mr Motsoeneng and not me, which was strange as I was the head of the company.”

Mokhobo said this proved to her that there were a lot of “agendas and sub-agendas” at the public broadcaster and she clearly did not fit into any of them.

She said Motsoeneng had made several attempts to “discard me” for her principled stance on the MultiChoice deal and at some point she was named “WWW”, standing for “wafika, wadla, walala”, loosely translated, “she came, ate, and went to sleep”.

“Motsoeneng was making it very difficult for me to work and frustrated everything that I did to render me incompetent, blocking staff from submitting documents ... A SizweNtsalubaGobodo evaluation was done on the SABC and in it they spoke of two centres of power, one perceived to be the CEO and the other the COO,” said Mokhobo.

“DTT rollout stalled completely and it was critical and urgent. Mr Motsoeneng was very, very dangerous. He made it absolutely impossible for me to do my work.”

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