Fingers crossed that, just for once, Hlaudi Motsoeneng is right. This week, the SABC’s embattled chief operating officer vowed that “those who want to destabilise the SABC, they won’t succeed”. If he truly means it, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Because it implies that we can soon expect his own resignation, followed promptly by that of communications minister Faith Muthambi. These two, after all, sit at the epicentre of the swirling forces destabilising the public broadcaster today.
Icasa, the communications regulator, ruled this week that Motsoeneng’s edict to not broadcast violent protests violated the Broadcasting Act and SA’s right to freedom of expression.
(Motsoeneng’s reasoning, that to do so “might encourage other communities to do the same” was classically muddled. Would this mean, for example, that we shouldn’t expose corruption, because it’ll just encourage others to follow that example?)
Throw in the fact that he is “disciplining” eight reporters for questioning that edict, mix in his bizarre financial decisions and it’s no great secret who’s really destabilising the broadcaster.
The big question is, why hasn’t Motsoeneng’s box already been dumped on the pavement? Especially since the ANC, represented by the party’s communications spokesman Jackson Mthembu, publicly flayed him last week for “censorship”?
In part, we have Muthambi to thank — a woman who follows a fine tradition of outstandingly awful and delinquent predecessors, including red-soled shoe queen Dina Pule.
Muthambi arrived in parliament with a chequered career from her time as a municipal manager in Makhado, where she infuriated unions and invoked whispers of corruption.
Today, she is the political head of a broadcaster that has gone rogue. And she has ignored all pleas to stop Motsoeneng from violating the constitution.
The stakes are even higher now that Icasa has ruled that Motsoeneng’s diktat on protests be reversed within seven days.
Said Icasa: “Why should the public not be informed of (protests), so that it may be part of an open society where good and bad is broadcast?”
Yet Motsoeneng has no plans to listen to Icasa. “No-one will tell us what to do,” he says.
This week, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe added his voice to Mthembu’s, warning the SABC to listen to Icasa: “Displaying your power in defiance, is actually destroying the institution and you as an individual.”
Few understand how Motsoeneng can act with such impunity, even ignoring the ANC, who many assume pulls the strings.
The answer may be that he believes he has the backing of President Jacob Zuma (and specifically, that faction within the party who support Zuma).
And Muthambi, who was on the ad hoc committee on Nkandla which found that Zuma didn’t have to repay a cent, fits the mold. So it may seem that the ANC is speaking with one voice on the SABC, but that’s hardly the case.
And Zuma has been repaid in spades, if the horror tales within the SABC are to be believed.
One such tale has Motsoeneng instructing journalists that while they may challenge Mantashe, “the president, you will not question”. In another story, soon after Zuma torched the rand by firing finance minister Nhlanhla Nene last December, Motsoeneng effectively accused the journalists who reported on Nenegate of contributing to “tanking the rand”.
It will have irked Motsoeneng that the eight suspended SABC journalists were awarded the Nat Nakasa award for integrity this week, because it paints him as the primary aggressor, stifling media freedom. But since the shoe fits so snugly, he’ll have to wear it.
Until now, he has staked an immense bet that the Zuma faction is calling the shots, which has allowed him to “go rogue”.
But if the ANC cares at all about what Mthembu said last week about freedom of speech, it has no option but to sack him, and Muthambi