PREACHING TO THE CONVERTED
Welcome to the Church of Hlaudi Motsoeneng
What you see, said the SABC's former boss Hlaudi Motsoeneng of himself on Wednesday, is what you get.
So what did we get of Motsoeneng at his marathon press conference, which might be charitably described as bizarre and less charitably as a bit insane?
For nearly four hours the Church of Hlaudi gathered at the Milpark Garden Court, in Johannesburg, so close to Motsoeneng's employers at SABC headquarters down the way that it could have been that he had returned to his spiritual home.
The hotel conference room was small. But even if it had been 10 times bigger it would have struggled to contain the ego of a man who routinely refers to himself in the third person, and who spoke for two hours about the wonders of Motsoeneng "because all over the world people speak about Hlaudi Motsoeneng".
There is no category for this kind of "press conference". It was more sermon than briefing.
It was the weird ranting of a man on the wrong side of a court ruling that ousted him from his job as COO of the public broadcaster but who remains in an odd no-man's land. He is technically still an employee but without a position until his future is settled at a disciplinary hearing.
But for his followers (they come with capital letters as The Friends of Hlaudi) this was nought but a detail. They sang their praises with evangelical fervour.
In fact, they regaled journalists for a full hour before Motsoeneng finally appeared. And it was all broadcast live. On an SABC television channel.
One local artist supporting Hlaudi, Suthukazi Arosi, did shout: "Hallelujah!" After praising Hlaudi in her speech to journalists, and calling herself "a legend", she continued: "I am standing here today for Brenda Fassie and Miriam Makeba, who are not here today. Hallelujah in the name of Jesus Christ. "
Had Motsoeneng started baptising his supporters no one would have blinked.
There were more of his followers there than press representatives. There were even DJs on hand to play tracks for Motsoeneng as he arrived and before he spoke.
Last night the news broke that William Mthethwa, a recording artist from the Free State, had spent R20,000 producing a Friends of Hlaudi CD.
But what his supporters had hoped would be a celebration of Hlaudi might well turn out to be his funeral.
He is still an SABC employee, drawing, says the DA, R350,000 a month of taxpayers' money (he confirms that he's still getting paid but won't say how much).
Still, being on the payroll didn't stop him from saying some nasty things about his employers. He accused the SABC board of perjury and claimed to be the only person able to solve the broadcaster's financial woes.
Even an SABC journalist at the briefing pointed out he might be in breach of SABC regulations. He shouted back at her. But it's Motsoeneng's infamous "90% local" policy on which the Church of Hlaudi is built and it is the rock on which he is making his last stand.
He thinks it has made him world famous, but for the new interim SABC board that has to clean up the mess, the policy has led to an audience and financial meltdown for some of the corporation's key brands.
But for his Friends there is only one Truth. "Viva Hlaudi, Viva" shouted the local artists.
Ernest "Che" Moikangoa, head of the Friends of Hlaudi, called him "the rose that grew from the concrete" and "the people's CEO". Another speaker recalled saying "Jesus has returned" when he first heard of Motsoeneng's "90%" miracle. Journalists left before the four-hour affair ended. That doesn't usually happen. We left behind a Motsoeneng who continued to rail against his critics about anything he could think of. There he was, bathed in righteous benevolence — in his mind at least, still the king of the world.