Atul Gupta. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Atul Gupta. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

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Opposing forces

The sordid marriage between the Guptas’ financial interests and Jacob Zuma’s presidency has been well and truly exposed by dedicated, independent investigative journalists.

Meanwhile, past and present African National Congress (ANC) figures and Tripartite Alliance members have raised the alarm of the Gupta’s influence through the years, referring to them by name or by insinuation[1][2][3][4][5][6][7].

Opposition parties - including the DA, EFF, Congress of the People (COPE), and the United Democratic Movement (UDM) – have also expressed their concern about the influence the Guptas, and other Zuma benefactors, seem to wield over government [8][9][10][11][12][13].

Both the DA and the UDM have had their own direct dealings with the Guptas.
In 2009/10, the DA secured a R400 000 donation from a Gupta family associate and a company linked to the Gupta family[14][15]. While, in 2011, Bantu Holomisa’s UDM party confirmed that it had received a R100 000 donation from the Guptas.

According to a 2011 Sunday Times article, the Gupta brothers were said to have often bragged about their funding of the DA and UDM, saying that it made it difficult for the opposition to publicly criticise them [Timeslive][16].
Holomisa, who had no problem admitting to the donation, said at the time that if it was true that the Guptas were bragging about the donations, then it amounted to “politics of blackmail”[17].

In that same year, the DA stated that they had become aware that there was something “untoward” about Zuma’s relationship with the Guptas, and so the then leader of the DA, Helen Zille, instructed the party’s fundraising department “to have nothing to do with the Gupta family or any of their companies.”[18][19] In a February 2016 article, the DA stated that the Guptas had never been awarded a tender or business deal by the DA-governed Western Cape province[20].)

The trade union Solidarity recently requested the public protector Thuli Madonsela to probe the controversial partnership between the Guptas and Denel[21][22].

(Carol Paton of Business Day reported in February 2016 that the public enterprises minister Lynne Brown and Treasury had not approved the joint venture, and thus it is not legal under the Public Finance Management Act[23].)

If one excludes the 9 600MW nuclear programme [see Rand Daily Mail article] and South African Airways (SAA) [see Rand Daily Mail article] from the Zuma-Gupta’s alleged list of dirty government dealings, it still remains a long, hard read. So, instead of wading through them all, what follows are only those soiled items that touch each of us in the most intimate of ways.

Specifically, below is how the Zuma-Gupta relationship is shrinking our rights and freedoms as South African citizens - and by extension, unravelling our democracy.


A new age breaks

In January 2013, Nazeem Howa, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Gupta-controlled ‘The New Age’, TNA, Africa News Network 7 (ANN7), and Oakbay Investments, wrote “We have constantly challenged the media to show us one example of any undue advantage we have derived from the relationship between President Jacob Zuma and our shareholder.”[24][25]

The New Age is a pro-Zuma newspaper controlled by the Guptas[26]; TNA Media is the publisher of the newspaper, which is majority-owned by a Gupta controlled company, Sahara Media Holdings, which is a sister company to Sahara Computers - a major supplier to government[27], and for which Zuma’s son Duduzane is a board member[28][29]; ANN7 is a 24-hour news channel with a pro-Zuma stance[30] and controlled by the Guptas, who are co-owners with others, including Zuma’s son[31]; and, the Guptas' investment vehicle of Oakbay Investments has a controlling share of a uranium mine, purchased with funds from government allegedly with Zuma’s assistance[32], and which again Zuma’s son owns shares[33], while Zuma is pushing through the procurement of an “unnecessary” 9 600 megawatt nuclear programme that would greatly benefit uranium mining[34][35].

The national daily newspaper, The New Age, released its first publication in December 2010[36]. At the time, the newspaper declared its aim was not financial return, but to achieve the reach and readership to become sustainable [Daily Maverick][37].

From 2011 to 2015, The New Age was paid approximately R100 million for advertising space by government, parastatals and government-linked organisations (excluding government subscriptions and sponsorship deals). This is despite the newspaper failing to release audited circulation figures, prompting critics to ask on what basis government departments are advertising in the publication [38]. [Figures are based on a 2013 Nielsen study, and government budgets [39][40][41][42][43][44][45][46].]

Although The New Age has failed to have its circulation figures independently audited, readership figures obtained from the South African Audience Research Foundation (SAARF) shows that the financial support it receives from Zuma’s government is grossly disproportionate[47] when compared with those of its competitors.

To illustrate, in the 2013-2014 financial year, government spent R10.4 million for advertising in the Sowetan newspaper (the highest paid for that period), which had at the time 1.67 million readers, while The New Age was paid R10.2 million (the second highest), while only having an estimated readership of 153 000 (9% the size of the Sowetan). Thus Zuma’s government paid The New Age about 11 times more for advertising than its readership numbers warranted [Business Tech][48].

Moreover, The New Age circulation is greatly enhanced by government subscriptions. For Example, despite SAA’s financial distress and having to rely on government bailouts[49], the airline spent R13.7 million buying over 8.6 million copies of The New Age newspaper between March 2011 and August 2015. [Figures were calculated directly from a parliamentary Q&A exchange between DA MP R A Lees and former finance minister Nene[50].]

Siyabonga Mahlangu was said to have been intimately involved in working out the details of SAA’s subscriptions to The New Age, and as a result the airline bought more copies of the paper than before and at a higher price – according to a 2013 M&G article[51]. (Mahlangu had invited former SAA acting-CEO Kona to a meeting, where Kona was allegedly offered a bribe by Rajesh “Tony” Gupta[52])  (Mahlangu denied all claims[53][54].)

The Daily Maverick in 2013 heard from its sources that government departments bought The New Age in quantity (usually as part of an advertising-sale deal), and that the papers often sat unread and in bulk in some offices[55].  While a former employee told the M&G in 2013 that thousands of copies were returned for pulping, and that the Gupta family instructed the recycling to be done in India to keep it quiet[56]. (CEO Howa of The New Age dismissed the charges, calling them ‘malicious’)[57].

Back in November 2010, one month before The New Age rolled off the presses for the first time, Mandy de Waal wrote in the Daily Maverick that The New Age would have a tough battle building its circulation, winning advertising and becoming self-sustainable, especially in a declining market. Though, De Waal did note at the time that Atul Gupta had deep pockets[58]. It has since emerged, however, that Zuma’s government is the one wearing the pants.

Making a meal of the media

Over the past five years New Age has also received more than approximately R70 million from (cash-strapped) state owned enterprises (SOEs) and government departments, for a breakfast program it sponsors on the South African Broadcast Corporation (SABC) [59][60][61].

Despite The New Age being a private commercial company, the SABC does not charge it for the airtime[62], and the production costs are already covered by attendees (mainly from the ANC and government[63]), who pay for the privilege.

The M&G reported in 2013 that according to several sources and documentary evidence, Mahlangu had put Eskom under similar pressure to SAA, resulting in the parastatal’s decision to contract The New Age to host six breakfasts at a total cost of over R7 million[64]. (Mahlangu denied the claims[65].)

In 2013, the DA pulled out of attending The New Age business breakfasts after it came to light that the breakfasts were funded by public money via SOEs “to the tune of millions of rands”[66].

In 2014, after EFF walked out of a breakfast briefing hosted by The New Age[67], the party’s Dali Mpofu said The New Age, ANN7 and SABC were being used by the ANC[68].

That same year COPE said they would not be part of a breakfast hosted by the Gupta family[69].

Do you mind?

Opposition parties, such as the EFF and DA, have objected to what they perceive as media bias.

In February 2016 EEF leader Julius Malema banned news channel ANN7 and The New Age newspaper from covering future EFF events or media briefings[70][71], as he considered those media entities as a “propaganda machine of a corrupt cartel”[72]. He added that the safety of journalists working for The New Age or ANN7 could not be guaranteed if they defied the ban[73][74][75]. He was widely condemned, with commentators saying that although the party had the right to expose threats to media freedom, threatening the safety of journalists was unconstitutional [Business Day][76]. A day later Malema insisted he was not threatening violence[77].

(In 2010, as ANC Youth League president, Malema verbally attacked the media at a briefing on the ANCYL’s visit to Zimbabwe. He called a BBC journalist a “bastard” and an “agent”, after which he ordered security to “remove this thing [the journalist]” from the building[78].) 

On 9 of February 2016 the Gupta brothers obtained an urgent interdict to stop the EFF from, amongst other things, threatening them or their employees, or promote the infringement of The New Age and ANN7’s right to freedom of expression[79][80].

In February 2015, the DA lodged a complaint with the Press Council’s ombudsman, which adjudicates the fairness and accuracy of journalistic reporting, and the adherence to the Press Code[81]. The party was objecting to a front-page article in The New Age that defended government’s disproportionate advertising expenditure on The New Age [M&G][82].

A month later, in March 2015, The New Age pulled out of the Ombudsman system. The newspaper said at the time that it would instead appoint an “independent person” as public editor to attend to complaints[83].

(In 2013, regarding other articles printed by The New Age, the Press Council directed the newspaper to: apologise to the DA; publish DA’s comments in a follow up article; and, print an article on its front page publicizing the Press Ombudsman’s findings[84].)

The DA has also objected to the reporting of the Independent News and Media South Africa group (Independent Media group), more specifically their newspaper, the Cape Times[85].

In March 2015, the DA-governed Western Cape provincial government issued a directive to provisional department heads not to renew their subscriptions with the Cape Times newspaper or initiate new ones, as they considered it fruitless expenditure[86]. This was due to the provincial cabinet’s concern over the, “ongoing decline in the quality of reporting in the Cape Times.”

In 2013, Independent Media group was bought out for R2 billion by the Public Investment Corporation, two Chinese investors, and a majority share by Sekunjalo Independent Media consortium, whose executive chairperson is said to have ANC connections [M&G and Politicsweb][87][88].

Following the takeover by the new owners, Cape Times saw an extensive purge of journalists and columnists, “and a dramatic editorial re-positioning”, wrote James Myburgh, editor of Politicsweb[89].

In a December 2015 article, Myburgh stated that on the face of it, around 62.5% of the original purchase price of Independent Media group was financed by the PIC, including a 25% stake (worth R500 million) and a 37.5% loan (of R750 million) [90][91]. Myburgh noted that the ability of the Independent Media group to assert its independence from government in future will be severely limited if it has not been able to start paying down its loan, or even the interest on it[92][93].

Myburgh also observed that the Independent Media group may support a particular faction of the ANC and alliance partners of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and COSATU, who support Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2017 bid for president of the ANC and the country. Myburgh stated that the Independent Media group broke the story of the impending dismissal of Nhlanhla Nene two days before it actually happened, with a widespread purge of mostly SACP cabinet ministers having been expected to follow, and which may yet occur[94].

In the DA’s response to perceived bias by the Cape Times and The New Age; and EFF’s reaction to the Gupta-controlled The New Age and ANN7 and its alleged manipulation of news; are examples of the difficulty political parties face in managing seeming propaganda in news reporting. However, one cannot defend freedom of expression by inhibiting it – such as cancelling subscriptions, withholding valid government funding, or barring and threatening journalists.

The best defence of the freedom of expression is to express the offence.

Slash and burn

Minister of communications Faith Muthambi at a media briefing in May 2015 said one of her department’s main goals in the coming years was to transform the media, especially print [Business Day][95].

In 2015 Mmanaledi Mataboge wrote in the M&G, Zuma’s administration planned to slash government advertising to media perceived as anti-government, push the SABC to tell more government news, and channel more advertising to state media entities[96]. These were the proposals put forward by the national communications task team (NCTT) in July 2015 by Muthambi[97].

In its report leaked to the M&G, the NCTT stated that the ANC government should copy the DA’s tactic of dealing with newspapers considered hostile, by curtailing government support. “The ANC-led government should have taken such a bold move long ago,” the report said[98].

(The NCTT ignored the fact that Zuma’s government had been showing inordinate financial favouritism to the Gupta-owned The New Age since 2011, to the detriment of more critical, independent media houses. Moreover, M&G reported in December 2014 that the Sunday Times, M&G and City Press were under threat of advertising starvation amid unhappiness from government that the papers were vilifying the ANC-led government, and failing to report the positives [M&G][99].)

Although Muthambi reacted angrily in public upon hearing the Western Cape government’s decision not to renew the subscription of the Cape Times[100], her internal proposal contradicted her publicly stated opinion, saying that National government should follow the province’s example[101].

M&G wrote in July 2015 that Zuma’s government had committed a minimum of 30% of its advertising spend to community media and advertising jobs in the free government newspaper Vuk’uzenzele as well as government’s online radio station Ubuntu Radio [M&G]. 

Later, in October 2015 Veteran editor Anton Harber said that government departments had been instructed to move their job adverts from papers such as the Sunday Times to the government’s Vuk’uzenzele, even if it did not reach the target market[102] [Business Day]. (Harber is the Caxton professor of journalism at Wits University and soon to be eNCA editor-in-chief[103][104].)

Muthambi said in an SABC interview in July 2015 that advertising budgets to mainstream newspapers would be slashed by more than 40%, thus saving the state R100 million a year.         What Muthambi failed to mention is that Zuma’s policies are at the expense of independent, critical media, which, Harber calls “the lifeblood of our democracy.” [105][106]

In Zuma’s reply in February 2016 to the debate on his State of the Nation 2016 address, he announced that, for transparency’s sake, on 1 of April 2016 all departments will advertise state tenders online, on the government’s “tender portal”[i][ii], which can be accessed free of charge. He added, “Government tenders will thus no longer be advertised in newspapers and this will be another cost saver for government.”[iii]

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba observed for ITWeb that this decision has dealt a further blow for the print industry, which is already struggling with declining circulation figures[iv].  

Make your mind up

As a consequence of the Zuma-Gupta alliance and a deliberate campaign of strangulation of funds, SA’s independent media houses have suffered a substantial loss of advertising revenue from government, resulting in a deterioration of the quality and quantity of journalism[107][108]. Moreover, direct, unencumbered access to the public by a variety of people, including independent thinkers, has been curtailed.

In turn, the public has been robbed of being exposed to a wide range of divergent and/or unbiased views and vigorous debates on social, political and economic topics, which is paramount for a healthy and vibrant democracy.

Harber stated, “There is a homogeneity to the voices and images we see and hear that does not reflect the diversity of this country.” [Business Day][109]

The ultimate determinant of media quality is the public, for they choose who they allow to shape their minds. There are: the propagandists, who tell you what to think, for their own selfish ends; the sensationalists, who sell you typically inaccurate pieces with little or no substance; and, the unbiased truth-seekers, who provide unsexy but factual reporting, and let you make up your own mind. Manipulation, entertainment, or truth - the choice is yours. Until it isn’t.

Playing interference

On 21 of August 2013, ANN7 – a 24-hour news channel – was launched[110]. ANN7 is controlled by the Guptas, and is primarily owned by an offshore company called Infinity Media Networks (Infinity), which is co-owned by the Gupta’s Oakbay Investments company[111][112].

48 hours before ANN7 was to hit the airwaves for the first time, Zuma and his entourage “secretly” toured the studios and met with the Guptas. Atypically, the visit was not made public by the presidency or the ANC [IOL]. IOL reported at the time that it raised fears that Zuma endorsed the privately-owned news channel[113]. (After media reports came out, Zuma’s spokesman denied that the visit was secret [IOL][114]).

A former ANN7 senior employee, Rajesh Sundaram, told the M&G in September 2013 after he had resigned from the TV channel, that the staff had been forced to take a pro-Zuma editorial line[115]. Sundaram said that he had been a journalist for 20 years and had never seen editorial interference like this. He added, "It is not fair to the journalists at the channel who are working like slaves to make it work. None of them knew it would be like this. I’ve been lied to…” [M&G][116] (The New Age media chief executive said the allegations were “outlandish and not worthy of a response” [M&G].)

In November 2015, COSATU named ANN7 the worst employer in the country[117].

Freedom in the air?

In SA’s overall television industry, over 7.3 million SA homes (58% of TV households) in 2014 relied exclusively on free-to-air TV channels[118][119], provided for by the public broadcaster of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), and the commercial free-to-air broadcaster eTV.

With the implementation of the Digital Migration Project by government[120], South Africans will have access to more channels, more commercial broadcasters, and possibly better picture and sound quality – all the while using an analogue TV and a conventional antenna (instead of needing a digital TV, a satellite dish, or a cable connection)[121][122][123].

The Digital Migration Project is tasked with coverting the current analogue TV broadcasting signals to a digital signal. This would be accomplished with the manufacture and distribution of a set-top box for home-use.

For the poorest 5 million households, free boxes will be handed out by government[124], while the remaining estimated 3 million households will have to purchase the set-top box[125], at an estimated cost of R800 each (as at May 2015)[126][127].

In December 2013, cabinet approved amendments to the Digital Migration Policy, which were put forward by the then serving minister, Yunus Carrim [Financial Mail][128]. The amendments ensured that the anticipated set-top boxes would recognize encrypted signals from free-to-air broadcasters (such as SABC, eTV, new broadcasters, as well as community television services). This decision was in line with a 2013 resolution by the ANC to use encrypted set-top boxes[129].

Both the SACP and labour federation COSATU later also supported the 2013 cabinet decision[130].

To be encrypted or non-encrypted

On the face of it, non-encrypted signalling (or unconditional access) would seem the better route to take for free-to-air TV services, but not so.             Non-encrypted signalling would result in a free-to-air broadcaster not being able to protect its content from piracy or other copyright infringements, and thus would severely limit content diversity, creative quality, and up-to-date programming for the viewer. It would also make it unprofitable for any commercial free-to-air broadcaster to operate (including eTV and community television)[131].

Thus cabinet’s approval of encryption capabilities for set-top boxes ensures that viewers have access to an array of free-to-air broadcasters, each of which are able to show premium programming content, and all free-of-charge (except for the usual TV licence fees).

In addition, the encryption control system embedded in the set-top boxes would help stimulate the local electronics manufacturing industry and create jobs; while also reduce the prospect of cheap, low-functioning imported boxes flooding the market.

However, Carrim was dropped from cabinet by Zuma in May 2014 (most likely due to the encryption amendments, wrote Carol Paton of Financial Mail[132]). He was replaced with Faith Muthambi, who - like former finance minister David van Rooyen - is described as an unremarkable backbencher[133]. 

In March 2015, the government department of communications released a statement that flew in the face of Carrim’s 2013 amendments, by favouring non-encrypted set-top boxes.

Two months later, in June 2015 - and to the country’s great embarrassment - SA missed the worldwide digital migration cut-off date, set by the International Telecommunications Union to switch off the analogue signal[134][135][136][137].


In April 2015 the Financial Mail wrote that both the ANC and the DA had suspicions that the reversal in policy by Muthambi a month earlier was at the behest of MultiChoice, SA’s dominant pay-TV player with its entrenched DStv platform[138][139]. This was because boxes with conditional access essentially become decoders, and so it could potentially be used by new entrants in the pay-TV arena, thus ending MultiChoice’s domination of about 90% of the pay-TV market, and impacting on its profits[140][141][142][143].

One potential rival wishing to offer pay-TV services was thought to be eTV[144].

The agreement between the SABC and MultiChoice stipulated that SABC agreed to bar conditional access on its free-to-air channels for five years[145].

Heightening ANC’s and DA’s suspicions over MultiChoice’s influence was that SABC made its entire archive – or what Patrick Craven of COSATU called “its family silver” - available exclusively to MultiChoice, to the exclusion of its own free-to-air audience [IOL][146].

COSATU opposed the SABC archive deal, as it considered it a partial privatisation of the public broadcaster, since it gave MultiChoice the rights to share exclusive use of SABC’s archive footage of events of national importance. “This is so scandalous that we demand resignation of all those involved in this decision, and if they refuse the Cabinet must intervene to reverse the decision,” it said.[147]

Furthermore, in early 2015, Hope Zinde, a SABC board member, complained to Muthambi about the conduct of SABC’s chief operating officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, while also expressing her opposition to the sale of SABC’s archive to MultiChoice. She stated that the deal was not only a “travesty against the intellectual property of the public of South Africa”, but also a “huge disservice to the SABC… and use for many generations to come.”[148]

Muthambi allegedly responded to Zinde’s pleas by telling her to cooperate with Motsoeneng as he had the backing of Zuma. (A few months later, Zinde and two other like-minded board members were allegedly unlawfully purged from the board[149].)

Nevertheless, cabinet’s economic committee were persuaded to opt against encryption, believing that the whole saga was a fight between broadcasters, with MultiChoice on the one side, and free-to-air broadcasters, in particular eTV, on the other [Financial Mail] [150]. They thus endorsed the communication department's new position. But, as Carol Paton of the Financial Mail pointed out, they failed to grasp that there was a public interest issue at stake.[151]

(Caxton, Save Our SABC and Media Monitoring Africa intend launching an urgent appeal against the Competition Tribunal, who found the deal between the SABC and MultiChoice did not constitute a merger[152][153].)

Instead of focussing on the side show between MultiChoice and eTV, Zuma’s cabinet neglected to ask one simple question: Why was Zuma - through his pliant communication’s minister - so hell-bent on non-encryption and parcelling-off SABC’s silverware, despite it being in direct conflict with ANC resolutions and alliance partner wishes, and will disadvantage over 25 million poor and low income South Africans?

The answer reveals the premier event, which is decoded below for your viewing displeasure.

Cryptic E-jection

The ANC and communications minister Muthambi are at war - so wrote Eyewitness News (EWN) senior political correspondent Stephen Grootes in October 2015 [Daily Maverick][154].

The new policy of non-encrypted set-top boxes, directed by Zuma’s communications minister Muthambi, came under attack at the ANC’s October 2015 national general council. Muthambi was accused of failing to consult the party on the changes she made to the policy, which openly defied a resolution of its national executive committee supporting encryption [IOL][155].

Grootes pondered at the time why the SABC had not insisted government implement encryption, as free-to-air eTV had done, since the protection of the public broadcaster’s signals would ensure the likelihood of its sustainability, and would provide quality programming for its viewers.

Yet, he noted that the appointments of Muthambi together with SABC’s chief operating officer (COO) Hlaudi Motsoeneng were strange, and that both seemed to have “the highest possible political protection”[156]. Sunday Times stated outright that leading observers have concluded that Muthambi has Zuma’s protection[157].

Grootes surmised that SABC’s apparent self-damaging stance on encryption may be due to “other people close to Number One” who could possibly benefit from non-encrypted signals. He then inferred that it may or may not be “a certain-well connected family”[158].

In November 2015, in preparation for digital migration, the communications regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA), interviewed four applicants who were vying for the one or two new commercial free-to-air TV broadcast licences on offer[159]. M&G reported that one of the applicants was the offshore company Infinity, owner of the Gupta-controlled broadcaster ANN7.

Infinity’s shareholding consists of 35% owned by the Gupta family’s investment vehicle, 35% by an Indian-based media company, 21% by Mabengela Investments (controlled by Zuma’s son Duduzane, and Rajesh Gupta), and 9% by the top management of ANN7[160].

With non-encryption set-top boxes, independent free-to-air broadcasters will find it difficult to operate, thus removing any competition for the impending Gupta-controlled Infinity TV station.

How Infinity expects to remain viable in such an unprotected, non-encrypted environment remains to be seen. The depths of the Guptas’ pockets may well be tested; unless of course, like with The New Age, their business will be tailor-made for government assistance.

The question remains, however, of where does this leave SABC, after being burgled of its “silver” and left with nothing but a naked signal broadcast...

Don’t touch this

As with Dudu Myeni at South African Airways - Motsoeneng is the Trojan horse at the SABC, having been well-positioned to create mayhem.

With Motsoeneng in place, he ensures that most of the good, knowledgeable, ethical staff members either leave or are forced out of the SABC, while those who remain are frightened and vulnerable to manipulation[161][162]. It is the build-up to grabification [for a definition read Rand Daily Mail article ].

In 2011, Phumelele Ntombela-Nzimande, SABC’s group executive and wife of higher education minister Blade Nzimande, made a complaint to the public protector’s office, after she was suddenly axed in 2011[163]. Similar complaints and further allegations were subsequently made to the public protector by a former senior executive of SABC, several other former employees, and a whistle-blower.

In February 2014 the public protector Thuli Madonsela finally released her findings into SABC’s corporate governance failures, financial mismanagement by management and the board, as well as undue influence by the minister and department of communications[164].

The title of the public protector’s report summed it all up: “When Governance and Ethics Fail”[165][166][167].

The public protector determined that at the SABC there were irregular actions, policy violations, improper conduct, maladministration, abuse or unjustified exercise of power, dishonest acts, lack of remorse, lack of ethical acts, and that bad faith could not be ruled out.

In regards to Motsoeneng, the report found: his appointment in November 2011 as acting chief operating officer (COO)[168] was “irregular” and his salary exceeded the capped salary allowance; the qualification requirements in the advertisement for the COO position was tailor made to suit Motsoeneng’s circumstances; Motsoeneng’s salary as “executive manager stakeholder relations” was hiked three times in one year, from R1.5 million to R2.4 million (a 60% increase), together with his salary as acting-COO, which rose from roughly R123 000 to R211 200 (a 63% increase) in 12 months; and, the SABC board had failed to exercise its fiduciary obligations in the appointment and appropriate remuneration for the acting COO[169]. 

The public protector also found that Motsoeneng had lied in his original 1995 job application form to SABC that he had passed standard 10, even filling in the subjects and symbols he supposedly obtained. (The City Press reported that Motsoeneng awarded himself E’s for English, Sotho, Afrikaans, and “Bibs”, and an F for history[170]. One wonders what he would have given himself for ethics.) Madonsela stated that “Motsoeneng would have never been appointed in 1995 had he not lied about his qualifications and that he repeated that lie in 2003”.

Motsoeneng, in his interview with the public protector, blamed Mari Swanepoel, the SABC’s human resource officer at the time of his appointment. He said Swanepoel gave him the application form and asked him to fill in anything to get the job done. Swanepoel refuted this accusation in a 2014 affidavit[171]. Moreover, Swanepoel stated in her affidavit that Motsoeneng said in 2014 that he could organise for the SABC to pay her R2 million - which she was seeking in a sexual discrimination suit pending against the SABC - as compensation if she made a sworn statement that he told her he did not have a matric when he filled in the forms[172][173]. She refused, and continued to do so despite Motsoeneng phoning her repeatedly[174]. (Swanepoel eventually settled her sexual harassment case in the labour court, in which the SABC was ordered to pay her about R100 000, or one year’s salary - a source told the City Press[175].)

Mandonsela also found Motsoeneng’s purging of senior staff members of the SABC, resulting in unnecessary financial losses from court action and settlements, amounted to financial mismanagement[176]. The report stated, “Mr Motsoeneng’s own account show that he was involved in most of these terminations of abuse of power and systematic governance failure involving irregular termination of employment…”[177]

In September 2015, Muthambi revealed the SABC had paid R42 million to departing staff in the past seven years [IOL][178].

Furthermore, allegations that Motsoeneng had irregularly increased the salaries of various staff members, resulting in a salary bill increase in excess of R29 million was substantiated by the public protector[179].

Madonsela recommended remedial action, including convening a disciplinary hearing against Motsoeneng [IOL][180]. Five months later, in July 2014, Muthambi responded to the public protector’s scathing report by appointing Motsoeneng permanently as SABC’s COO.         

Qaanitah Hunter of the Sunday Times stated that Luthuli House was angered by Motsoeneng’s appointment, and it was slammed by ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe[181].

The DA launched a court challenge: first, to force the SABC to adhere to the public protector’s report; and secondly, to set aside Motsoeneng’s permanent appointment, in light of the public protector’s report [Business Day][182]

In October 2014, the Court ordered the public broadcaster to institute a disciplinary hearing against Motsoeneng and to suspend him from his position as COO “until at least the finalisation of the disciplinary proceedings” [Sunday Independent][183] - as recommended by the public protector[184]. The SABC and minister Muthambi lodged an appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal, but their case was dismissed a year later in October 2015[185][186]. Bekezela Phakathi of Business Day wrote that instead of being suspended, Motsoeneng took a voluntary leave of absence until the completion of the disciplinary hearings against him[i]. Also in October 2015, the court heard DA’s second part of their application, namely that Motsoeneng’s permanent appointment be set aside.

In November 2015, the High Court ruled that Muthambi’s permanent appointment of Motsoeneng was “unlawful and irrational” and so ordered his appointment be set aside[187][188]. Muthambi, the SABC and Motsoeneng are appealing against the ruling, and thus he remains in his position [Business Day][189].

Meanwhile, Motsoeneng’s internal disciplinary hearing was held in December 2015[190], despite the fact that the November 2015 judgement set aside Motsoeneng’s appointment. According to Phakathi of Business Day, insiders said the SABC is likely to use the outcome of the hearing in its appeal against the invalidation of Motsoeneng’s appointment[191].

Don Makatile of Sunday Independent attended the hearing and described it as “a comedy of errors that culminated in a farce.”[192] He said the proceedings consisted of a “pliant prosecutor”, and as to the charge sheet against Motsoeneng, Makatile contended that those who authored it should themselves be charged[193]. “They turned shoddiness into an art form,” he wrote[194]. Makatile’s observations are summed up by his remark, “It would have been laughable had it not been such a grave matter of national importance”[195].

After Motsoeneng was unsurprisingly cleared of all charges in the inquiry, he declared, “No one can stop me to go up and up, because I have brain in me.”[Business Day][196]

As the inquiry was not independent (it was chaired by someone paid for by the SABC), its findings will have no effect on the appeal, said constitutional law expert professor Pierre de Vos [Business Day][197] – that is, if leave to appeal is even granted by the high court.

According to a February 2016 Business Day report, the DA is pursuing a legal review of Motsoeneng’s “sham” disciplinary hearing[198].

The DA has also requested the public protector to investigate Motsoeneng again, this time for: his attempted bribery of Swanepoel; his irregular permanent appointment as COO; and, further inflating his salary, from R2.872 million to close to R3.784 million (a 32% increase) in one year[199][200].

In a September 2015 annual report, the SABC showed a R401 million loss [IOL] [201]. Furthermore, the auditor general disclosed that for the 2014/15 period, the SABC reflected irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure amounting to R432.5 million[202].

Motsoeneng, meanwhile, as COO of the public broadcaster, is receiving a salary greater than the president of the country[203].

Key point

In 2013, Malema said that when he was still the ANC Youth League president, they used to change news bulletins[204][205], by calling up the SABC if their stories were not the main news, and it was then quickly changed[206].

In 2014, prior to the National General Elections, City Press reported that senior SABC news executives were ordered not to broadcast footage of the crowds attending opposition election rallies.

Other examples of extensive political interference were provided to City Press, such as: Motsoeneng instructed that “violent” service delivery protests should no longer be covered, because it was not serving a purpose; news staff were warned by the then SABC board chairperson that their cellphones were being monitored because they work for a national key point; and new political parties that did not yet have representation in Parliament were not entitled to live coverage of their manifesto launches.

Three news executives told City Press in 2014 that there had been “numerous instances of interference in their work”[207].  

State of shock

Besides the public protector’s devastating conclusions of Motsoeneng’s conduct, she also found “pathological corporate governance deficiencies at the SABC”. The executive directors had failed to provide the necessary support, information and guidance to help the board discharge its fiduciary responsibilities, and by Motsoeneng’s own admission, he caused the board to make irregular and unlawful decisions. “The Board was dysfunctional,” the 2014 report said.

As to allegations that the communications minister unduly interfered in the affairs of the SABC, and giving unlawful orders to the SABC board and staff, Madonsela found that indeed former communications minister Dina Pule “acted improperly” and that her conduct “constitutes a violation of the Executive Ethics Code and amounts to abuse of power”[208]. (By the time the public protector’s report came out in February 2014, Pule had already been dismissed as communications minister a few months earlier, and had been found guilty by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Ethics and Members Interests[209] on a different matter, namely funnelling contracts and government resources worth R2.6 million to her boyfriend[210].)

Yunus Carrim replaced Pule[211], but he was sacked in May 2014 allegedly due to introducing encrypted signalling. He was replaced with Faith Muthambi.

Have little faith

In May and December 2015 it was reported that due to Muthambi’s alleged interference, three board members had been removed and three others had resigned. This has left the board, which previously had 12 members, in danger of not reaching its quorum and therefore unable to make crucial decisions [Business Day and Sunday Times][212][213][214].

In July 2015, after the SABC’s group CEO resigned amongst claims that she was being bullied by Motsoeneng, Frans Matlala assumed the position[215]. He said at the time that he was not worried about claims of political interference in his new job. Matlala is the ninth CEO since 2008[216][217].

Four months later, in November 2015, he was suspended. He warned the broadcaster that he was ready to take the SABC to court if his suspension was not lifted, as he considered it to be unreasonable, unlawful and not in the best interest of the SABC.

No reasons were given for his suspension, but Matlala said that he was helping treasury with its investigation into R40 million spent on a new SABC studio ordered by Motsoeneng and which was never put out to tender [Fin24][218]. Matlala was allegedly ordered by the SABC’s chairperson Obert Mbulaheni Maguvhe on 11 of November 2015 to stop helping treasury with its investigation into the studio procurement process [Fin24][219]. A week later Matlala was suspended.

With the successfully scorching of the public broadcaster over the years, the time had come for the capture of state power.

Yellow brick slope

Mcebisi Ndletyana (Associate professor of political science at the University of Johannesburg and head of the Political Economy Faculty at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection[i]), observed, “Minister of communications Faith Muthambi, aided by a sycophantic SABC board, has been the sole advocate for Motsoeneng’s appointment. Behind the scenes, Muthambi is supported by Zuma. No rookie minister and activist could defy the entire party if she didn’t have the support of the president himself. Her continued stay in cabinet is further proof of presidential backing.” [IOL][220]

In September 2015, Muthambi amended the SABC’s memorandum of incorporation, giving Zuma’s communication minister the power to appoint the broadcaster’s chief executive, chief operations and financial officers. Muthambi also increased her powers to approve all the board’s business and strategic plans.

On the 6 of December 2015, three days before Nene was fired, Muthambi, with the approval of Zuma’s cabinet, introduced legislation that would give the communications minister sole power to appoint the SABC board[221].

Qaanitah Hunter of the Sunday Times reported at the time that the 2015 Broadcasting Amendment Bill would in effect turn the SABC from a public broadcaster into the mouthpiece of government as a state broadcaster - which was its function during apartheid[222]. Instead of board members being appointed by parliament, and thus reflecting a diverse range of political and cultural views as representatives of the public, the bill usurps that power, giving it to Zuma and his government executive, who, based on narrow self-interest criteria, gets to choose who sits on the board.

Hunter quoted the Save our SABC (SOS) coalition as saying, “The public broadcaster needs to be distinguished from the state and the government of the day. It needs to be independent of government and the executive.”[223] SOS stated that they will challenge the proposed bill, all the way to the Constitutional Court if necessary. Opposition parties in parliament said they too will oppose it[224][225] . While ANC sources told the Sunday Times that Muthambi would meet ANC opposition on the bill. A member of the ANC’s subcommittee on communications told the Sunday Times that Muthambi had defied the party once again in pushing through the new amendment. “We don’t all agree on this…there is going to be a fight,” said the source[226].

Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird said, "Sadly, the latest effort to undermine the broadcaster and our democracy with the Broadcast Amendment Bill will see 2016 start with an emphasis on protecting the basic principles in our Constitution instead of building on it." [Business Day][227]

In February 2016, EWN reported that MPs on the Communications Portfolio Committee are scheduled to begin shortlisting candidates to fill three of the six vacant seats on the SABC board[228].

The Communications Committee will also be processing the controversial Broadcasting Amendment Bill, which removes Parliament’s role in the appointment process [EWN][229].

In 2014, as leader of the EFF, Malema said that Motsoeneng had once told him of his loyalty to Zuma, to which Malema asked, “But why are you loyal to Zuma and not the ANC?” [230][231]

It is high time the curtain is pushed aside, beyond the subservient Muthambi and the tin-man Motsoeneng, to reveal the wizard of o’Zuma hiding behind it.


Instead of the SABC as a public broadcaster providing a broad range of views, so that citizens can make up their own minds in an informed manner – which is essential in a democratic country – Zuma’s state broadcaster, through cadre deployees, will manipulate the masses to ensure they do the president’s bidding.

Furthermore, with the control of media, the public reputations of Zuma’s rivals within the ANC and Tripartite Alliance will rest in the palm of his dictatorial hand, and the message to South Africans by opposition parties will be squeezed out or contorted.

If the grabification by Zuma of the SABC and the non-encryption of set-top boxes by his communications minister are allowed to go unchallenged, it will be at great cost to the poor and low income, who can expect the probable end of eTV as a free-to-air broadcaster, and any other substantial independent free-to-air broadcaster/s, because it is financially unsustainable.

And that is why SABC’s archives have been transferred to MultiChoice, because Zuma’s state broadcaster will not be able to rely on income from its non-encryption programming, as it will attract precious little advertising and programming to make it financially viable, at least for five years (until the contract with MultiChoice expires).

Thus, together with TV licences, the archives shown exclusively on MultiChoice to pay-TV viewers will help subsidise Zuma’s controlled state-broadcaster SABC.

Hearts and minds

A month prior to ANN7’s launch in July 2013, Motsoeneng (at the time SABC’s acting-COO) said the public broadcaster’s working relationship with the influential Gupta family would "strengthen", and challenged the perception that the SABC's working relationship with them might be put under strain, due to competition for the same viewer space. "We have a good working relationship with our Morning Live [New Age sponsored breakfast] programme and we don't have any problem with the Guptas having their own 24-hour news channel," said Motsoeneng. He then added, “That relationship with the Guptas will not stop now. In fact, it will grow stronger." [M&G][232] Motsoeneng’s 2013 pronouncement has indeed come to pass.

The poor and low income citizens can thus expect abysmal program content, consisting of vapid “good story” reruns from the monopolised, propagandist free-to-air broadcasters of the Gupta-run Infinity and Zuma’s state-controlled SABC.

Ultimately, Zuma together with the Guptas are attempting to enslave the hearts and minds of over 25 million[233][234]South Africans - about half of South Africa’s total population[235] - entrench Zuma’s power within the ANC, and severely censor our constitutional democracy.

To repeat, Zuma has designs on despotism.

In November 2015, the digital migration project was again delayed, but this time by eTV who was granted by the High Court leave to appeal an earlier ruling that allowed the communications ministry to implement non-encrypted digital television[236]. In giving his ruling, the High Court Judge said that the digital migration process would affect the vast majority of people in the country and was a matter of national importance[237].

In the meantime, the manufacture of one million set-top boxes was ordered in November 2015 by Zuma’s government– without encryption capabilities [IOL][238].

While you were sleeping

According to Save our SABC (SOS) Coalition, the Digital Migration Project has not only ramifications for TV but also internet access. The Project will result in cheaper and faster internet from mobile and broadband service providers[239].

Although greater internet access is to be commended, Right2Know (R2K) – an activist driven movement centred on freedom of expression and access to information – has warned against a new draft bill, the Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill (“the cybercrime bill”), which was released in August 2015. R2K described it as being “absurdly overbroad”[240].

In its current form, the cybercrimes bill would: criminalise journalists and whistle-blowers; increase state’s surveillance powers; contains 59 new criminal offences involving computer usage – many which are so broad that they would ensnare ordinary computer users; and contains anti-copyright provisions so harsh you could be criminalised for even posting a meme[241]. Thus what government gives with one hand, it handcuffs with the other.

R2K acknowledges that policies are needed to promote genuine cybersecurity, but the bill as it stands is so broad, “it would, quite simply, break the internet”[242].

The Protection of State Information Bill (dubbed the “secrecy bill”) was first tabled in 2010, but due to stiff resistance by opposition parties, as well as freedom of expression activists (like the R2K campaign, Corruption Watch, Human Rights Watch), the bill was amended.          Eventually the bill was passed by parliament in November 2013 due to the parliamentary majority of the Zuma-led ANC, yet the bill has been slammed by the media, opposition parties, and civil society for parts which undermine the right to access information and the rights of whistle-blowers and journalists[243][244][245].

For instances, R2K states the bill’s espionage offences, which criminalise “receiving state information unlawfully”, are so widely drafted that they could punished researchers, activists, whistle-blowers and journalists who disclose classified information in the public interest. The penalty includes jail sentences of up to 25 years[246].

Since passing through Parliament in 2013, the secrecy bill has been sitting unsigned on Zuma’s desk - an ever present “deep threat to the free flow of information” [R2K][247].

As far as R2K is concerned, “the bill in its current form must be scrapped and redrafted to reflect the values of openness and transparency that underpin our Constitution”[248].

The SAA and nuclear procurement process would never have been exposed if it was not for the media, and it would have escaped the resulting intense public scrutiny[249].

In December 2015, Songezo Zibi, then editor of Business Day, wrote, “Attention and vigilance are critical in keeping those in power honest, otherwise the entire accountability system falls apart. It is now incumbent upon the public and the press to keep their eyes on the ball.”

Zibi warned, “We must also not forget the threats our accountability system is facing. If the Protection of State Information Bill had been passed as initially intended by the African National Congress (ANC) we simply would not have been able to bring you this SAA story. The documents we were given and which we used to inform you would have been classified.” He noted that the whistle-blowers and the investigative journalists - such as Carol Paton, Andiswa Maqutu, himself, and others - who worked hard to inform the public, would be sitting in jail.

Zibi concluded, “Our democracy can work only if there is transparency. Given that there is increasingly so little of it, it is now more important than ever that all of us remain vigilant and guard our own future… The best protection we can offer is to pay attention to public and state affairs, and speak up when we see wrong.”[250]

And lastly, the ANC resolved as far back as 2007 to investigate the establishment of a Media Appeals Tribunal [M&G] [251].

Glenda Daniels, senior lecture in media studies at the University of the Witwatersrand and a former journalist, wrote in October 2015 that a call for a tribunal signifies flawed logic, such as: if journalists stopped reporting on crime, crime rates would fall; thus it is the media’s fault[252].

Daniels stated that there are media tribunals in China, Zimbabwe and in some African, Eastern European and South American countries. She said that they are all different, but invariably they result in some form of state control of media, where journalists are often jailed or “disappear”[253].

In the same vein, Motsoeneng proposed that journalists be given a licence to practice, like those in the medical and legal professions, and to revoke a licence “if you don’t have ethics and principles, and you mislead on your reporting”[254][255]. (Will he perhaps, after all, award himself an ‘A’ for ethics for his ‘matric’ to obtain the said licence?)

The South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) condemned the proposal, saying that Motsoeneng’s statement revealed his ignorance about journalistic practice in a democracy [Business Day]. “The proposal is at odds with freedom of speech which is enshrined in the constitution,” said SANEF[256].

EWN senior political correspondent Stephen Grootes in a Daily Maverick article stated that, “Any bid by the ANC and the government to exert influence over the media must be seen for what it is: A bid to stop it from reporting the truth.”[257]

In 2010, COSATU (under then general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi), said that it did not understand the ANC’s insistence about an independent media tribunal while there are pressing issues such as unemployment and poverty[258].

That is because an attack on freedom of expression is all about hiding the fact that stomachs are empty, so no one need concern themselves with how best to fill them. Problem solved?

Final word, uncensored

The Bill of Rights is a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. It enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom. The state must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights[259].

Amongst other rights, the Bill of Rights includes the following: 

  • Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected. 
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes (more particularly in this instance): freedom of the press and other media; and freedom to receive or impart information or ideas.
  • Everyone has the right of access to any information held by the state.
  • Everyone has the right to administrative action that is lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair[260].

These rights (amongst others) - to access unbiased, critical information; self-expression; dignity; and fair government action – are being violated by the Zuma-Gupta alliance. Zuma is accomplishing this through the strangulation of government funding for independent, critical media; restraining the viability of independent free-to-air broadcasters; restricting direct public access by people with divergent and/or unbiased views; and severely limiting programming, especially for the over 25 million poor and low income South Africans[261].

Zuma is also putting forward information-censoring legislation, such as the approved but as yet unsigned Secrecy Bill, the draft Cybercrimes Bill, and calls for a media appeals tribunal[262][263].

However, as powerful as the Bill of Rights is, the rights and freedoms enshrined in our constitutional democracy are only as strong as those who choose to exercise them. (Although facebook, twitter, personal comments, and online petitions contribute to SA’s democratic wellbeing, they constitute merely a warm-up. The health and fitness of the country’s state of governance really depends on the effective, responsible physical movement of an active citizenry.)

Perhaps we need reminding of our recent bleak history. “The apartheid state imposed a complex web of legislation, designed to protect itself from exposure and control what people read, heard and saw… This legislation restricted both access to information, and freedom of expression… The impact of this repressive framework cannot be under-estimated. Control of the media was one of the most important tools in the apartheid arsenal, and a battery of censorship legislation undoubtedly played a role in helping to ensure the survival of the regime - in particular, in ensuring ongoing support from its key constituencies by keeping them in the dark… This examination is vital if we are to understand our past, to bring about reconciliation, and to broaden our understanding of basic freedoms. It is also vital if we are to ensure true freedom of expression - including freedom of the media - in our new democracy. South Africa needs a watchdog media, not a lapdog media.”

An extract from ANC’s submission on media to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on 30 September 1997[264].










































































































































































































































































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