Hlaudi's minions still lurk at SABC

Angry staff say they should be demoted.

It’s been just over a year since disastrous SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng was fired after being found guilty of bringing the public broadcaster into disrepute and causing it irreparable damage.

But, say SABC insiders, even though the broadcaster has ostensibly entered a new phase and is demonstrating a commitment to change, the culture of fear and toxicity of the Motsoeneng era remains: some of his “toxic enforcers” – those heads of key departments who did his bidding whilst he was in charge – are still firmly in place and haunting the broadcaster. Many fear things are not going to get any better ahead of the 2019 general election.

On 31 May the SABC issued a statement announcing it had finally established two “high-level commissions of inquiry into editorial interference and sexual harassment”, as part of its “ongoing work to transform the public broadcaster into a truly accountable and responsible corporate entity”. Acting Group CEO Nomsa Philiso said: “Today we pledge that we shall work together… to build an SABC that we all want and can be proud of.” The inquiries she said, would not be “inquisitorial”, but aimed at “assisting the corporation to deal with serious instances of abuse of power”.

The problem, say insiders who spoke to Noseweek, is that the Motsoeneng enforcers who are still in place have suffered no consequences for their actions and should at least be demoted. Among them are: the general manager radio news, the acting political editor, head of TV current affairs and head of news. There are others too.

“Whatever Hlaudi said, they would execute. The enforcers were in charge of implementing his decisions,” says one staffer. “They were the people in charge of censoring and distorting the news. Those very same people continue to operate in their positions and hold the same powers. Now they are passing themselves off as custodians of democracy.

“The SABC has been rebranding itself and talking about a new dawn… but that’s exactly what the ANC is talking about too. How will the public broadcaster be independent enough to hold politicians to account while still choosing to be their praise singers instead of reporters? This situation does not augur well for this pre-election year. There is no new dawn here.”

The late Suna Venter provided a list of enforcers in a supporting statement during the testimony of the SABC 8 before Parliament’s ad hoc inquiry into the SABC board in January 2017. Venter was one of the journalists who became known as the heroic “SABC 8”, who stood up against Motsoeneng. She was found dead in her Joburg flat in June last year after being diagnosed with Broken Heart Syndrome, following prolonged trauma and stress. She had been continually harassed for her outspoken position.

In a supporting statement to the committee, Venter had said: “These people are part of the network Mr Motsoeneng created to execute his decisions and agenda, specifically as it pertains to the newsroom.”

Names on her list include:

•  Sebolelo Ditlhakanyane (head of radio news and current affairs) who “gave editorial instructions that forbade analysis of certain stories, or that a praise song written for Mr Motsoeneng be played on SAfm’s (and other) current affairs shows”;

•  Sophie Mokoena (acting political and foreign editor) “who is implicated in various instances of editorial interference, especially in television”; l Nyana Molete (line manager: TV news) and:

Nothando Maseko (head of TV news).

These are the “main enforcers” of Motsoeneng’s wishes in news management” at the public broadcaster.

Said one insider: “Interestingly, Sebolelo Ditlhakanyane appears to have suddenly found a backbone. Maybe because she needs the salary. It’s completely strategic. But where’s the recourse? She was put there by Hlaudi – with a nursing background. She has no vision, strategy or leadership skills and is out of her depth.

“When we tried to discuss the enforcers with the board, they said to us, ‘we can’t just remove them from their jobs’. The interim board and the new board have done nothing. These enforcers should be demoted, or at least they should have an opportunity to make amends. Some people at the SABC put their lives on the line by standing up and speaking out. There is such a deficit of trust, knowing that the same people who came on board because of Hlaudi are still here.”

Some SABC staffers have hit out at the Parliamentary inquiry for failing to ensure that its recommendations are implemented. “They have not kept their end of the bargain by seeing this process through to the end, which is why the enforcers have not been dealt with and are still walking around with a sense of impunity and in the knowledge that they are untouchable.”

IFP MP Liezl van der Merwe, said: “Even though the new board and new leadership at the SABC offer hope, we are well aware that, just because Hlaudi is there no more, does not mean the deeply entrenched culture of favouring the ANC or a faction of the ANC is over. “This is a great concern in the lead-up to the next election. We will be monitoring the SABC very closely in the coming months.”

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