The good, the bad and the clueless; the first day of interviews for the new SABC board had it all yesterday.
One candidate had no clue as to what Icasa (Independent Communications Authority of SA) stands for or anything about the role of this statutory regulatory body; several others couldn’t tell the difference between a public and a state broadcaster, and another became argumentative when questioned about a dodgy transfer of a university’s fees into her daughter’s account.
Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications sat for 12 hours and interviewed 11 of the 36 candidates it shortlisted last week, which included professional journalists, lawyers and businessmen.
MPs fawned over John Matisonn, one of the five members of the interim SABC board that was appointed in April and whose term ends in September.
He had them eating out of his hands when he spoke about the changes the interim board has brought to the broadcaster.
“We have changed the image of the SABC. We have stopped the fall at the SABC. We took over a broadcaster in real crisis and we will do a proper handover to the new board whether we are on it or not, with detailed information about the auditing situation, the financial situation …. they will be able to hit the ground running,” he said.
Matisonn also revealed that when the interim board took over, it found that there were people in the news division who saw it as their job to serve some political agenda.
“We were not able to move any faster, but that problem is resolved,” he said. At the start of Matisonn’s interview, committee chairperson Humphrey Maxegwana revealed that the committee received an objection from a member of the public to the reappointment of the interim board members into the new board, allegedly due to an improper awarding of a tender in May.
Matisonn said he couldn’t remember the details of the tender but hoped his colleagues would be able to address the issues raised.
Leanne Govindsamy was the first candidate to appear before the interviewing panel; with a strong background in media law, supply chain management and her work in civil society, the head of legal and investigations at Corruption Watch appeared to have impressed MPs.
Perhaps the 32-year-old’s lack of board experience may count against her but she responded: “This is a good thing in a sense that I don’t come with a pre-existing notion of how I should behave. I bring a new perspective, a perspective that is heavily grounded in following the rules and administrative prescripts …”
An ANC MP was overheard saying: “She is perfect; smart and young.”
MPs, however, were not so kind to several other candidates like Louise Vale who was grilled about the shambolic state of the Media Development and Diversity Agency, on whose board she sits.
Only a day earlier, the communications committee registered its unhappiness over the state of the agency after board members and the acting chief executive disagreed publicly during a parliamentary meeting. The ANC’s Mandisa Matshoba was blunt: “You sit on the MDDA board which has collapsed, now you want to be on the SABC board ...” she said.
Bongumusa Makhathini, a Harvard Business School graduate, was possibly the most eloquent and impressive of the candidates. He is the director of legal and external affairs at British American Tobacco and is also a chairperson of the Bongi Ngema Foundation. Makhathini had an answer for everything and had a way with words, but the two DA MPs on the interviewing panel, Phumzile van Damme and Gavin Davis, would just not let go of this connection with the foundation. Bongi Ngema, the patron of the foundation, is President Jacob Zuma’s wife. The DA MPs seemed concerned about Makhathini’s relationship with the Zumas and the extent of that relationship regarding his application for a spot on the SABC board.
Makhathini was one of several candidates who suggested that the SABC would need to change its content to improve its bottom line.
“Let’s go back to basics … we have to look at the relevance of what the SABC sells to its consumer, the general public and understand what they are competing with.”
Makhathini suggested that the SABC’s competitors had been ahead of the public broadcaster in a number of ways and that it was playing catch up. Vale had raised a similar point saying if the SABC’s programming became more relevant, it would go a long way in addressing funding issues.
“Improve the service because you want people to own the SABC, and they will own it if you improve content,” she said.
Dinkwanyane Mohuba was also very impressive in his interview. The dean of students at the University of Limpopo, Mohuba had to fend off questions about alleged political connections which resulted or were linked to questionable business dealings in Limpopo. The more he tried to explain, the more questions arose. He was however solid, and had a few ideas which he thought the SABC could consider to improve its standing and books.
Journalist Seipati Khumalo’s nerves won the day. One couldn’t help but cringe when Khumalo responded to questions. Half the time she sounded like she did not understand the questions posed to her. ANC MP Sisisi Tolashe had to literally spell out Icasa for Khumalo who went on to respond that the broadcasting and telecommunications regulator regulated “everything that is reported”.
Khumalo has previously worked at both the SABC and ANN7 as a producer, but MPs were more interested in her stint at the then Gupta-owned station.
But it was Dzuguda Kharidzha who raised one too many eyebrows. While employed by the University of Venda, Kharidzha was accused of channelling the university’s funds into his daughter’s account. He resigned before facing the university’s disciplinary process back in September 2008.
While Kharidzha initially tried to convince MPs he was innocent in the whole saga and that he never had an opportunity to state his case at the university, he later argued that he had been rehabilitated and would never repeat his mistake.
Cleary irritated by continual questions about his integrity, he snapped: “Integrity is not static; it doesn’t mean that if one is guilty, they are guilty for life!”
Kharidzha argued that he had learnt his lessons from his previous mistakes and his record had been clean since the “mistake”.
Interviews will continue today and tomorrow.
*City Press’ coverage of the SABC board interviews was done in partnership with SOS coalition, a civil society coalition committed to, and campaigning for, public broadcasting that is in the public interest. Visit the SOS coalition for more.