The SABC’s head of television, Verona Duwarkah, has been fired, allegedly because she refused to rubber-stamp the multimillion-rand new TV shows – spearheaded by SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng – being awarded to hand-picked celebrity producers and artists.
The experienced content and financial management executive has been replaced by Sully Motsweni – the SABC staffer mentioned along with Motsoeneng in the Public Protector’s 2014 report, titled When Governance and Ethics Fail.
The report found that Motsoeneng unlawfully appointed Motsweni to various positions and irregularly increased her salary, creating a new position for her as SABC head of monitoring, compliance and operation service – apparently without approval from the SABC’s executive committee.
City Press has learnt from four impeccably placed sources – who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals – that Motsweni has now been promoted again, in defiance of the report.
She is now Group Executive: Television, replacing Duwarkah, who was appointed in 2012 after successfully managing the broadcast of the 2010 Fifa World Cup. She also handled the broadcast of former president Nelson Mandela’s funeral.
Duwarkah confirmed this week that her contract was terminated, but was unwilling to comment further.
Asked for comment, SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said the broadcaster “will not discuss internal business matters in the media space.
The SABC will not be deterred in delivering on its mandate, as it is aware of parties internally as well as externally who have an agenda to attempt to destabilise the SABC in its business operations.”
Insiders this week spoke of chaos and battered morale at the SABC’s content commissioning hub since Motsoeneng began “interfering with, and then scrapped altogether”, the signed-off plan for acquiring new TV shows, which had been approved by regulatory body the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa).
Motsoeneng went on to announce that the state broadcaster was going to produce shows internally, canning planned commissions from the SABC’s approved October 2014 Request for Proposals book.
Motsoeneng then announced an 80% local content quota for SABC TV and began publicly offering contracts to celebrities – including Sophie Ndaba, Winnie Ntshaba, Somizi Mhlongo, Arthur Mafokate and Khanyi Mbau – without following the SABC’s approved procedures.
Insiders say that it was Motsoeneng’s promise of a multimillion-rand, long-term soap opera contract to Ndaba and Ntshaba’s production company, Tegasyx, that caused the final rift with Duwarkah – because she was unwilling to sign a letter of intent for the show.
Motsoeneng, say the insiders, called the commissioning hub to account and defend why they had not renewed SABC1’s popular telenovela, Uzalo, and also why they had not approved several proposals, notably from Ndaba.
These included a documentary series, a telenovela, a fantasy drama series featuring a mermaid and a wedding show.
The sources say the content hub’s main concern was that standard operating procedure was not followed.
“The hub had a duty to evaluate everyone fairly and consistently, but that was thrown out of the window. Now only those who can get to the 27th floor [Motsoeneng’s office] can get a show,” said one.
According to those close to the panel which evaluated the mystical mermaid drama, “there were four really strong proposals and the panel was torn over which one to choose, but Sophie’s was not among them, even though the idea was liked”.
Another insider said: “The SABC’s 25 drama slots are now going to a handful of producers, when the plan was to bring in new voices and new companies to grow the industry. The only people right now getting jobs are those close to Hlaudi.”
Motsoeneng’s unplanned-for 80% local TV policy has added fuel to the fire, with the SABC now having to find money to pay for hundreds of millions of rands worth of extra content.
The crisis is playing out in particular at SABC3, which had to up its quota from 45% to 80%; and at SABC2, which had to increase its quota by 5%, from 75%.
“There was no approval or paperwork for the increase in expensive local TV content. It is basically illegal because Icasa and the industry have to have buy-in, according to the SABC’s licence conditions,” said one insider.
Another said: “Experienced people spent two years developing a content strategy, which was thrown out by one press conference.”
Money worries aside, viewership figures City Press studied this week indicate that Motsoeneng’s 80% quota is causing serious damage.
SABC3 scrapped US soap operas and shows such as Dr. Phil – and its primetime audience share has plummeted by half, to about 5%.
SABC2 is down 5% to 13%.
The viewer drop is attributed to Motsoeneng insisting that the 6pm Sesotho news be moved to later, disrupting the lucrative Afrikaans viewership and pitting two SABC soaps against each other in a ratings war, where both SABC2’s 7de Laan and SABC3’s Isidingo have ended up losers, according to the latest available audience data.
Motsoeneng was cleared of all charges against him in the SABC’s internal disciplinary hearing in response to the Public Protector’s report, the judgment of which was broadcast live by the public broadcaster.
The Public Protector’s office this month said that it had launched a preliminary investigation into the latest developments at the SABC.