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‘SABC boss must fall over Ramaphosa blunder’ – board members

2019-09-23 01:00

In a leaked memo, two board members implicate CEO Madoda Mxakwe in wrongdoing, after he alleged misconduct on their part

The SABC’s group chief executive officer (GCEO), Madoda Mxakwe, should be held personally liable for the broadcasting of a wrong recording of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address to the nation about the scourge of gender-based violence earlier this month.

So says a 20-page memorandum, written by two SABC board members to the other members, in which they motivate for action to be taken against Mxakwe.

They list the broadcast, together with mounting unfavourable labour case outcomes and allegations of irregular appointments of expensive contractors, among their grievances.

The two – deputy chairperson Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi and Marcia Socikwa – are demanding that the board adopt a resolution to institute a commission of inquiry, to be headed by a retired judge, into the affairs of the public broadcaster, and that Mxakwe should be instructed to take compulsory leave with full pay.

The memo comes as the ailing broadcaster will receive a much-needed R3.2 billion bailout from National Treasury by month-end.

The public broadcaster’s financial woes have escalated recently.

This led to a football blackout when the local PSL season began last month, while producers and service providers have gone for months on end without payment.

In the memorandum, dated September 9, Mohlala-Mulaudzi and Socikwa appear to counter the complaints against them which Mxakwe and chief financial officer (CFO) Yolande van Biljon filed with the board in June.

They accused the two board members of interfering with the editorial independence of the public broadcaster, operational matters and abuse of power.

In one of the letters, Mxakwe claimed that Socikwa informed him in a meeting that the broadcaster must prioritise airtime for politicians as this would be good mileage for the SABC.

He also alleged that Mohlala-Mulaudzi was more interested in getting tickets to events, which she never attended.

But Mohlala-Mulaudzi and Socikwa have hit back, saying that they have, over the past few months, “noted that there have been mounting transgressions that the GCEO and the group CFO [Mxakwe and Van Biljon] have been bringing to bear on the SABC”.

In the memo, they write: “It is our duty to address the issues that we believe are critical and important for the board to deal with and address. The first and most worrying and shocking issue, with respect to the questionable behaviour by the GCEO, was when he presided over the public broadcaster’s broadcast of the incorrect address by the president of the republic.

“The GCEO is the editor in chief of the public broadcaster. This conduct has had serious consequences on the reputation of the broadcaster and the integrity thereof. This has never happened in the history of the SABC.

“This also makes one wonder if it is a coincidence that it happens the day after the Zondo commission presentation, which was supposed to be restricted to the security contract and other state capture issues on the breakfasts [referring to the controversial breakfasts between the SABC and the Gupta-owned New Age newspaper], but was then extended to issues around funding, or the lack thereof, without board approval,” the memorandum reads.

“This is a direct undermining of the head of state. The board cannot ignore this conduct unless we condone it. We should demand both a written and verbal account on record, which must be accompanied by appropriate consequence management, should the argument be that it is not the fault of the GCEO alone.”

Although the SABC has suspended four employees and instituted an investigation into the broadcast incident, Mohlala-Mulaudzi and Socikwa appear dissatisfied and demand “full consequence management of all role players, including the executive responsible for news and current affairs [Phathiswa Magopeni] and Mxakwe”.

We, as board members, have a joint responsibility to not only advance the interests of the SABC in the public interest, but also in line with the Broadcasting Act and other relevant pieces of legislation

“The two areas [in which] we believe the executives are failing to discharge their duties are, firstly, in the context of the governance and breach of statutory duty and disrespect to a head of state; and, secondly, in the context of the manner in which he [Mxakwe] is addressing the human resources issues and procurement of consultant services,” they write.

“We believe that we, as board members, have a joint responsibility to not only advance the interests of the SABC in the public interest, but also in line with the Broadcasting Act and other relevant pieces of legislation. In view of this obligation, we therefore believe that we have a duty to firstly put issues of concern to the board for consideration and decision.”

In a letter to the board last month, Mxakwe and Van Biljon complained of political and editorial interference.

“Dr Socikwa called me and other board members, wanting to share a brilliant idea she had. I then invited other board members to listen to her idea. She claimed to have done this with some SABC executives previously. Upon listening to her, it turned out that the idea was about us giving government ministers free access to the SABC news platforms, in exchange for political mileage,” the letter reads.

“This was immediately rejected by all board members, with a view that it was dangerous to the independence and impartiality of the news operation.”

In one incident, Mxakwe writes, Mohlala-Mulaudzi’s office “sent an email to a producer on one SABC news flagship programme for an interview slot on issues relating to her work at the Estate Agency Affairs Board. The email explicitly stated the programme where she was to be interviewed and specified what the interview should cover.

“This grossly undermines and compromises the editorial prerogative of the newsroom. It is reasonable to expect that the board members cannot and should not cross the line by imposing themselves on the newsroom as this could be seen as abuse of authority.”

Mxakwe’s letter goes on to detail how Mohlala-Mulaudzi was also allegedly preoccupied with getting tickets for events.

“Mohlala-Mulaudzi’s preoccupation with tickets for events led to this being a board item. This, after she sent me a message very late at night while I was at the PSL gala dinner in Durban, on invitation from the chairman of the PSL. However, she would not even honour attendance at these events when tickets are given to her [sic]; for example, the IEC dinner, the cricket dinner and others,” the letter reads.

On Saturday, instead of responding to questions about the leaked memo, the SABC board issued a statement saying it believed that “the leaking of the memorandum is highly prejudicial … as it contains allegations that have not been tested” and that the leak was aimed at bringing the broadcaster into disrepute.

Read: Mass axings, boardroom battles and sports-rights victory – just another week at the SABC

“Until the allegations contained in the memorandum are tested and found to be factually correct, they should be treated as allegations,” the board said.

In the statement, in which the board reaffirmed its support for Mxakwe, the CEO said that he and Van Biljon were seeking legal advice since the allegations “are wholly unfounded, baseless and defamatory”.

“The issues dealt with in the memorandum are operational matters within the domain of the executives and are being attended to in various legitimate and legal forums ... It is clear that there is an intense fightback campaign wedged against both the board and the executive.”

Mohlala-Mulaudzi and Socikwa did not respond to questions sent to them via SABC spokesperson Vuyo Mthembu.

Mohlala-Mulaudzi said she was overseas and could only answer questions next week, while messages to Socikwa went unanswered.

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October 20 2019