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sabc's soap of soaps

By unknown | May 08, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Ido Lekota

Ido Lekota

The goings-on at the SABC could make a very interesting script for a blockbuster soapie.

The protagonists in the racy soapie would be President Thabo Mbeki, the new board, believed to be packed with his lackeys, chief executive Dali Mpofu and head of news Snuki Zikalala, both known pre-Polokwane Mbeki acolytes.

What would all these characters bring to the twists and turns in the narrative?

Mbeki appointed the present board despite objections from labour and civil society organisations - including Cosatu, the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu), South African NGO Coalition (Sangoco), Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), and Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).

The organisations argued that the new board had no representatives from the working class, journalism and labour.

"The board is obviously what President Thabo Mbeki would refer to as a first economy board," they argued.

"It does not represent the totality of the South African populace, and in particular has no representatives from the second economy."

The organisations have subsequently called for the resignation of Christine Qunta, Gloria Serobe, Peter Vundla and Andile Mbeki, whom Mbeki reappointed to the board.

The organisations submitted that in their capacities as members of the previous board, the four had failed to demonstrate that they were "persons committed to fairness, freedom of expression, the right of the public to be informed and openness and accountability", as required by section 13(4)(d) of the Broadcast Act - from which the board acquires its mandate.

Besides having its credibility questioned by the public, the new board also came under fire from some members of the ANC parliamentary caucus, who claim the list of appointees was rammed down their throats by Luthuli House.

Both Mpofu and Zikalala came under fire after an investigation by the Sisulu Commission of Inquiry into allegations that certain political commentators were banned from being used by the public broadcaster.

Those said to be blacklisted included Sipho Seepe, Moeletsi Mbeki, Trevor Ncube and Eleanor Sisulu - all known critics of Mbeki.

When the commission was instituted Mpofu said "heads would roll" if indeed it was found that there was some blacklisting.

But when he received the report and found that it confirmed that there was blacklisting, Mpofu tried to suppress it.

He also told the public the commission had found there was no blanket ban on certain political commentators.

In fact, the commission concluded that Zikalala had excluded certain political commentators and analysts for reasons that were not "objectively justifiable".

Despite this finding, no heads rolled as Mpofu had promised. Instead the SABC management targeted some of the staff members who gave evidence before the commission - most of whom subsequently resigned.

The twist comes when the new board takes office. There are reports about their unhappiness about Mpofu's style of management and lack of delivery.

Top of the list was his "failure" to secure the soccer rights, losing them to rival SuperSport.

On the other hand, according to the storytellers, Mpofu has undergone a political metamorphosis and now wants to dance to the tune of the new ANC leadership.

According to the plot, he even leaks a document to the new leadership about the new board's political machinations within the SABC.

To prove his loyalty to the new ANC leadership, he sacrifices Zikalala - accusing him of leaking sensitive documents to the media.

This provides the board with ammunition to suspend Mpofu - arguing that he transgressed his mandate.

Another twist is added to the tale by the game played by ANC MPs in the communications portfolio committee in Parliament.

They hauled the board over the coals recently for failing to deal with the shenanigans within the SABC. The ANC endorses their action, saying they should exercise oversight over public institutions like the SABC.

The MPs went on to pass a motion of no confidence in the board.

What does such a situation do to the image and role of the public broadcaster? Does it show that the SABC is a lost cause and will remain a political football in the hands of the ruling elite?

There are those who believe that this is the case. They argue that the whole saga is around the change of leadership within the ANC and how the SABC management will play into its hands.

But there is an opposite view held by the likes of political analyst Steve Friedman.

He believes that what is happening with the SABC could turn out to be a "positive crisis".

For the first time, says Friedman, issues relating to turmoil within the SABC are being aired in public.

"This is a positive development never seen before Polokwane. Now MPs are asserting themselves and holding public officials accountable," Friedman told Sowetan yesterday.

"Maybe this is the catharsis the SABC needed."

Jane Duncan of the FXI concurs: "Thank heavens Polokwane happened, allowing us to deal with the deep-seated divisions within the SABC."

Duncan said what happened in Parliament to the SABC board members was a "reinstatement of their authority to flex their oversight muscle".


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