SABC blues – again

You have to be totally dismayed at the apparent collapse – again – of SABC governance. The hopes that this new board represented a fresh broom to sweep the rot out of the Auckland Park headquarters and re-establish a notion of independent, public service broadcasting, are rapidly fading.

The new chair, Ben Ngubane, and the new CEO, Solly Mokoetle, conspired to pre-empt board processes and announce one of the most important and contested appointments, that of head of news. It appears that the board was due to discuss the recommendations of their news committee for the appointment in just a few weeks, and were surprised that an announcement was made.

Talk is that Ngubane and Mokoetle were strongly lobbied by the presidency to make this appointment, and clearly were not confident the board would listen to them on this. They took pre-emptive action.

What is interesting is that board members spoke out, and made it clear instantly that they were not going to be manipulated in this way. Strong political and NGO voices – notably Cosatu and the SOS campaign – also spoke out. Even if Ngubane had failed to assert his independence, there were board members who were going to assert theirs and there were others who were now watching carefully.

Those board members who spoke out were standing up firmly and bravely for principles of good governance – and good for them for doing so. The hope we vested in this new board rests in their hands, and their willingness to see this issue through and establish new and more effective ways of operating.

The board appears to have met on Saturday without the chair, declared the appointment null and void and passed a motion of no confidence in Ngubane. It seems to me that it will be hard for Ngubane to survive in the hot seat now, and the pressure will also be on the CEO once it becomes clear what his role in this was.

Talk is also that the relationship between the board and the CEO appointed just before they took office (which in itself was recipe for disaster) is already in choppy waters.

The fundamental lesson of the collapse of the last board appears not to have been learned in the Ministry and the Presidency: that if the politicians interfere in decisions and appointments, it corrupts governance and effective management, and in the end this is costly and damaging to everyone, including the politicians. It is short-sighted, foolish and destructive.

Where does this leave Molefe? He failed to do the right thing this week, which would be to say that he would not accept a half-baked appointment, and that he could not work without the full support of the board – and offer to step aside until the board made its decision properly.

The bottom line is that Molefe’s “appointment” does not represent a new broom to sweep through the place. Nor was the appointment of Mokoetle, who was a previous COO in the organization.

These are not inspiring moves likely to bring the kind of change needed in the running of our public broadcaster. It is feeling like same-old same-old…

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