Howdi, Hlaudi!

Andrew Donaldson on the upcoming reality TV show featuring the ex-SABC COO



THE UK Independence Party, fighting to free a beleaguered Britain from German sausages, Polish care workers and other forms of European tyranny, has a new leader. He is Richard Braine, and he claims to revel in the jokes about his name.

As he told journalists this week: “Because, you know, you have to if your name is Dick Braine … there’s no amount of throwing that sort of stuff at me is going to put me down. I actually enjoy it.”

That’s the spirit, redoubtable knight of Albion that Braine no doubt is. 

Over here, though, at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), we did briefly wonder whether Mr and Mrs Braine were ever reported to social services for the cruelty they have inflicted upon their son. 

We were also reminded of Frank Zappa, who named his children Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva. “People make a lot of fuss about my kids having such supposedly ‘strange names’,” the musician later wrote. “But the fact is that no matter what first names I might have given them, it is the last name that is going to get them in trouble.”

It is quite possible that Jacob Zuma has some idea of what Zappa was on about and, in his more pensive moments, uBaba may even reflect upon what his family must have endured as a result of his lifelong commitment to the ANC and the years of selfless service to the nation. Or, as we think of it, all that plunder and thieving.

As a part-time pastor, one who apparently has the inside skinny on the Second Coming, Accused Number One must surely be aware of all that stuff about the iniquities of the fathers visited upon the sons to the third and fourth generation or some such.

And there certainly have been iniquities. It must now be painfully obvious to the brood at Nkandla that their progenitor’s legal hassles are eventually going to have a profound affect upon the family fortunes and their eventual inheritance. 

It may well be that their father was entitled to challenge, time and again, his arms deal corruption charges. But it’s a bit of a setback that the courts have ruled that he wasn’t entitled to a state-sponsored legal defence in said challenges and they now want him to pay back some R16-million in costs.

As a result, the former president, defiant as ever, is literally going for broke. His lawyer, advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, is arguing that Zuma has run out of money to pay for his corruption trial and that the state is driving his client into bankruptcy.

This will not the first time Zuma finds himself out of pocket. Nevertheless, it seems the looming penury is fuelling a hopeless struggle to overturn the ruling on costs despite the fact that a previous appeal in this respect has failed with the high court finding that any further attempts would have no reasonable prospects of success.

To make matters worse, Zuma is also being sued for defamation by ANC NEC member Derek Hanekom. The former tourism minister wants R500 000 and a public apology and retraction after the former president labelled him an apartheid spy and a “known enemy agent” on Twitter last month.

What is especially embarrassing about this particular matter, at least as far as the children are concerned, is the unseemly vigour with which Carl Niehaus, the well-known liberation hero, has leapt to their father’s defence. 

Fealty is an admirable quality, especially in this present climate of seismic shifts in allegiance within the ruling party, but it should not come from a worm. The shame is almost too much to bear.

Judging by his behaviour, it appears that Niehaus harbours a pathological hatred of Hanekom and is using his position as spokesman for the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association to air his bitterness and intense animosity.

It is jealousy, of course. Hanekom, after all, enjoys a handsome cabinet minister’s pension and is assured of a comfortable retirement in Shady Acres, all without even wearing camouflage, while all that awaits in Niehaus’s foreseeable future is cadging the next free ride, dancing like a fool at political rallies and writing silly press statements.

A case in point is the release he issued last month when the MKMVA launched its failed campaign to have Hanekom expelled from the NEC. In it, Niehaus referred to the “enemy sleeper” as “Mr Derek Hanekom” for the following pathetically petty reason:

“For MKMVA the word comradeship conveys revolutionary commitment, and calling a fellow ANC member a comrade should be the highest form of respect and acknowledgement of that member’s commitment to the full liberation of our people. Evidently, on the basis of his own confession of counter-revolutionary treachery Mr Hanekom is no longer worthy of being called a comrade, and henceforth we will refer to him as Mr Hanekom.”

Mr Hanekom is no doubt soiling his trousers at the very thought.

But, if Niehaus is looking to improve his lot in life, he should abandon the faux revolutionary schtick and consider instead a career in the real make-believe that is reality television. This, after all, is the true calling of the modern day scoundrel.

Given the current obsession with shallow celebrity, it should come as no surprise that Hlaudi Motsoeneng, another of Zuma’s children, albeit one that is half-adopted, is being courted by a production company to star in his own reality show on DStv’s Moja Love channel.

According to a Sunday World report, this show would feature, follow and “celebrate” the disgraced former SABC boss whose tenure all but destroyed the public broadcaster, and give viewers a glimpse into his “colourful” life.

The report made no mention of a title but let’s suggest Howdy, Hlaudi! It will in all likelihood be a winner — there is no reason why it cannot be as successful a franchise as Idols or even SA’s Got Talent — but hopefully the series will also delve into Motsoeneng’s past and cast a light on the formative events of his youth.

That revelatory moment, for example, when Hlaudi first wore socks. Some claim it was as a boy growing up in some dusty Qwaqwa backwater, but others cruelly suggest that this happened only later, after his arrival at the SABC’s Bloemfontein offices. But, no matter, it was a game-changer all the same.

Just as magical, though, was Motsoeneng’s discovery of his own reflection in a mirror. It was here that he experienced for the first time romantic love and the powerful emotions that would result in the groin-churning words of passion he later uttered: “I believe in myself and I believe that everywhere I am I do miracles and I will do these miracles in the position I am going to apply,” and “In my view Hlaudi Motsoeneng is Hlaudi Motsoeneng and there is one Hlaudi Motsoeneng in South Africa, is this one called Hlaudi Motsoeneng.” 

One hopes, too, that Howdy, Hlaudi! will also explore the full destructive nature of a self-confidence born of utter idiocy and how this jabbering fool oversaw the greatest loss of institutional mass in the history of South African broadcast journalism.

Perhaps his show will include the stories of the so-called “SABC 8”, the journalists who were fired by the corporation because they had objected to Motsoeneng’s policy of not screening footage of violent service delivery protests.

Seven of the journalists were eventually reinstated after a lengthy legal battle. The eighth, 32-year-old radio producer Suna Venter, tragically died shortly after being diagnosed with what is termed “Broken Heart Syndrome”, a cardiac condition known as stress cardiomyopathy that her family believe was exacerbated, if not caused, by the trauma and unnatural stress she had suffered since her dismissal.

In the year before her death, Venter had been the victim of a sustained campaign of violent intimidation, victimisation and death threats. She had been assaulted on several occasions, and was once shot in the face with a pellet gun coming out of a restaurant, and needed surgery to remove the pellets. 

According to her family, her flat had been broken into on numerous occasions, the brake cable of her motor car had been cut and her tyres slashed. On one chilling occasion, she had been abducted and tied to a tree at Melville Koppies while the grass around her was set alight.

This was all quite in keeping with Motsoeneng’s reign of terror at Auckland Park. He wasn’t acting alone, of course; as a commission of inquiry into interference in editorial decisions at the SABC has found, Motsoeneng was ably assisted by an array of henchmen and goons.

According to the commission’s report, Motsoeneng’s “right-hand man” at the time was Jimi Matthews, former head of news at the SABC and acting group CEO. Like Motsoeneng, Matthews declined to appear before the commission, saying that he didn’t want to “relive the worst time” of his life through a submission.

The commission, led by veteran journalist Joe Thloloe, did however note the contents of Matthew’s June 2016 letter of resignation to the then SABC board chair, Professor Mbulaheni Maguvhe. 

In it, Matthews admitted that the “prevailing corrosive atmosphere” within the SABC had affected his moral judgement, and made him complicit in many decisions he wasn’t proud of.

“I wish also to apologise to the many people who I’ve let down by remaining silent when my voice needed to be heard,” he wrote. “What is happening at the SABC is wrong and I can no longer be a part of it.”

The commission wasn’t impressed. “Again,” their report noted, “the apology rings hollow when he chooses to remain silent now when his voice needs to be heard to help us to get to the bottom of this matter.”

Matthews certainly didn’t choose to remain silent when he told a meeting of current affairs programme producers just a month before his resignation: “It is cold outside. If you don’t like it you can go. You’ve got two choices: the door or the window.”

It’s worth noting that the commission could find no evidence of a “direct line between decisions at ANC headquarters, Luthuli House, and decisions in the newsroom” but it did rule that “the spectre of the ANC hovered over the newsroom”. 

The then communications minister, Faith Muthambi, features prominently in the report. On one occasion, she berated a TV crew who were “slow” in packing up their equipment, telling them to hurry up “or I will fire you, I will really fire you.” Then she turned on the team’s presenter, telling her she looked fat and wasn’t appropriately dressed.

Perhaps Muthambi can reprise her behaviour here for Motsoeneng’s reality show. As currently envisaged, Howdy, Hlaudi! may lose something of its charm and appeal if the only celebrity it features is the title character.

It would be good, too, if Gugulethu Zuma-Ncube, one of the former president’s many daughters, could get a hands-on position with the show. Industry insiders still marvel at the skill with which Ms Zuma-Ncube managed to raise R5-million from the eThekwini Metro Municipality for Uzalo, the SABC1 soap opera that is produced by the film company she co-owns. 

What’s more, her brother and sisters are available to work as extras should the need arise. A cast of thousands and all that. There’s no reason why they can’t keep it all in the family down Howdy, Hlaudi! way.


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