Madness at the SABC

Andrew Donaldson says those who involve themselves with the public broadcaster have a hard time holding onto their sanity


BECAUSE of the stigma attached to such a condition, it takes a special courage for those in a position of authority and responsibility to openly admit they are suffering from mental illness.

The ANC MP Fezeka Loliwe is therefore to be commended for publicly declaring that the three years he spent on the SABC board had made him quite mad.

Here at the Mahogany Ridge we had long suspected that insanity was a perfectly rational adjustment for anyone vaguely associated with the national broadcaster but now, thanks to Loliwe’s stance, the attendant shame and fear may mercifully be a thing of the past. Let us fervently hope so.

Loliwe is currently serving on Parliament’s ad hoc committee inquiring into the affairs of the SABC and its board’s fitness to hold office. On Thursday, he was asked why, given his supposedly principled character, it had taken him so long to resign from this clearly dysfunctional body.

“I’m not a quitter,” he replied. “I believe in fighting until sanity prevails. But in this instance, I think I became insane as well. It reached a point where it was just too much.”

This does suggest a narrow escape of sorts, and Loliwe appears to be on a path to recovery. 

There is, however, no hope for either Professor Mbulaheni Obert Maguvhe, who is the board’s beleaguered chairman and its only remaining member, or Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the SABC’s head of corporate affairs — or whatever he is this week.

As you may know, Maguvhe has contemptuously attempted to stymie the work of the committee. This clearly is the desperate, fruitless behaviour of a condemned person. 

Dead man walking, you could say. Or, in the partially sighted Maghuve’s case, stumbling into furniture.

On Wednesday, Maguvhe and the SABC delegation stormed out of the first day of the hearings. He complained that he was being discriminated against as he had not received the necessary documents in Braille.

But, according to committee member and EFF MP Fana Mokoena, Maguvhe had appeared in parliamentary committee meetings before and had never needed documents converted into Braille 

On Thursday afternoon, he simply refused to pitch up, and the committee unanimously resolved to summons him to appear before them on Tuesday. 

In his absence, the committee heard from former board member Vusi Mavuso, who resigned in October citing Motsoeneng’s R11.4-million bonus was “the last straw”.

More worryingly, Mavuso claimed that current and former chairpersons, including Dr Ben Ngubane and Ellen Tshabalala, another liar about qualifications, had all “mollycoddled” Motsoeneng.

It’s an interesting word, “mollycoddle”. As a verb, it means to treat someone indulgently and protectively, but as a noun it is defined as “an effeminate or ineffectual man or boy; a milksop.”

One can only hope that, whatever happened in those interminably long and dark subterranean corridors in Auckland Park, there was nothing untoward or unsavoury in Maghuve’s dealings with Motsoeneng.

Maghuve claims he cannot see. This is arguably an immediate advantage when working in South African television. 

But we do worry that, in coddling Motsoeneng and giving him the full molly, he may not have been fully aware of the consequences of his actions. Blindness notwithstanding.

As for Motsoeneng, well, his self-delusional mania is clearly terminal. He is destined to spend the rest of his days in a padded cell, bleating away about his powers to raise the dead, turn water into wine and, implausibly, once more make South Africa great.

It’s all very sad, especially as he is still a young man, one whose burning ambition and rapid progress up the broadcaster’s corporate ladder has been held up as a shining example to other impressionable folk. 

In fact, so swift has been the metamorphosis from rural yokel to metropolitan dandy that it’s said the wearing of socks remains a novelty.

Last week it was reported that the ANC Youth League in KwaZulu-Natal want Motsoeneng to be elected to the party’s top knobs. A clearly infatuated Thanduxolo Sabelo, the KZN secretary, told the Mercury, “We are going to lobby for Hlaudi to be elected into the NEC. We need a leader like you to be the minister of land affairs so that you can transform 90% of the land to black people.”

An idea of Motsoeneng’s transformative abilities, if we may put it that way, can be gleaned from a 2013 SABC skills audit. A full 60% of Dithering Heights’ executive and senior managers did not meet the minimum strategic thinking levels for such positions; 56% were unable to adequately solve problems, and a further 15% demonstrated only marginal competence in strategic thinking. 

Communications minister Faith Muthambi thinks it’s all good. No wonder they’re all mad.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.