The indestructible Hlaudi Motsoeneng

Andrew Donaldson on the amazing survival skills of the soon to be former-but-now-acting SABC COO


TODAY is Heritage Day, and here at the Mahogany Ridge, we will burn meat, pour beer on our bare chests (to facilitate the tanning process) and shout at the women to lay off the papsakke and hurry up already with the salads. 

We’re however not insensitive to what it is that we should celebrate today, and we may even take a short break from heated discussions on recent events, such as the turmoil in the universities, to reflect on our various cultures, traditions, diversities and what have you.

Our thoughts may even turn to Johannesburg, where the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora conference gets underway this weekend. Uppermost on the agenda at the 183-nation conference is the future of the African elephant — and a proposal to ban the international trade in ivory. Disappointingly, South Africa will vote against it.

In an impassioned speech in London on Thursday, the Duke of Cambridge told campaigners that he hoped that delegates would unite on the elephants. 

 “When I was born,” Prince William said, “there were one million elephants roaming Africa. By the time my daughter Charlotte was born last year, the numbers of savannah elephants had crashed to just 350 000. And at the current pace of illegal poaching, when Charlotte turns 25, the African elephant will be gone from the wild.”

Of course, it’s not just about elephants and wildlife. But they’re certainly part of a heritage we’d want to pass on to our children’s children. (Universities and libraries are there, too.)  

Which brings us to Hlaudi Motsoeneng — and the sort of world we will be leaving the SABC “employee”. 

Unpalatable as this may be, but the former-perhaps-soon-to-be-reinstated chief operating officer at Dithering Heights could well be indestructible. Long after the rest of us are wiped off the planet, all that will remain of life here as we once knew it will be Motsoeneng. And maybe a few cockroaches who will be coralled together to form a choir to sing his praises.

His survival skills are phenomenal. He is beyond teflon. 

The day after the Supreme Court of Appeal denied him leave to appeal a high court ruling that his appointment as SABC COO was unlawful, he pitched up for work as usual — whatever the hell that is — and the SABC board apparently cooked up a back door plan, widely regarded as being in contempt of court, to give him back his old job.

According to a draft resolution sent to board members, Communications Minister Faith “Baba loves Hlaudi” Muthambi is to be asked to reappoint him as acting COO. 

It beggars belief. What dark arts were at play here?

Could, as a News24 investigation into the origins of Motsoeneng’s extraordinary power grub seems to suggest, it have been black magic? 

How, they wanted to know, did an ambitious freelancer from Phuthaditjhaba, a ditch in what was once QwaQwa, sans matric or, as they put it, “struggle credentials”, reach such heights so quickly? 

There were numerous rumours, News24 said. “The most sensational of these is that his mother is a powerful sangoma, whose spiritual strength has even drawn President Jacob Zuma into her orbit.”

“Strength” certainly is something the sangoma’s child appears to have in abundance. He was full of it yesterday, when he hijacked the Mandoza funeral, using the occasion to tell mourners that he was back in the driving seat. That’s at least what we think he said.

“When people were saying Hlaudi is out, you can’t decide for my future. If I leave the SABC, it will not be the first time I left the SABC, and I became stronger and stronger,” Motsoeneng said.

“You know, when people talk about transformation in South Africa, they speak English. I don’t speak English. I speak implementation. You know, there is a difference between speaking English and intelligence. Some of us, intelligence is in our heart. And the reason we are able to do what we are doing is because we are unique.”

Very, very true. He doesn’t speak English. 

But how does one speak implementation? It appears to be a unique form of communication, with a confused blend of jumbled tenses, not to mention virtue-sharing in both the first and third person.

I shall try it this afternoon. When offered another glass of wine, Donaldson will inform his host, “Yes, please. Some of that pinotage. Andrew is quite thirsty. But I realise that if it’s finished, he is quite happy to have something else. I don’t mind what. Cheers.”

With luck, Donaldson and I may both get a bit of drink down us. Braai nicely.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.