The SABC farce has seen the corporation fall into warring camps, with a host of people laying claim to the same jobs, writes Ferail Haffajee in the Mail & Guardian.

Ferial Haffajee writes in the Mail & Guardian:

The SABC has two CEOs and a third man waiting in the wings; two
spokespersons; two people who want to be chief operating officer; a
board divided in three; and several competing sets of lawyers who have
charged South Africa’s citizens between R3-million and R5-millon for
four lawsuits in the past four weeks.

Seven executives this week
stood on the steps of Auckland Park’s Radio Park and called for 12
non-executive directors to stand down.

At a governance level,
the parliamentary committee overseeing the SABC is divided between an
ANC faction that wants the board out and an opposition faction that
says it’s the best board we have had in the post-apartheid era.

Communications
Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, is torn between a restive Parliament
(which wants her head) and a president to whom she owes her extended
political life, but who handpicked three members of the board and got
the country into its broadcasting jam in the first place.

Addressing
Parliament on the subject of the SABC in this week, Matsepe-Casaburri
gave vent to a very long nothing, calling vaguely for an inquiry into
the broadcaster.

In the face of such meltdown at so many levels,
is it fair to say the SABC has fallen apart because the centre cannot
hold, to quote WB Yeats?

When you phone the SABC and ask to be
put through to the CEO’s office there is more than a moment’s
hesitation. Incumbent Dali Mpofu is in office, but apparently not in
power, according to the board, which says that he has been legitimately
suspended.

Not so, said Judge Moroa Tsoka, who ruled in Mpofu’s
favour and found the board had not constituted itself properly when it
decided to suspend him.

The board has, in turn, sent a memorandum to staff insisting that they take orders only from Gabs Mampone, the acting CEO.

This week two staff members told the Mail & Guardian that Mampone had gone AWOL this week.

Ask
spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago to comment on the fiasco and he explains:
“I can’t comment; I’m not the spokesman.” But Kganyago’s business card
describes him as “spokesman”. What’s going on here?

The board
has appointed its own spokesperson, Lorato Tshenkeng, who, when asked
for comment this week, confirmed his appointment, but insisted he was
unable to say anything. He promised to try to arrange an interview with
the board chairperson, Kanyi Mkhonza, but did not. And she did not
return calls requesting comment.

The upshot is a multiplicity of spokespersons, none of whom will say anything.

An attorney in private practice assisted the M&G
to calculate legal costs of court battles between the corporation’s
factions, all at the taxpayers’ expense — bearing in mind the fact
that each time the board has lost, punitive costs have been awarded
against it. The costs were calculated as follows:

  • Attorneys’ preparation fees: between R120 000 and R150 000
  • Counsels’ fees for settling affidavit: between R35 000 and R40 00
  • Preparation by counsel (one senior, one junior, billing for two days): between R80 000 and R100 000
  • Attorneys’ attendance at court: between R12 000 and R15 000
  • Counsels’ attendance at court: between R35 000 and R40 000
  • Counsel’s fees for application for leave to appeal: R35 000
  • Attorneys fees: R10 000
  • This amounts to between R3-million and R5-million.

    Earlier
    this week the Star reported that the board intended to approach the
    Supreme Court of Appeal. This would cost an estimated R200 000.

    On
    Monday seven SABC executives took the unprecedented step of making a
    public call on the board to step down, accusing it of bad faith and
    interference in management.

    “Whilst we have faith and hold
    certain members of the board in high esteem … this board as a
    collective does not have the moral authority to continue to lead the
    SABC and continues to allow its power to be abused,” the executives
    charged.

    In Parliament Democratic Alliance MP Dene Smuts likened the shenanigans at the broadcaster to the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

    “It
    is one of many purges being carried out in this country by an incoming
    power bloc which sweeps all procedure and justice aside,” said Smuts,
    who called for the “off with their heads” approach to stop.

    Maybe. But the larger problem is the fact that the broadcaster’s leaders seem to have gone completely off their heads.

    All fall down
    SABC board conflict

    May 6
    SABC CEO Dali Mpofu suspends head of news Snuki Zikalala

    May 7
    SABC board suspends Mpofu

    May 17
    Mpofu in court to oppose his suspension

    May 19
    Mpofu's suspension overturned by court with punitive costs order against the board

    June 2
    Seven members of SABC group executive hold press conference on the stairs to call on board to resign

    June 2
    Johannesburg High Court dismisses, with costs, a board request to appeal the decision to reinstate Mpofu

    June 3
    Reports say board will take the case to the Supreme Court of Appeal

    June 4
    Board chairperson Kanyi Mkhonza criticises revolting executives and threatens action

    June 4
    Zikalala is seeking CCMA order against his suspension

     
    * Haffajee is the editor of the Mail & Guardian. This article first appeared in the paper on 6 June 2008.