President Kgalema Motlanthe should have included the right to freedom of information in his list of priorities, writes Rhoda Kadalie in Business Day.  And that would mean urgently addressing the crisis at the SABC, which continueds on its biased, bumbling path.

Rhoda Kadalie writes in Business Day:

SA’s ruling elite has become extremely litigious. The courts are ruling the roost as charges, countercharges and appeals among public officials become the order of the day. In the process, key institutions such as the judiciary, the National Prosecuting Authority and the SABC are being wrecked.

As far as the SABC goes, as a taxpayer and licence holder I am appalled at the haven of mediocrity it has become. While is becoming the premier broadcaster, providing news fearlessly, the SABC hurtles from one crisis to the next, its downfall having started with the beginning of former president Thabo Mbeki’s reign.

In a prescient article in the Sunday Times in February 1999, journalist Sarah Crowe asked: “Do all roads lead to Mbeki’s office?” Crowe, who started New Nation with Zwelakhe Sisulu, had, along with Max du Preez, been driven out of the SABC for two reasons: they were white, and they were honourable journalists who wanted to transform the broadcaster into an organisation where honest journalism would be the norm.

So it was heartening when Jacob Zuma, addressing Johannesburg’s Hellenic, Italian and Portuguese communities recently, defended media freedom, describing it as a key element in the constitution. “Our country needs a media that is free of political control and influence,” he said. He was clearly referring to the SABC’s Mbeki-ites, Dali Mpofu, Christine Qunta and Snuki Zikalala. Zuma’s letter of complaint to Mpofu of December 19 2005 aptly lamented how political interference annulled a scheduled interview with him, after he had been hailed as newsmaker of the year.

Capetonians have been denied coverage of any news that might be detrimental to Mbeki’s ANC for more than 10 years. I have written repeatedly about this pervasive censorship by omission. In their hubris , Mpofu, his predecessor Peter Matlare, Qunta, Eddie Funde, Thami Mazwai, Zikalala and Jeffrey Twala have treated the taxpayer, who contributes unwillingly to their bloated salaries, with contempt.

I WAS vindicated, though, when the Sisulu commission of inquiry raised serious concerns about Twala’s editorial independence in its report. “The commission was presented with a considerable amount of documentary evidence emanating from the Sea Point SABC news office…. We feel it important to state that there appear to be serious problems at the Sea Point office which, if true, are concerned with issues of political partisanship…. We strongly recommend to the GCEO (Mpofu) that these issues be fully investigated.”

On April 30, the Inkatha Freedom Party member on the parliamentary portfolio committee on communication, Suzanne Vos, called for a suppressed Deloitte & Touche report investigating allegations of abuses by Twala to be released and called for his dismissal.

I had a curious feeling of schadenfreude when, on August 19, ANC MP Lumka Yengeni asked a question in Parliament that should have profound implications for those responsible for the SABC’s fall : “The exoneration of Snuki Zikalala, without facing disciplinary processes, is a serious precedent that insinuates that those who are close to the power are immune from disciplinary processes.”

Hopefully, Yengeni will heed Vos’s call for the Deloitte report to be released and resurrect another report — also swept under the carpet — by former SABC board member Noluthando Gosa, who resigned in September 2006 alleging corruption by the board.

When President Kgalema Motlanthe outlined a seven-point plan of healing and renewal, including ensuring that all South Africans are fully able to exercise their constitutional rights, I hoped that our right to freedom of information would be a priority.

Mr President, for as long as Snuki Zikalala, the current SABC board, and suspended Dali Mpofu retain their jobs, this freedom will be denied.

* Kadalie is a human rights activist based in Cape Town. This article first appeared in Business Day on 9 October.