Hlaudi Motsoeneng was the centre of power at the SABC during group CEO Lulama Mokhobo’s tenure, she told MPs on Thursday.
Two camps emerged in the SABC board which undermined her tenure, which started in January 2012, she testified under oath before Parliament’s ad hoc committee investigating the current board’s fitness.
“The boards under which I served had a very significant leaning towards Mr Motsoeneng. I ceased to be a normal link as CEO,” she said.
There were many instances where Motsoeneng had meetings with the then board chairperson Ben Ngubane, without her knowledge.
“Many times there were things that were planned that I was not made aware of. I was generally quite ‘juniorized’ in my position. It seemed Mr Motsoeneng was the ‘go-to’ man.”
She chose to push on to fulfil her mandate of ensuring the broadcaster became financially sustainable. The SABC reported a profit two years running in her two years at the broadcaster.
“The profit was substantial and it all had to do with very prudent financial management.”
Her job was made difficult by a “fractious relationship” with certain board members. She said a 2013 governance report revealed there were two centres of power at the broadcaster.
This was partly because she refused to sign off on certain contracts that did not make sense to her. One of them involved collecting VAT revenue from SARS. She was unhappy about it and said no.
Ngubane as chairperson was close to Motsoeneng and four other board members, she said.
She said board members Vuyo Mavuso, Bongani Khumalo and one other leaned towards her understanding of running the organisation. The others largely supported Motsoeneng, she said.
She described former Communications Minister Yunus Carrim’s relationship with former CEO Ellen Tshabalala as “uncomfortable”.
She described how Motsoeneng’s salary was reviewed in 2013.
“He claimed he had been given accolade after accolade from the board, and ‘glorious’ recommendations.”
The assumption at the time was that the chairperson of the board could, on behalf of the board, make certain decisions, including about Motsoeneng’s salary.
She said the argument was that Motsoeneng was “too talented” to deny him a position based simply on his lack of qualifications.
MPs questioned why she signed off on Motsoeneng’s second salary increase in the space of four months.
“The reports that I got from the SABC when I joined the organization spoke of an ‘extraordinary’ person that deserved the increase.
“I couldn’t question the veracity at the time. So when the request came to me, I did not have a leg to stand on from the perspective of saying no.”
She said that for an executive of his standing, the board felt he needed pay that was commensurate with his work.
‘I was so maligned’
Before her departure, she said there were talks of her being suspended and investigations being conducted against her over being a shareholder at broadcaster eNCA and her children working at eNCA.
“I had been so maligned that staying on at the SABC just didn’t make sense to me anymore. I’m a human being. The writing was on the wall and why stay on when I was not wanted,” she said in response to a question on why she did not challenge her alleged “constructive dismissal”.
She decided to leave the SABC in February 2014, after the first “centre of power” started turning on her.
MPs asked her if her leaving had anything to do with the Public Protector’s report, which was released two weeks after she left. It contained that action be taken against her for signing off on Motsoeneng’s second salary increase.
She said her leaving was already agreed to in November 2013, and had nothing to do with the report.
She took pride in helping to turn the broadcaster’s financials around with a small team.
They had made a combined profit of over R200m in her two years, and had cash reserves of R1bn.
At the end of the meeting, she declined to comment on a question on where Motsoeneng got his real power from.
She said she did not want to be open to slander, and was being threatened.
She did not want to name those who were threatening her. She agreed to discuss the threats with chairperson Vincent Smith in camera.