Johannesburg – Hlaudi Motsoeneng boasted this week that no one could make him leave the SABC.
But on Thursday, the Cabinet ordered him out of the public broadcaster urgently – just a day after the ruling party said he should be fired.
Motsoeneng’s only remaining allies are embattled Communications Minister Faith Muthambi and the parastatal’s board.
Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said the SABC and Motsoeneng cannot continue to subvert the law and the decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal by appointing him to a different senior position.
The Cabinet’s stance came after the SABC posted a third successive loss in three years, with the Auditor-General describing its books as being in a shambles.
On Thursday, the SABC posted a loss of R411 million for 2015/16 after a loss of R400m last year. The year before that, the SABC posted a loss of more than R500m. But Motsoeneng was unfazed, saying the SABC was “not in the business of making a profit” and that its mandate was that of public service.
His comments flew in the face of a Cabinet directive last November that all state-owned entities must improve their financial performance as the government was tired of bailing them out. The SABC was given a bailout of R1 billion more than five years ago after it sank into debt.
Radebe said they wanted the SABC to toe the line and fire Motsoeneng and for the corporation to stop being a law unto itself. He said this had to be done urgently and without wasting time.
“The decision to reappoint Mr Motsoeneng in a new position shows disrespect of the rule of law,” he said, also reminding the SABC that all state entities have to abide by the law and respect the constitution.
An unperturbed Motsoeneng, meanwhile, refused to entertain questions on the ANC’s decision in Parliament to quit the SABC and for an inquiry into the board. The SABC has also refused to answer questions on the R11.4m bonus given to Motsoeneng for selling its archives to MultiChoice.
The SABC’s finances have been in a shambles over the past five years, with the Auditor-General giving the corporation qualified audit opinions.
In 2013, the AG gave the corporation a disclaimer, meaning its books were so bad, he couldn’t express an opinion. But the SABC said on Thursday that it was turning the corner.
Motsoeneng said he would, as part of management, take responsibility for the loss. But he refused to take sole responsibility as much as he has demanded credit for making a profit for the SABC.
The latest Cabinet swipe at Motsoeneng shows the growing frustration at the top of government with the public broadcaster.This week, ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu denied that Motsoeneng was enjoying protection from the ANC. He ordered him out of the SABC as he had been re-appointed illegally.
Radebe said the Cabinet also wanted him out of the corporation and to stop showing disrespect to the courts. SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said he would not comment because the broadcaster does not appoint the board.
The board is facing an inquiry in Parliament for violating its fiduciary duties and illegally appointing Motsoeneng.
President Jacob Zuma came under fire from the ACDP on Thursday for not taking action against Muthambi for the chaos at the SABC. The ACDP joins the growing list of parties in Parliament urging Zuma to axe her.
The frustration by opposition parties with Muthambi has been growing over the past few months as she has been seen to be defending Motsoeneng. But this week she called on the SABC not to do anything outside the law.
The Cabinet has urged acting communications minister Mosebenzi Zwane to immediately deal with the SABC crisis and report back soon. Muthambi is overseas and Zwane is acting in her position.
Radebe did not say how soon they expect a report from Zwane, but said this was an urgent matter. He said Motsoeneng needed to go “as in last week”. – Additional reporting by Mogomotsi Magome