The SABC tap is now closed for the Gupta family with this week’s The New Age (TNA) Business Breakfast, from which the controversial family’s media company benefited, being the last of its kind.
“The board met with The New Age and informed them that the breakfasts are not going to continue … even though the current contract says they have to give 11 months’ notice,” said a source close to the board.
Neither the Gupta-owned newspaper’s public relations desk nor the SABC responded to questions this week.
The canning of the TNA that broadcasts the TNA business breakfast briefings has been a long time coming.
Sources told of how, when Mike Siluma first signed the contract in 2011, the broadcasts – where favoured political figures discuss current affairs – were only held five times a year.
After suspended chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng took over the reins at the SABC, these swelled to as many as 45 per year.
“We’ve spent something like R20m just on the outside broadcasts. We haven’t made a cent in return,” said a source.
“The tens of millions of rands TNA has earned from sponsors – mostly state-owned enterprises such as Eskom, Telkom and Transnet – go to them. The sponsorship money is not shared.”
City Press previously reported that, as early as 2014, Eskom paid R1.2m per breakfast.
This week, Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo told Parliament that her department, under her predecessor Faith Muthambi, “spent R958 689.84 on a [TNA] business briefing” in 2016.
This week’s breakfast broadcast, the sources said, was the last one.
City Press spoke to four top SABC sources – two close to the board and two senior insiders – who said the extent of the rot the interim board is working to mop up is now becoming clear.
A large part of the board’s time has been spent clarifying where the SABC needs the help of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to uncover illegal activities.
“They have now sent a letter to the communications minister [Dlodlo]. She must make a request to President [Jacob] Zuma for a declaration announcing an SIU investigation into the SABC,” said one source.
After the business breakfasts deal, the board will next meet with MultiChoice to discuss the SABC’s contract with the pay platform for two TV channels, one of which – SABC News on DStv channel 404 – is bleeding funds daily.
Another situation that required urgent attention is the matter of Motsoeneng’s suspension on a R350 000 monthly salary, stemming from a court challenge launched by the DA.
When the board suspended chief operating officer and acting chief executive James Aguma two weeks ago, they served him a letter, locked his office, blocked his access and reclaimed his SABC devices, including his laptop.
The board assumed the same had happened with Motsoeneng, but discovered that Aguma never served Motsoeneng with a letter of suspension.
One was drawn up this week and Motsoeneng was allegedly locked out of the SABC computer system, which he is believed to have accessed while suspended.
The SABC did not respond to questions this week.
Another new matter brought to the board – which is divided into a number of subcommittees – was the payment of Motsoeneng’s considerable legal fees.
A report to the Human Resources, Governance and Nominations Committee over an invoice from Motsoeneng’s lawyer, Zola Majavu, raised eyebrows. Majavu handled the Motsoeneng vs DA matter.
The invoice, for R493 100.50, includes a curious R100 000 for a “loan by client”.
The SABC’s financial controllers refused to pay the amount as it was highly irregular to instruct the SABC to pay a personal loan.
Majavu was unhappy to be drawn into the matter this week and defended his reputation.
“My client is Hlaudi Motsoeneng. I have never accepted work from the SABC,” he told City Press.
“I invoiced as I was instructed … There was a long delay in the payment, which was difficult as I had already paid VAT and invoices include the costs to cover my service providers such as attorneys.”
Legal opinion sought by City Press confirmed the invoice was questionable from Motsoeneng’s side, but not Majavu’s.
In the event of court costs for executives, the SABC is covered by liability of directors and officers insurance.
The report outlines that the SABC paid “an amount of R1 464 055.19 on the DA vs Motsoeneng matter” and that the insurance paid this out.
A second amount of R851 981.73, also for the DA case, was paid by the SABC but “insurers will not reimburse SABC”.
The insurance did not cover this either because the fees were considered exorbitant – which Majavu insists they aren’t – or because prior consent was not granted.
Asked who then becomes liable for the bill, the report states the individual – in this case, Motsoeneng.
The SABC did not respond to questions about whether Motsoeneng would be billed.
Majavu said that Motsoeneng had paid him back the R100 000.
Another matter the board has dealt with is Motsoeneng’s costly unilateral decision to increase local music quotas to 90% on radio.
The board acted to prevent the SABC’s big commercial stations from bleeding advertising revenue.
It has decided to “allow stations to choose how much local content they want to play, as long as it’s not less than what Icasa [the Independent Communications Authority of SA] stipulates,” said one source, adding that the board was looking at other ways – such as exposure and development workshops – to “assist and empower” local artists.