Former SABC acting CEO Phil Molefe has given explosive testimony at parliament’s SABC inquiry, saying Hlaudi Motsoeneng threatened to “go to Pretoria” after he refused to give him a R500 000 increase.
Molefe was testifying under oath before the ad hoc committee looking into the fitness of the SABC board on Friday.
He said he was handed a letter by board chair Ben Ngubane in 2011 to approve an unlawful R500 000 increase to then group chief executive of stakeholder relations, Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
“In late November 2011, Mr Motsoeneng approached me asking for a salary increment of R500 000. I declined the request, and told him it was in any case a board decision.”
Sometime shortly afterwards, Ngubane summoned him to his office, where Motsoeneng was also present, Molefe said.
“The chairperson offered me a letter recommending a R500 000 salary increase, and I was asked to sign the letter in order to approve the recommendation.
Molefe said in no uncertain terms that he would not agree with that demand.
At this point, Motsoeneng intervened and said: “Chair, I told you that this is not our man. So I’m going to Pretoria tonight.”
“Dr Ngubane pleaded with me. Please sign this thing so we can settle this matter.”
Molefe did not agree.
He said this happened in the same month that the broadcaster was in the process of appointing a permanent group CEO, but he knew his future at the broadcaster would now be jeopardised.
“I had applied for the position, and the applications had closed on 2 November, before that meeting took place. The matter was now in the hands of the board, I told them.”
He did not get the position, and said he was “literally removed from the company” in 2012.
He described Motsoeneng’s meteoric rise through the company.
From being a junior radio producer at Lesedi FM in the Free State in 2010, to being “parachuted” to GM in the CEO’s office in February 2011.
He then received the stakeholder relations position later that year and started attending board meetings, despite it not being a board position.
In November 2011, while Molefe was in Ghana, Motsoeneng was appointed both acting CEO and acting COO within a day of each other.
He eventually kept the acting COO position until July 2014, where it was given to him permanently.
On a different matter, Molefe said Motsoeneng met with one of the Gupta brothers in July 2011, because the Guptas “were keen to enter into business with the SABC”.
“Mr Tony Gupta wanted to sign a memorandum of cooperation between SABC and TNA Media to have live broadcasts on its morning breakfast show, Morning Live.”
He also said they wanted to distribute their New Age newspapers at the corporation, and proposed having a stake in the then envisaged SABC News Channel.
“I did not agree to these proposals. These proposals were quite drastic and had significant implications.”
He also said it was problematic airing live broadcasts of an external partner on SABC channels.
“My decision did not go down well with the Guptas. Motsoeneng tried to persuade me, urging me to soften my approach in dealing with the Guptas.”
Molefe said he refused, saying he would not make irrational decisions.
This was evidence that the regression of the SABC started to take root as far back as 2011, he said.
When it came to questions, MPs breathed out their collective shock, joking they needed some time to digest what they had just heard.
ANC MP Hlomane Chauke described his testimony as “shocking”. He asked Molefe to elaborate on the issue of the R500 000 increase, and what “Pretoria” meant. His colleague Juli Killian wanted to know the amount that the Guptas wanted to spend.
ANC MP Makhosi Khoza implored Molefe to help the ANC restore good governance at the SABC.
Democratic Alliance MP Phumzile Van Damme wanted to know if the authority he was talking about was President Jacob Zuma.
“My understanding was, ‘going to Pretoria, I was going to a high authority’,” Molefe answered. “Although I do not have specific terms who or what that authority was.”
Asked to elaborate further, he said: “There is a powerful force, but I would be very wary to speculate who or what that could be,” he said.
He said the ad hoc committee had the power to get to the bottom of it. He cited the public protector’s use of cellphone records to triangulate someone’s position at any given time.
“If someone said ‘I was going to Pretoria tonight’, you can establish with military precision where that individual was.”
With regards to the salary issue, he said: “My position was quite clear. This whole thing was irregular and could not be justified.
“That is why I did not agree to the sum and increment of R500 000,” he said.
He said he did not know if Motsoeneng had received the salary in the end. He left the broadcaster thereafter in 2012, having been overlooked for the permanent CEO position.
Molefe’s eventual successor Lulama Mokhobo confirmed on Thursday that Motsoeneng received a salary increase while she was there, and one before she joined.