Five key takeouts from former SABC board chair Ben Ngubane's state capture testimony

10 September 2019 - 07:40 By Cebelihle Bhengu
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Former SABC board chair Ben Ngubane.
Former SABC board chair Ben Ngubane.

The state capture commission of inquiry, led by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, on Monday heard testimony from former SABC board chair Ben Ngubane. Ngubane was appointed to the position by parliament in 2010, during Siphiwe Nyanda's tenure as communications minister and Pravin Gordhan’s as finance minister.

Here are five noteworthy points from his testimony:

Independent content producers

In the financial year 2009/10, the public broadcaster struggled to pay independent content producers, which saw them lose millions in revenue, resulting in the loss of 17,000 jobs. Ngubane said when he occupied his position in 2010, the broadcaster was “technically insolvent”, but was able to improve content by paying independent producers what was owed to them. “We were able to boost ratings and to go back to charge the relevant and properly priced amounts for television advertisements.”

Money wasted on "useless" content

“Buy the dog with its fleas.” This was the phrase Ngubane said was popular at the SABC and used to refer to content bought in bulk, most of which would not be flighted because it did not appeal to the SA audience.

Ngubane said the majority of the content was bought by the broadcaster as part of a package containing prime content.

“If we bought The Bold and The Beautiful, they would say here are other films, you must buy them as a bundle. You get the good one, but you get a whole lot of useless ones.” Ngubane further told the commission that a lack of good content affected ratings and advertising. 

Cost-cutting measures

Ngubane told the commission that upon realising the extent of the financial strain under which the SABC operated, cost-cutting measures were implemented. These included non-renewal of contracts of senior and middle managers, doing away with international correspondents, who were paid in the currencies of the countries in which they were based,  and reducing petrol allowances among staff.

“Petrol allowances were absolutely abused. People would go and change their engines, car tyres, using petrol allowance.”

Gupta’s New Age breakfasts helped the SABC

The New Age (TNA) breakfast shows, recorded and flighted by the SABC, improved the organisation. TNA was a Gupta-owned media company. He admitted that the shows, in which ministers were interviewed about their portfolios, cost the SABC millions, but said it was value for money.

Ngubane did not deny having a relationship with the Guptas, but said it was mostly limited to hosting the programmes and he had only gone to their Saxonwold, Johannesburg, compound on a few occasions.

"I attended those breakfasts and would sit with people in the TNA, editor and the Gupta family. On a few occasions, I went on a few social events at their home."

Hlaudi Motsoeneng as COO

The commission heard that the SABC board was aware that former COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng did not have matric, but was hired because he performed well for the organisation. Asked if Motsoeneng’s salary was justified, Ngubane said it was, as managers' remuneration was determined by their performance.

“That would have been on performance, he succeeded as a stakeholder manager. There was a new challenge and he was sought to be able to do it.”

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