Febe Potgieter-Gqubule on pressing the reset button at the SABC

In October, Febe Potgieter-Gqubule was appointed deputy chair of the new South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) board.

Potgieter-Gqubule spoke to 702 and CapeTalk host, Eusebius McKaiser about the state of the public broadcaster amid speculations that it has been captured, its governance structures and its independence.

McKaiser begins by referencing an important resolution made by the African National Congress (ANC) subcommittee at Mangaung in relation to the public broadcaster.

Paragraph 99 on the work done by the subcommittee on communication reads: A stable corporate governance mechanism is required to provide long-term stability. These include the following; strengthening the SABC's accountability to parliament, shareholder and the public. The public ownership is central to its existence and sustainability.

EM: Five years later, what has happened to that resolution?

Since the resolution was taken in 2012, we've had the Public Protector's Report on the SABC. We've had the editorial policy of the SABC struck down. We've numerous court cases and finally, the ad hoc committee of Parliament report into the fitness of the board of the SABC. There's no question that we've had serious problems.

Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, SABC board deputy chair

The appointment of the interim board in April... and the new permanent board in office for the next five years is an attempt at a reset button to ensure we address the problem we face such as governance, finances and the mandate of the SABC, including its independence explains Potgieter-Gqubule.

EM: If we look back at the past five years and you've highlighted some of the problems that beset the SABC. Why did that occur despite the ANC's commitment at Mangaung towards a different kind of public broadcaster?

Part of the issues has got to do with the understanding of the role of the SABC - that it is a public and not a state broadcaster and therefore what does that mean in the context of South Africa. Both the Constitution and Broadcasting Act is very clear that we need to reflect the diversity and do it in a journalist integrity and free it from interference.

Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, SABC board deputy chair

Potgieter-Gqubule tells McKaiser says the reasons are set out in the ad hoc committee report and maybe the question should be posed to the ANC communications committee.

EM: Fundamentally I would have thought that if we cut through the challenges and design that the point of the board is basically rendered meaningless if you do not have ultimate say to hire and fire the CEO, CFO, and COO, would you agree with that?

The Broadcasting Act looks at two responsibilities that the board has - the first being; we need to make sure that in pursuit of the objects of the Act (journalist integrity, coverage in a free and balanced manner and reflecting the diversity of South Africa) and the board needs to have the independence to do that.

Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, SABC board deputy chair

The second issue is - in the exercise of its powers and the powers it has is to lead, control and monitor the activities of the corporation and that includes the executives. At the end of the day, the executives of the SABC are the people that are supposed to do the work. If the board does not have the sufficient input into that process, then it is a problem.

Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, SABC board deputy chair

EM: What I want from you, is, if possible, an unambiguous view on the minister? The minister basically is going to court - goodness knows why because the judgment has been excellent in outlining how one goes about making sure that the board in insulated against wayward political influences.

Is the board going to join the court action as amicus or as a board whose powers are directly going to be usurped should the minister win in this appeal?

Parliament has a role and it came out both in the judgment and ad hoc committee report. There's also a role for the executive, and the minister is called the shareholder representative...There is both a constitutional role as well as a role within the Broadcasting Act, both for Parliament as well as the executive.

Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, SABC board deputy chair

The board has a taken a decision that it will file an affidavit on the question of the judgment and particularly the issue of the appointment of the executive around three issues.

Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, SABC board deputy chair

Listen to the full interview with the SABC board deputy chair in audio clip below:


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