News / South Africa / State Capture

Makhosandile Zulu
3 minute read
5 Sep 2019
12:19 pm

Zondo hears of Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s ‘ramblings’ as SABC COO

Makhosandile Zulu

Krivani Pillay of the SABC 8 says the former COO had made 'bizarre' decisions which led to her and her colleague's axing after they questioned them.

Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

Krivani Pillay of the infamous SABC 8 on Thursday told the commission of inquiry into state capture about the work environment at the broadcaster during Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s tenure as the corporation’s COO.

The name SABC 8 was given to a group of eight journalists in 2016 when they spoke out against what they called “censorship” under the leadership of Motsoeneng.

Motsoeneng had issued a directive banning the broadcast of violent protests across the country, which Pillay said she came to know of through a media statement on May 26, 2016.

The ban was subsequently discussed during the SABC’s Sunday show The Editors, where a panel of editors from various media houses discussed the news of the week, Pillay said.

During the show, Motsoeneng’s “bizarre” decision was heavily criticised, which did not go down well with the former COO who afterwards summoned Pillay, the executive producer of the show at the time, and Foeta Krige to a meeting on the following Tuesday.

The meeting was attended by Motsoeneng, his advisor, Pillay, Krige, the then acting SABC CEO Jimi Matthews, former SABC head of news Simon Tebele, head of radio news Sebolelo Ditlhakanyane, and then spokesperson of the broadcaster Kaizer Kganyago.

Pillay said that at the meeting, Motsoeneng said, among other things, the SABC was being cleaned up and that The Editors would be cancelled because it provided advertising for newspapers whose editors were invited on the show and that a failure to adhere to the instructions he had issued would result in dismissals.

Pillay said Motsoeneng’s statement caught her off guard and that when asked to provide empirical evidence why the show should be cancelled, Hlaudi was unable to give sound editorial reasons and to rationalise the decision.

The show was cancelled immediately, which Pillay said was an “awful” period, “it was the lowest point of my career”, she told the commission, adding that “I felt embarrassed, I felt like I let my team down … it didn’t sit well with me at all, I had sleepless nights”.

Pillay told the commission that with the assistance of her colleagues Jacques Steenkamp and Busisiwe Ntuli, who are also part of the SABC 8, a letter was drafted and sent to Motsoeneng questioning his decisions on the ban and cancellation of the show and the suspension of Krige and  Thandeka Gqubule-Mbeki.

“I only felt better once that letter was sent,” Pillay said.

Pillay also told the commission about the numerous emails and calls she received from “disgruntled” listeners following the cancellation of the show.

“They were very upset, they wanted the programme to come back,” Pillay said.

The letter subsequently led to Pillay, Ntuli, and Steenkamp being charged with allegations against them including bringing the SABC into disrepute, acts of misconduct, refusal to comply with instructions, and writing to Motsoeneng to raise concerns.

The chairperson of the commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, questioned why it would be a transgression raising work-related concerns.

Pillay responded by saying nothing made sense in the work environment at the time, saying: “I want to say it was the ramblings of a madman.”

Pillay, Ntuli, and Steenkamp were eventually sacked from the SABC on July 18, 2016.

Gqubule-Mbeki and another SABC 8 journalist, Mwaba Phiri, are expected to give testimony at the commission.

For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.