Former SABC board chair Dr Ben Ngubane on Monday told the chairperson of the commission of inquiry into state capture that the Guptas’ The New Age (TNA) was not given preferential treatment when a contract was signed to broadcast TNA Business Breakfast shows.
Ngubane said the news division within the SABC thought the idea of the shows was novel and would be beneficial to the broadcaster and that any other media house may have pitched a similar proposal to the corporation and if it were appealing, it would have been taken up.
Ngubane added that “it wasn’t really a case of preferring” the Guptas’ TNA and that the shows helped with improving advertising sales, “so these programmes were, therefore, adding value”.
Ngubane said the board was not involved in the negotiations between TNA and the SABC.
He told the commission that he had attended a number of the shows where he met TNA staff and members of the Gupta family and that on a few occasions he attended social events hosted by the Guptas.
Ngubane said when he joined the board in 2010 when retired General Siphiwe Nyanda was the minister of communications and Pravin Gordhan was the minister of finance, the SABC was in a dire financial situation.
This led to the broadcaster obtaining a government guarantee of R1.64 billion in 2010 for a five-year term.
“So we came into an organisation that was technically insolvent,” Ngubane said.
“We found a dysfunctional organisation,” he added, where there was widespread malpractice at management level as well as widespread corruption in the buying and procurement of international films.
“The SABC we came to was under serious financial stress,” Ngubane said.
The government guarantee had “onerous conditions” which the SABC had to meet, which including implementing a turnaround strategy, reducing the “headcount” at the broadcaster, implementing cost-cutting measures, and reducing benefits to senior and middle management which were at around R200 million and “hugely expensive”, Ngubane said.
Gordhan had pointed out that since retrenchment would be a difficulty, reducing benefits due to senior and middle management would be another way of reducing costs, Ngubane said.
Furthermore, the board took a decision to not renew managers’ contracts which were coming to an end.
“There were managers who were reporting to other managers, we eliminated that surplus,” Ngubane said.
Other austerity measures that were implemented included the elimination of the SABC’s international bureau, budgets being cut and the use of petrol cards being changed “because they were absolutely abused”.
Ngubane said the SABC at the time had lost its sports rights, purchasing rugby and PSL games from SuperSport.
Former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng successfully negotiated with PSL chairperson Irvin Khoza for the broadcaster to regain the rights.
Ngubane said during his time as board chair there had been no political pressure on him and there had been no pressure from the private sector either, or “outside influence”.
Watch the proceedings live courtesy of the SABC: