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January 20, 2019

G-Spot: When a public servant taunts the taxpayers

The adage about power tending to corrupt has been playing out in South Africa in a very interesting way. For once, the main player is not  a politician, though he appears to have very powerful political godfathers.

The man making headlines is Hlaudi Motsoeneng, state broadcaster SABC’s group executive for corporate affairs (Geca). Until recently, he was the organisation’s chief operating officer (COO). 

Motsoeneng’s job began to attract national attention when the main opposition party kicked up a fuss over his qualifications. They claimed he had not passed his Matric (a term commonly used to refer to the final year of high school and the qualification received upon graduation, although, strictly speaking, it refers to the minimum university entrance requirements). Most jobs in South Africa, especially such senior positions, require applicants to have Matric.

The opposition took the matter to the courts and, while awaiting their day in court, Motsoeneng pulled a populist rabbit out of the hat when he decreed that the state broadcaster’s content would be 90 per cent local practically overnight. This move was instantly popular with local artistes, whose music and other creative output would dominate the airwaves.

At the same time, however, there were rumblings in the SABC of censorship instigated by the COO, who, hoping to please the government, declared the SABC would no longer screen violent protests in its news programmes. Journalists and producers who complained got fired.

The two moves divided the public, with some people siding with the COO for his 90 per cent local content move, and others angered by the censorship and claiming the COO was behaving as if he and not the taxpayers owned the SABC.

All along, Motsoeneng arrogantly dared anyone opposing him to try and take him on. Recently, the courts declared his appointment at COO was illegal, and the SABC board, which has backed their man all the way despite his lack of qualifications, moved him into his new job as Geca.

By this point, senior members of the ruling ANC and the government had come out calling for the man to be sacked and the SABC board quizzed about Motsoeneng. But in the tried and tested way of politicians and officials that Kenyans are used to, Motsoeneng is standing firm. He even wrote a letter to one of the Sunday newspapers last weekend, threatening those who oppose him with lawsuits and basically showing the middle finger to his opponents.

Motsoeneng’s story reminds me of Ezekiel Mutua, another official who revels in sticking his tongue out at the public that pays his salary. I wonder what makes them feel untouchable.

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