Hlaudi’s reign an ominous signal about who will get Thuli’s job

“PUBLIC participation is not just a nice to-do,” said Makhosi Khoza, as she assured the public about the integrity of the selection process to appoint the new public protector to replace the outgoing Thuli Madonsela.

Khoza is an MP for the party-in-government, and chairs the ad hoc committee set up to oversee the selection process.

A PhD holder with a fine mind, Khoza promised transparency and inclusivity: “We will allow members of civil society to submit questions for the candidates.

“The process is going to be very transparent and there will be no under-carpet deals here.”

Khoza’s comments are laudable. One has no reason to doubt her sincerity. And, the political climate appears agreeable to the appointment of a deserving candidate. Everyone now claims to support the Office of the Public Protector and agrees that its recommendations are binding.

Even President Jacob Zuma is said to regret ignoring Madonsela’s recommendations and inciting a mob against her.

That’s nice. But, it’s still early to believe in the sudden conversion to good behaviour.

And incidents elsewhere suggest the presidential contrition may have been faked. Consider, for instance, what is happening at the public broadcaster. Hlaudi Motsoeneng, against whom Madonsela had adverse findings, is still at the SABC.

I still can’t figure out what position exactly Motsoeneng holds there, and whether he’s permanent or acting, but he’s certainly in charge. Yet, Madonsela found that Motsoeneng was undeserving of an executive appointment at the public broadcaster. He doesn’t even have a matric.

Madonsela made the finding more than two years ago. Instead of complying, Motsoeneng resisted, employing a combination of legal challenges and trickery.

When Motsoeneng couldn’t get his way in court, he got the Minister of Communications, Faith Muthambi, not only to convene a quasi-disciplinary hearing that swiftly exonerated him, but also to reaffirm his appointment.

I suppose those tricks were understandable given what was happening at the time. The president too was involved in similar shenanigans, cheered on quite enthusiastically by his own party. Defying the public protector was “a revolutionary act”!

Today, while defying the public protector is supposedly out of fashion, Motsoeneng remains in his post – still without the qualifications.

And he has not remained quietly in that job. Motsoeneng is making headlines defiling our democracy and reshaping our cultural identity.

Protesters setting property ablaze will no longer be shown on public television. Motsoeneng figures such visuals will incite similar violent behaviour elsewhere.

Public fury, Motsoeneng wants us to believe, lacks authenticity. People just want to be on his television, he says. This is absolutely absurd. Violence is not an uncommon manifestation of public rage, whether in Paris, London or in New York. It’s an emotional reaction to official indifference, if not injury. Television has nothing to do with it.

This kind of reasoning is not only twisted, but corrodes our democracy. By its very nature, democracy accepts – and welcomes – the possibility of public protest, whatever its manifestation. This is not an aberration, but typical of democracy. Power is prone to abuse.

Whist some protests may be opportunistic, others serve to attract attention to abuse and force corrective measures. Violence is unfortunate but not always avoidable.

But, to expunge violent visuals out of news broadcasts creates an imaginary reality. It is censorship and just not smart.

That explains why Motsoeneng couldn’t provide logical answers when confronted by callers on Sakina Kamuwendo’s radio show recently.

And, his reasoning had now stretched to arguing that visuals of burning schools traumatised children. This was discovered, Motsoeneng added, through research, which also revealed that people wanted such visuals off the screen.

When pressed on the veracity of the supposed research, Motsoeneng couldn’t say who was sampled, or explain the methodology or point listeners to the research findings. Then he quit the hour-long show, after only 15 minutes.

Kaizer Kganyago, the spokesman for the SABC, was hauled in to redeem his boss. He didn’t do any better. Instead of shedding light on the research, he added to its mystery.

“Research is not only done through scientific methods”, he protested, adding, “We also do our research amongst our people”.

How was this research done and who were “our people”? Kganyago couldn’t answer.

The man, who Madonsela said should be fired, is clearly not vacating his office. Instead, he’s emboldened.

The ANC, which claims to respect the public protector, is complicit in Motsoeneng’s continued defiance of Madonsela’s recommendations.

Minister Muthambi has had numerous opportunities to fire Motsoeneng, following multiple rulings against him. Now the ANC is even applauding his censorship of the public media.

Censorship saves the party from embarrassment, as the violent protests also highlight poor service delivery.

Motsoeneng is clearly increasing his value to the party-in-government. He is assisted by it being the current electoral period.

The ANC doesn’t have a “good story to tell” in order to stem further haemorrhaging in the local elections.

Without “a good story to tell”, Motsoeneng has decided he’ll block out criticism of government.

That is why newspaper editors are no longer invited on Sunday mornings to discuss events of the past week. They speak the truth. This upsets Motsoeneng, as it hurts the party-in-government.

While protecting the image of his party, the significance of the public has diminished in Motsoeneng’s eyes. This man thinks very little of the public. Not only has he decided what people can or cannot see on television, he’s now decided what they should listen to on Sundays. Soul music has been part of black people’s Sunday ritual, as far back as I can remember. But, Motsoeneng has decreed that American ballads should only make up 10% of the music played on Sundays. He doesn’t care what people are accustomed to or prefer.

This has changed the entire Sunday experience.

Fortunately, private radio stations are respectful of their listeners’ tastes and the commercial value they bring. Listeners have deserted radio stations like Metro for 702. Whoever thought black people would be listening to 702 on a Sunday?

Motsoeneng is a product of the ANC. He‘s serving the party, delivering only good news to the public. All this is happening in defiance of Madonsela’s recommendations. This can only mean that the ANC does not respect the Office of the Public Protector. If they did, they would not only be embarrassed by Motsoeneng, but would have fired him long ago.

Khoza’s reassuring words are all well and good. She probably means them. But, this is Zuma’s ANC we’re dealing with. It’s an enemy of probity.

They just reminded us of that when they dropped the probe into the allegations of the Gupta’s unbridled influence on the executive and excessive gain of business deals.

Why would Zuma’s ANC appoint another Thuli Madonsela? The public protector has just taken up the investigation into the Gupta allegations. An independent public protector will reveal all the skeletons Bathabile Dlamini says she and her colleagues have hiding in the closet. Why would they allow that?

Don’t be fooled by the sweet talk. An independent public protector is bad news for Zuma’s ANC. They’re going to insist on appointing a sycophant. Brace yourself!

Mcebisi Ndletyana is Associate professor of political science at the University of Johannesburg and a Fellow at MISTRA.

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