Herbst: State-controlled media transformation – costing taxpayers billions | Fin24

Herbst: State-controlled media transformation – costing taxpayers billions

May 24 2016 19:20

By Ed Herbst*

In 1997 ANC spokesperson Joel Netshitenzhe, writing in the ANC publication Umrabulo defined transformation as “extending the power of the National Liberation Movement over all levers of power: the army, the police, the bureaucracy, intelligence structures, the judiciary, parastatal, and agencies such as regulatory bodies, the public broadcaster, the central bank and so on.”

When the ANC took control of the SABC in 1994 it was R185m in the black and two deployed cadres, CEO Zwelakhe Sisulu and Communications Minister Dr Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri subsequently praised the dignified and constructive way in which the apartheid-era SABC executives had assisted them in taking control.

20 July 2007 – President Thabo Mbeki launches SABC News International at Monte Casino in Johannesburg.

The channel aimed at providing an African perspective on domestic and international stories and would be, the head of news Snuki Zikalala boasted, “the African Al Jazeera”.

Global channel no-one can see

In his hubris Zikalala set up 12 international offices at an estimated cost of R20m each. The set up costs included a new R45m studio and an estimated annual operating budget of between R60m and R100m.

The “service” lasted exactly two years and eight months before closing down on 31 March 2010. At the time it was not earning any advertising revenue for a simple reason – it’s truly revolutionary business plan.

Anyone wanting to watch it needed a special decoder which was not available in South Africa – I know, I tried without success to buy one. Anton Harber predicted this even before the channel was launched and the headline was prescient: “A breakthrough in broadcasting: a global channel no-one can see?”

Nobody heeded the warning.

24 November 2009 – Communications Minister, Siphiwe Nyanda announces that Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan had approved the SABC’s application for a R1.5bn bailout.

Playing a singular role in the state broadcaster’s bankruptcy, along with frightening levels of corruption and mismanagement, was the cost of the short-lived “African Al Jazeera” – all of which demonstrated the efficient way in which the SABC  had been transformed into just another ANC trough.

We now, however, had a concrete financial figure of what the transformation of the SABC had cost the taxpayer in the ANC’s successful pursuit of controlling of “all the levers of power” – R1.5bn.

Fast forward to 12 April this year and a meeting of the Finance Standing Committee, when the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) and the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) handed out documents relating to their Annual Performance Plan for 2016.

Transformation of Independent Media

Thanks to the investigative reporting of James Myburgh who first revealed that no attempt had been paid to pay back any of the PIC loan to Dr Iqbal Survé’s Sekunjalo company or any of its accrued interest, the tenacity Democratic Alliance Shadow Minister of Finance, David Maynier and the bravery, honesty and integrity of the Deputy Minister of Finance, Mcebisi Jonas who insisted that Maynier’s questions be answered, we now know how much the transformation of Independent Media will cost us.

In gaining control of “all the levers of power” at the company controlling the majority of the influential English newspapers, the ANC has cost ordinary tax paying South Africans much what gaining control of the SABC did – in excess of a R1bn. But, in this case, the burden will fall on the hundreds of thousands of civil servants in the country.

Ed Herbst is a pensioner and former reporter who writes in his own capacity.

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