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SABC board rocked by resignation

 The new SABC board has hit its first crisis, with the sudden resignation this morning of one of its members, Rachel Kalidass.

Kalidass, a chartered accountant nominated for the board by all political parties, has released an explosive letter to President Jacob Zuma explaining why she has taken the decision.

Controversial CEO candidate

Her main concern, according to her letter, is the board’s preferred candidates for the SABC’s Group Chief Executive Officer (GCEO) and Chief Operating Officer (COO) positions.

In a separate development, the spokesperson for the Democratic Alliance (DA) Phumzile van Damme has named the GCEO candidate who has caused the trouble as Alan Mukoki, former chief executive of the Land Bank and current chief executive of the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci).

“After receiving the handover report presented by the interim board, the new board interviewed the proposed GCEO and COO candidates at the offices of the recruitment agency, Talent Africa, on the evening of October 31,” writes Kalidass, adding that “these were the first choice candidates previously submitted to former Minister Ayanda Dlodlo but not finalised upon completion of the interim board’s term.”

She says she objected to the choice of Mukoki at once: “Despite the GCEO candidate having allegations of fraud and corruption levelled against him during his previous employment, as well as a conflict of interest with a significant SABC content service provider, the majority of board members were in favour of having him appointed as the SABC GCEO. I specifically requested for my dissenting view to be recorded, which was received with great hostility by some of the board members present.”

Mukoki was the subject of an Amabhungane investigation in the Mail & Guardian into businessman Roux Shabangu in 2011. The report dealt with “plundering and mismanagement of the Land Bank between 2006 and 2008” and in particular almost R1 billion worth of allegedly dodgy loans made under Mukoki’s watch. Mukoki’s complaint to the Press Ombud about the story was dismissed.

With regards to the conflict of interest raised by Kalidass, Mukoki is married to award-winning businesswoman Johanna Mukoki (nee Makgalemele), sister of Basetsana Kumalo. Both sisters have produced television for the SABC, with Basetsana’s successful company Tswelopele Productions still providing core content, such as Top Billing, to the SABC.

The DA has the following to say about Kalidass’ claims that Mukoki is being pushed by the board for the position: “While eminently qualified, Mukoki’s history in the public sector makes him an inappropriate choice. A 2007 Deloitte & Touche forensic audit commissioned by the then minister of agriculture, Lulama Xingwana found that Mukoki and his executives had without board approval, diverted almost R2 billion meant for emerging farmers towards projects that had nothing to do with agriculture, including luxury golf estates, a sugar mill, equestrian estates and residential developments. Some of the beneficiaries of irregular loans were Mukoki’s business associates; and high ranking ANC politicians and benefactors. Mukoki resigned and was given a R4.5 million golden handshake. A few months later the Land Bank was placed under administration and transferred to the National Treasury. The then finance minister, Pravin Gordhan described it as being ‘in ICU’. Given this history, it is absolutely unfathomable why anyone in their right mind would think Mukoki suitable to be the GCEO of the SABC.”

Mukoki responded to questions sent by City Press this morning with the following statement: “I cannot comment on the SABC as you know I am employed at Sacci. However, the general issues raised relating to the Land Bank have been in the public domain since 2007, and were dealt with and concluded in 2007 already.

“Here are the facts: I as then Land Bank CEO with the executives, did not issue any loans without board or shareholder approval. That allegation was patently untrue and false. The so-called Deloitte forensic report was found to be flawed and it was also irregularly procured. Precisely because of the aforementioned reasons the Deloitte report was itself rescinded by cabinet at its cabinet meeting of the December 5 2007. This is a matter of public record.

Former minister Xingwana herself had told Parliament in 2008 that she was advised by her lawyers not to release that Deloitte report, as the report would attract civil damages claims from those mentioned therein, due to the irregularities in that report. I am sure whoever is interested in the facts can check the parliamentary records in this regard.”

Pressed for a response on the issue of a conflict of interest, Mukoki said, “That’s a non sequitur. I do not work for the SABC.”

Blowing the whistle

Kalidass has served on the SABC board before, where she was unlawfully removed in 2015 for opposing the permanent appointment of the controversial Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

During her parliamentary interview for the current board she was warned to speak up sooner if she encounters questionable activity on the board. She says in her letter that this is what drove her to resign: “During my interview for appointment to the SABC board I undertook to raise concerns around the SABC with honourable members of the portfolio committee on communications, and depending on the severity of the matters, elevate these concerns to Parliament and the deputy president.”

Conflict on the board

Kalidass, who was not willing to talk to City Press about her resignation, also claims in her letter that the new SABC board agreed “to set up a ‘cleaning up committee’ of board members with media experience, which would respond to the anticipated ‘bad publicity’ following this appointment.”

She writes that she contacted ANC MP Mondli Gungubele because a former board member had recommended she tell him of her concerns. But that didn’t sit well with the board.

At a meeting of two of the board’s sub-committees on November 6 Kalidass says she was “verbally attacked by board members present for, inter alia, ‘leaking board information to parliament’. Board member Khanyisile Kweyama indicated that she had received a call from the member of Parliament concerned, indicating that I had made various statements, including informing Parliament of the board’s confidential process. The board chairperson and members present instructed that such disclosures should have first been authorised by the board, and they considered such action to constitute a breach of confidentiality and fiduciary responsibility if not. This conclusion by board members has impacted negatively on the commitment I made to Parliament and the country.

“Given this fundamental difference of opinion between me and many of the board members, I feel that it would be best to resign with immediate effect, as opposed to being side-lined and victimised, which I feel is now occurring.”

Asked for comment, Gungubele said: “My approach is that I choose not to deal with the matter in the press.”

Asked for further comment this morning, Van Damme said: “It is deeply worrying that the decline at the SABC is following the same pattern as it did with the previous board. Motsoeneng was forced through despite objections from some board members, some board members resignations or where they were dismissed following their objections, resulting in a terminal downward spiral culminating in the SABC inquiry. The SABC is showing all the signs of going down that same road, unless the decline is arrested immediately.”

City Press is still awaiting comment from the SABC.

* This is a developing story and all responses and developments will be updated here.

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