THE furore surrounding South African Broadcasting Corporation ( SABC) chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng took an unexpected turn this week. At a media briefing at the SABC’s Auckland Park headquarters, a spokesman for the corporation revealed that the appointment of Motsoeneng as “acting” chief operating officer in 2011 had resulted in a great deal of unnecessary public confusion.
“Motsoeneng is not a real person,” the spokesman explained. “He is just an actor — the lead in a pilot soap opera launched by SABC in 2011”.
Media studies scholars yesterday confirmed that the corporation’s claims are credible. “The character exhibits all the hallmarks of a soapie lead,” one widely respected source told reporters. “He overacts and gets involved in implausible moral conflicts.”
One early episode depicts the character launching a surreal campaign for 70% of all news stories to be positive. “When you deal with positive stories,” the Motsoeneng character is made to say, “you are building a nation. You are building the future of the kids.”
As the season unfolds, script writers place their hero in comical situations that could not possibly arise in the real world. In one farcical instalment, a character called “Queenie” Madonsela recommends disciplinary action against Motsoeneng for falsified matric qualifications. In another, Motsoeneng gives himself three pay rises in a year until his salary implausibly tops R2.87m — more than a real state president earns.
On one occasion, Motsoeneng holds a media briefing in response to a skills audit by PwC showing that SABC managers lack “strategic thinking skills”. The character explains that PwC did not use “real tests” and that it is fine for an SABC finance administrator to possess only a diploma in beauty therapy.
Perhaps the silliest instalment of all involves a supposed “Venda king”, Toni Mphephu Ramabulana, who expresses outrage when the Motsoeneng persona is given a gift of a cow, a calf and a wife, while on a visit to the fictional town of Thohoyandou.
Media analysts observe that this plotline allowed creative directors to put 10 bare-breasted young women on screen at one time, something that would not otherwise have been permitted under the SABC’s strict code of conduct.
Media professionals have slammed the general public for its credulity when it comes to the “SABC” portrayed in the series. In one surreal episode, the actor depicting SABC board chair “Ellen Zandile Tshabalala” tells fellow board members that their phones are being tapped by national intelligence, and that they had better stay loyal to the ruling party. “No public broadcaster in a real democracy would bar opposition advertisements in the run-up to an election,” a critic added. “And no editor could cover up a crowd booing the state president at a national icon’s memorial service.”
Why did the SABC keep the public in the dark for so long about Motsoeneng’s fictional status?
“We got confused,” one insider explained. “Menzi Ngubane (who has played ruthless businessman Sibusiso Dlomo in the troubled Generations soapie) became deputy state president. We lost track of the difference between truth and fiction.”
In order to compete, SABC’s rivals such as ANN7 and Independent Media have had to introduce their own blends of fact and fiction. But recent “factional” creations, such as “businessman” Iqbal Survé and “talk show host” Jimmy Manyi, have so far attracted few public admirers.
In Auckland Park, meanwhile, a new soapie called “Mining House” is moving towards production.
It depicts sex, violence and moral ambiguity in the mines. It will feature heart-throb actors, such as Bobby Godsell and former trade union leader Zwelinzima Vavi, playing themselves as the dramatic struggle between capital and labour unfolds.
“We have conceptualised it as an historic docudrama,” an SABC creative consultant explained.
“It will help our children to understand what the country was like before all the resources companies moved overseas.”