Hlaudi Motsoeneng is only an actor (from 2014)

When the SABC said ‘act­ing chief’, it meant …

Business Day, 

An­thony But­ler


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.”


Butler teaches politics at UCT

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