South Africa: ANC Changes Tune on SABC Board

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The political battle over the board and management of SABC has taken a new turn, The African National Congress (ANC) has backed down from its insistence that the speaker of the National Assembly should have a say in the appointment of SABC board members, and has agreed to change the Broadcasting Amendment Bill to remove this power.

The bill adopted a few months ago by the National Assembly required the national president to consult the speaker about the appointment of SABC directors, whereas at the moment this is exclusively a presidential power.

But the National Council of Provinces' (NCOP's) select committee agreed with opposition parties and civil society organisations that such a provision would violate the principle of the separation of powers between the executive and legislature. It would mean that Parliament usurped the powers of the executive.

ANC chief whip Khotso Khumalo said the status quo would be reinstated. The amended bill would be returned to the assembly's communications committee which would accept the NCOP amendments. Once adopted by the assembly and the NCOP, the bill would be sent to President Kgalema Motlanthe for signature.

The bill provides for the removal of directors either individually or as a collective. Khumalo said the ANC wanted this because the behaviour of board members continued to confirm the party's view that they were unsuitable for the role of directing the national broadcaster.

"We will continue our battle with the board because they have proved themselves worse than what we thought they were. The more we delay matters, the more we will delay taking action on the board," Khumalo said.

Once the bill became law -- which Khumalo hoped would happen before the end of next month -- the party would proceed with its vote of no-confidence in the board. Under the new law SABC directors can be removed on the recommendation of the National Assembly, acting on a finding of a parliamentary committee.

ANC members of the communications committee have been at loggerheads with the board since last year when they were forced by former president Thabo Mbeki to include the names of three of his supporters on the short list of candidates for the board, namely Christine Qunta, Gloria Serobe and Andile Mbeki.

Democratic Alliance (DA) communications spokeswoman Dene Smuts welcomed the ANC's decision to remove the "absurd" provision relating to the speaker. But she would still fight to change the clauses relating to the removal of directors which she believed were simply intended to facilitate the ANC's "purge" of the board.

Business Day (Johannesburg) 13 October 2008