SABC editors in clash of egos over DRC President botched interview

In front of their stunned colleagues, Mzwandile Mbeje, the SABC’s politics editor, and Sophie Mokoena, the public broadcaster’s international affairs editor, lashed out at  one another during a recent virtual diary conference.

The bust-up of the two senior staffers was captured in an audio clip that was shared among SABC employees.

In a truncated clip that Sunday World obtained, Mokoena can be heard scornfully criticising the public broadcaster for sending its political team, led by Mbeje, to cover Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) president Felix Tshisekedi’s inauguration.

Mokoena claimed that the public broadcaster’s DRC correspondent, whom she did not identify, would have done a better job.

This comes after Mbeje expressed his annoyance over the team’s inability to interview Tshisekedi and the subpar treatment that Tshisekedi’s disciples gave the SABC crew in the mineral-rich nation.

According to Mbeje, Tshisekedi’s lieutenant said the president was preoccupied with other heads of state who attended the event on January 20, rather than giving the SABC team an interview.

Mokoena requested to speak after Mbeje’s explanation, and when she was acknowledged, she attacked Mbeje.

“Ja, we have been duped, and I don’t understand how we fell into the trap. Tshisekedi did the same to [the SABC] politics [team] last year. That’s why it’s important that we talk,” said Mokoena.

“If I had a say, I wouldn’t have agreed because we have a team in the DRC and that guy [SABC correspondent] speaks French and Tshisekedi [also] speaks French; it would have been easy,” Mokoena added.

She claimed that the SABC was aware that Tshisekedi would not be speaking to them and that she had never witnessed a president make time to address reporters on the day of their inauguration.

“Even our own president [Cyril Ramaphosa] does those interviews after a few days because you have to clear your guests.

“Clearly, your priority [as the president] would be your guests. I think in the future, when we want to do international [stories], let’s talk, because, as some of us understand, we are battling in this terrain; it’s a rough terrain, and the DRC in particular because of security reasons, and his people are very unreliable [sic],” she said.

Mokoena further claimed that during their visit to the war-torn nation in  central Africa to cover the general elections, Tshisekedi treated her and her colleagues similarly.

Since the SABC correspondent in the DRC was up to the task, she stated, they should have been assigned to cover the event rather than Mbeje and
his team.

Mbeje became enraged and proceeded to tear her apart, accusing her of lacking the competence of her subordinates.

“Sophie, not everything is about you; not everything that is international, you are the only one who understands it,” said an irritated Mbeje.

“Some of us went to school, studied international relations, and some of us even reported internationally. You are not the only authority on international [stories]. It can’t always be [that] when there is something that you have an interest in, you want to direct and control [it].

“I am the political editor of the SABC; I can do any story – international, local, or whatever. As much as you contribute political stories to the country, I never
say anything.”

Mokoena’s implication that the SABC correspondent in the DRC could have performed better than him and his team infuriated Mbeje even more.

He charged: “We were supporting you and applauding you when you were in The Hague, and we knew very well that there were so many people capable, even from your own staff, who could have done even better than you did.”

SABC spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo said they don’t discuss internal newsroom matters.

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