29 September 2019
The departure of ‘acamedic (sic) lecture (sic)’ was meant to signal a new dawn
Taking up a role as an adviser to powerful, all-knowing people can be one of the most difficult tasks in life. It becomes worse when the powerful, all-knowing leader believes himself to be smarter than evidence suggests.
No one fits the bill better than Hlaudi Motsoeneng – and, of course, many others in politics and corporate South Africa with better articulation but who, in essence, are not very different to him.
Let’s park that for now.
Working with these powerful, all-knowing, my-word-is-final types can drive avowed teetotaller spokespersons and advisers to drink. Ke kgomo ya moshate, they say in sePedi.
Whoever is responsible, for example, for advising the Old Mutual board of directors on how to manage its Trevor Manuel ego-instigated game of one-upmanship with chief executive Peter Moyo is in a very precarious yet interesting position.
It is either they tell the board the truth and the board chooses to ignore sound advice or they adopt an auto-pilot approach in terms of which “the board must just take whatever decisions it deems fit and regardless of what it is,
I will put my big-person undies on and ensure that it is communicated to the best of my ability”.
Whether the message is understood or not, whether there is buy-in from stakeholders or not – understanding and buy-in are very key in stakeholder management – does not matter.
You know it is tough in the boardroom when Old Mutual loses four court bids in succession but is still, for reasons not obvious to judges and society in general, determined to spend investors’ funds in what government calls fruitless expenditure.
Surely it ought to be tough.
When former board member Pinky Moholi decided to quit suddenly, surely that conscience was wreaking havoc in her life. No?
One other person who must be relishing his rest from spinning nonsense is Kaizer Kganyago, that humble and good guy who spent a good part of the end of his 13-year contract at the SABC making sense of the uncoordinated things that came out of Motsoeneng’s mouth. For quite a while, Kganyago would try to “clarify” some public relations disaster created by the intellectual “lecture” (sic).
When the self-avowed “acamedic (sic) lecture” left the SABC’s faulty towers, a new board was brought in and, importantly, a new acting spokesperson, Vuyo Mthembu was elevated, a new dawn was in full swing – or so we thought.
But the SABC remains dogged by controversy, with staff members challenging the fumbling new group CEO Madoda Mxakwe openly, accusing him of amateurishly plotting the downfall of colleagues in the presence of others. Until last week, I thought the SABC was an organisation in a perpetual state of flux with the pains of change spilling out in public.
On Thursday last week, though, our reporter Aubrey Mthombeni, who has focused sufficient attention on how this important public broadcaster is managed, sent questions to Mthembu about a memo by two board members asking for Mxakwe to be investigated.
Mthembu, in her wisdom, we believed, advised the SABC to issue a statement instead of responding to our media enquiry. Are there still PR people who think this is an effective way of “killing” a story?
The SABC news team, that tribe of “independent” journalists, independently applied their minds to this PR exercise and ran reports on various platforms, condemning the leaking of SABC board memos without telling listeners what is contained in the memo.
Mthombeni was livid. “This is unethical. I can’t believe they’d stoop this low!” he complained.
The reason behind his disappointment was because we tried to do the right thing. We gave the SABC and Mthembu sufficient time to respond to our query, consult the board, engage the best PR consultants, if necessary, but treat our enquiry with requisite professionalism. It was not to be.
The all-powerful, all-knowing, articulate current versions of Motsoeneng decided and made the decision, and poor Mthembu had to implement it, even if, we suspect, she knew this was wrong.
So how does she tell us with a straight face to make our enquiries with her on time in the future?
If she knows that the decision of the group CEO is wrong, what is her responsibility, as the person on whom he must theoretically rely for expert counsel, when he tells her to precipitate a PR blunder?
Does she, like those who can’t say anything until Manuel accepts that he has no case against Moyo, simply keep quiet and do as she is told?
What irritated me more about this is that I know that Kgalema “DK” Mohuba, a very knowledgeable former group executive of communication and marketing at the University of Limpopo, who is also an SABC board member, is intermittently involved in helping douse the fires at the public broadcaster.
And this PR gaffe happens in spite of his involvement?
I also know that Mary Pappaya, a seasoned and respected journalist who is also a board member, ought to have known that this is not how you manage media relations.
Mxakwe too ought to know that this is a basic no-no. While I initially thought he is a man on a clean-up mission that must be supported, I found myself asking if Mxakwe is not an articulate, polished, modern-day version of Motsoeneng.
I hope I am wrong.