Bayanda Mzoneli

About Bayanda Mzoneli

Bayanda Mzoneli is a public servant. He writes in his personal capacity.

One of the least known facts about Hlaudi Mostoeneng, the Chief Operations Officer (COO), of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) is that he started working for the SABC in 1993. That means Hlaudi has been with the company for 23 years.

The more known issue about him is that he is a COO who does not have matric. Some reports infer that he owes his COO position to his proximity to President Jacob Zuma, since anything perceived to be undesirable in South Africa is quickly pinned on him.

When Hlaudi was freelancing for the SABC’s Lesedi FM in 1993, President Zuma was the KwaZulu Natal ANC Provincial Chairperson and ANC National Deputy Secretary General. In spite of his intelligence background it is extremely unlikely that Comrade Zuma conspired in 1993 with Hlaudi that he (Hlaudi) must become an SABC freelancer at Lesedi FM so that when he (Zuma) becomes President in 2009 he (Zuma) could make him (Hlaudi) the COO.

After freelancing, Hlaudi later become an SABC employee, initially on contract and become permanent in 2005. He rose within the ranks. He initially acted in the COO position for 4 years before he was permanently appointed into the position in 2014.

If indeed Hlaudi does not have a matric, and has not made an effort to get it, then it is unfortunate. With Bra Sipho Hotstix Mabuse having acquired his matric recently, at over 60 years of age, it cannot be that late for Hlaudi to pursue it. Even Malema has silenced his critics in as far as his matric results are concerned by getting a Bachelors Degree. (Disclosure: the author of this text also only recently got his post-matric qualification)

Education is important. However, on the same breath, those who focus on Hlaudi’s lack of qualifications and overlook the fact that he has over 23 years of experience in the company are equally disingenuous, if not more.

In the South African context, there are probably many senior managers, both in the public and private sectors, who either have no matric or only have matric but have risen within the ranks of their organisation due to their experience. Those senior managers come from different races, but perhaps for historical reasons there is likely more white managers that would be without qualifications who have risen due to privilege.

On aggregate Hlaudi probably makes both good and bad decisions. As the COO perhaps his shrewdness, or some other trait, make his arguments win the day more often than those of the people who disagree with him be it in Exco meetings or in the board. It is unlikely that he makes decisions alone, on his own. But even if that were the case, it would be curious if 100% of decisions are not challenged by his fellow executives, employees, unions nor the board. In fact, suggesting that 100% of Hlaudi’s wishes end up decisions would, inadvertently, give him more credit instead of the intended discrediting.

One argument could be that perhaps the revolving door of CEOs and, to some extent, the boards, were because of him. However, a closer inspection of the timeline would reveal that the revolving door of senior leadership at the SABC had been revolving long before he became an executive. To suggest he had the same influence even before becoming an executive in 2010 would again be giving him too much credit that may be undue.

Experts agree that experts caused the global economic financial crisis in 2008. Fortunately for those experts, they had qualifications so no one could blame their lack of qualifications for the bad decisions they made that led to the financial crisis.

There are also probably a minority of CEOs, COOs, CFOs and Boards that make bad decisions both in the public and private sectors. Fortunately, most of them have qualifications so their bad decisions are explained using other variables such as circumstances outside their control.

Hlaudi has the misfortune that decisions he sponsors, which are unpopular are immediately attributed to his lack of qualifications. There is unclear evidence of whether his more qualified predecessors did any better than him, though he does suggest that they did not.

Like both the qualified and unqualified managers in different fields, Hlaudi is liked by some in and outside SABC but he is also disliked by others in and outside the SABC. Unfortunately for him, those who dislike him believe he is an idiot who must lose his job. Decisions sponsored by him are perceived as the manifestation of stupidity that the black government, not only condones but promotes. As such even some qualified blacks are embarrassed by Hlaudi.

Hlaudi persistently receives an unfair deal of coverage that feeds the perception of him as an unqualified moron who does not know what he is doing. In reality it is unlikely that a person can spend 23 years of his life not knowing what they are doing, but still rise within the ranks of the company.

It would be curious to observe how those who ridicule him have evolved in the past 23 years or would evolve in the next 23 years within their organisations or in their respective fields. It would also be interesting to find out whether those who criticise his lack of qualifications welcome it if their own mistakes are attributed to their qualifications not matching the positions they occupy, in cases where that holds.

The decisions he sponsors are often not evaluated on their merits but on the extent to which they prove how unqualified he is.

Some have ridiculed the decision he sponsored of the 90% local content. But industry realises the demand that decision will create which will benefit them, create jobs and reduce the balance of payment deficit that was contributed by the royalties paid to other countries. The same applies to the content decision for TV.

The people who enter economic debates and argue about the local economic development and buying from blacks to expand black industrialists ridicule a decision to have large percentage of local content at the SABC.

A decision by eNCA not to show images of the late Reeva Steenkamp was not ridiculed because whoever made it probably has matric and a degree. But if Hlaudi sponsors a decision not to show certain categories of violent protests, it is unacceptable censorship.

In a recent media briefing he pointed out that there was an emerging pattern where protesters call the journalist to come and record them as they burn property. That was the kind of coverage that he said was being discouraged. But since he does not have matric, journalists should comply when protesters call them to come record them burn property.

If indeed there was a decision not to report negatively about President Zuma, it would be an unhelpful decision, that probably even President Zuma himself would not approve of. But it would not be unique to SABC to take certain unhelpful decisions. It is probably a decision that, in time, will be reviewed, if it is true. Just as qualified people often make unhelpful decisions and reverse them later, Hlaudi is likely to sponsor some unhelpful decisions that would later be reversed.

In some circles, this text would instantly be labelled as “defending the indefensible.” Some would even go as far as losing respect for the author, if they had any, on the basis that he has taken it upon himself to defend what they perceive as mediocrity. In those circles respect is earned or retained by agreeing to the “obvious” conventional wisdom. Any deviation is stupidity. Merits or strength of the argument do not matter. Fortunately the author has no self-interest in the matter and hopefully that should count for something as his commentary should be viewed for what it is not an ingratiation attempt.

Due to the unrelenting nature of the anti-Hlaudi lobby, it is likely to triumph in its desire to see him fired. Hlaudi’s unfair deal would then reach its logical conclusion. How unfortunate.

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