I count acting CEOs in this number because they have become quite ubiquitous in our public service, both at the SABC and at a few other state-owned entities. In fact, the doors to CEO offices of parastatals have become like fast revolving turnstiles, laden with poisoned chalices. Those who agree to go through them do so at their own risk; they have to be mad, very greedy or very naïve.
Enter at own risk, know your blesser
Going into such positions is a huge gamble for naïve technocrats who do not know their political backers, blessers or, in crude Guptaesque arrangements, “pimps”, and rely solely on their technical skills and professional experience to make it through the turnstile.
It might work in other worlds, but not in ours. In this one, being armed with a management arsenal consisting only of academic qualifications, understanding the Public Finance Management Act, the Municipal Finance Management Act, and having read the latest King Report on Corporate Governance, is never enough.
It’s also a world where officials who try to do the right thing are more at risk of being suspended and fired than blessed wrongdoers.
But it is less of a risk for those who make sure to know who their blessers are and ensure to remain in constant touch with them or their representatives, the political “pimps”, for it’s also a world where the sands never stop shifting.
Political “pimps” represent the real blessers. They’re always armed with free passes into smoke and mirror rooms where real decisions are made. They know who makes the decisions, why such decisions are made, and who benefits from the outcome. But they also know whose presence they must always pretend never to be aware of, especially if that presence is a large hovering shadow that must be protected at all cost.
The blessed CEO must simply trust his or her “pimp”, understand his interests, and know which questions never to ask out loud, if at all. They must master the age-old art of looking the other way and should never expect the “pimp” to have any knowledge of the various corporate governance tools; that is not what they’re there for. In many cases, the “pimp” simply occupies a small part in an invisible chain of command, often on a need-to-know basis.
The “pimp’s” job is to ensure that the blessed CEO masters the art of camouflaging the blesser’s political orders in complex corporate governance language. To each a role is allocated; each has to deliver according to the script. CEOs who understand this basic arrangement often last very long in their positions. They even get shifted from one cushy CEO position to another in a different state-owned entity, often in time for the issuing of lucrative tenders.
Matlala may pocket R18m for keeping quiet
If everything goes according to plan, Frans Matlala will soon pocket a whopping R18m for keeping his mouth shut. After a mere four months in the job before he was suspended, he stands to gain what some already describe as the biggest Golden Handshake since Coleman Andrews walked away with just over R200m from SAA, back in 2001.
Going by media reports and corridor whispers, Matlala either failed to recognise “Fuhrer” Motsoeneg as his blesser or “pimp”, or became too big for his boots, ending up placing what could have been a carefully crafted political plan in jeopardy. His academic and professional pedigree was never in question.
Matlala would have casually walked through the turnstile, sure of his impressive professional pedigree; a graduate diploma in engineering, a BSc in chemistry, and an MSc degree all rolled up together with several years in senior executive positions at Standard Bank, African Life, FNB and South African Breweries.
He was also no stranger to the SABC. While working as a project manager and strategic adviser to the public – now arguably state/party – broadcaster, he was also a known supporter of “Fuhrer” Motsoeneng. It can be argued that the “Fuhrer” got him appointed in the same style former president Thabo Mbeki appointed his then deputy, a certain Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, without doubting that he’d become too big for his boots and want more.
Fearing that Matlala would cooperate with the National Treasury’s investigation into possible corruption and abuse of power, the “Fuhrer” got him suspended. Much was at stake; the “Fuhrer” is reported to have spent R40m on what was meant to be a brand new news studio set up for the SABC, which turned out to be a mere high tech desk and monitors even I would have refused to pay more than R50k for.
An insider told me at the time that 50% of the money would have gone to the buddy/middleman who found the desk – yes, that is a cool R20m for you! But the veracity of all this might never see the light of day if Matlala chooses the R18m silence over all else.
Matlala will not be the last one to be lost in this fashion; almost all state-owned entities have their lists of casualties, former professionals who are now sitting silent with their not-so-hard-earned tax payer millions.
Meanwhile, the SABC remains steadfastly captured and the seemingly well-meaning Jackson Mthembu’s hands are tied.