A New Dawn for South African Broadcasting

By Hopewell Rugoho-Chin’ono

Congratulations to my friend and former colleague Chris Maroleng for being appointed the new South African Broadcasting Corporation Chief Operating Officer. 

Chris Maroleng
Chris Maroleng

I was elated when he told me that he would be the next SABC COO, because I am aware of his competences and deep desire and love for Africa and storytelling.

SABC could not have wished for a better COO who understands the media landscape and broadcasting field and has the intellectual aptitude to drive this monstrous broadcasting entity into its rightful place in the world of broadcasting.

It has been extremely difficult for black broadcast professionals in South Africa to thrive, because the SABC was always saddled with incompetent ANC party cadres like Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who were totally at sea with what needed to be done to make SABC successful. 

On the other end of broadcast news and television sphere, SABC’s only serious competitor, eNCA, was rooted in a world racially skewed, a world where the whole management at one point was white, in a country where white people are only 9 percent of the population. 

I am glad that this is now changing, although be it slowly. 

This unfortunate state of affairs couldn’t instil confidence in black broadcast professionals who were at times bossed around by people with little or no broadcast qualification at all. 

Their only qualification was being white and well connected. 

That has been the reality of South Africa for many years and still is in many professional spheres to this very day.

Chris and myself sat on many nights on the bar counter in my home in Harare with Robert Shivambu and Themba Masango discussing the frustrations faced by black broadcasters in South Africa. 

We discussed our frustrations with how the pertinent changes were not taking place, both at SABC and at places like eNCA, where black professionals faced a bottleneck and were frustrated with the lack of legitimate upward mobility.

SABC has the potential of being the authentic leading broadcasting corporation on the continent and be able to challenge its competitors in the rest of the developing world.

There is a lot of work to be done, but if Chris is allowed to do it, SABC will finally be the broadcast benchmark and powerhouse to reckon with in Africa.

There is for instance, no need to have bureaus in New York and London, something ridiculous that SABC and eNCA have been doing. 

SABC must cover Africa with authority, integrity and honesty and leave Europe and America to Sky, BBC and CNN. They live there after all.

Africans must be the authoritative voice on covering African stories and producing award-winning material.

If they need to broadcast a big story, which would have broken in these places outside of Africa, they can get it through affiliate deals.

Africa must be covered adequately and SABC needs to take the ITV/ITN News route of not only breaking news, but also reporting in-depth on important news stories of our time on the continent. 

Chris Maroleng’s last broadcasting Job was Africa editor at eNCA, this in my view places him in a good space to assist in providing direction to the news desk. 

Unlike his predecessor, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, a man who had NO Matric/O Levels, Chris will have to instil professional confidence in the SABC staff that have long suffered from years of inadequate and appropriate leadership and schoolboy comical errors. 

Many people I know had stopped watching any of South Africa’s news stations because of lack of intellectual content to stimulate the mind.

I know that Chris will now give us a reason once more to start watching SABC again and help transform the South African media landscape by setting the bar high! 

Back home in Zimbabwe, this is an opportunity for our authorities to see that it’s important to appoint qualified and serious professionals at the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, if they are to be taken seriously. 

The new President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, promised a sea change, this change must not just be a statement of intention without delivery.

We got television in 1958 and South Africa only got television in 1976 and yet they are light years ahead of us in terms of quality and depth.

We can’t keep blaming Robert Mugabe for everything, we now want to see the changes that were promised being implemented.

The little screen is a good starting point to see whether there is change coming. We are tired of singing change is gonna come, let us see some traction on that front!

As for you Chris, don’t put your colleagues in harms way ever again. 

In 2008, Thabo Mbeki’s spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga called Chris to let him know that Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai had agreed on a Unity government deal.

Chris was the eNCA Africa editor and I was the field producer, we rushed to the Rainbow Towers in Harare where Thabo Mbeki was with Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara.

Chris Maroleng saw Robert Mugabe coming out of a room, where the talks were being held, Mugabe was with his full entourage, soldiers, police guards the full works.

I was holding my personal broadcast camera and out of legitimate excitement to get exclusive visuals of Mugabe, Chris used a broadcast term, which in broadcasting exclusively means the camera should start running, SHOOT!

He shouted, Hopewell Shoot! Realising what had just happened, I froze and just looked ahead. Robert Mugabe turned to his left side to look at Chris and myself, the veteran dictator simply waved at us.

I was so scared to move, but thankfully I did press the record button, it felt like an eternity moment.

We drove off to my home and couldn’t believe what had just happened and how the misunderstood meaning of what Chris meant could have made us meet our maker at the Rainbow Towers of all places.

Good luck my friend, all those nights of broadcast discourse whilst polishing my Single Malt at my bar must now inspire and deliver a broadcasting revolution in South Africa. 

I will be watching SABC from the same bar in my home and will not hesitate to send you a text message if I see any anomalies or need a hand up to replenish the bar.

I know that you will have loads of stories to tell on your new journey! Don’t just shout SHOOT when a president is passing.

Hopewell Rugoho-Chin’ono is an international awarding winning and Zimbabwean broadcast journalist and filmmaker.

He is a CNN African Journalist of the Year and a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and Desmond Tutu African Leadership Fellow at the Said Business School at the University of Oxford.

He was trained in Britain and holds degrees in International Journalism and Documentary Filmmaking.