'Auckland Park is on fire!' MPs grapple with SABC crisis
"Auckland Park is on fire!"
This is how the Eric Kholwane, chairperson of the parliamentary oversight committee summarised the ongoing crisis at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) during a meeting in Parliament on Tuesday morning.
But Kholwane's ANC comrades in the committee did not see why urgent action should be taken by Parliament to address the crisis.
The portfolio committee on communications met on Tuesday to hear how the department of communications and its entities implemented recommendations previously made by the committee on a number of issues.
The SABC is one of the department's entities. Its senior managers were not present in Parliament as they were attending a meeting with Communications Minister Dina Pule to discuss the same crisis.
In the SABC's absence, Members of Parliament discussed ways to deal with the strife.
It was revealed in the meeting that Congress of the People (Cope) MP Juli Kilian had written to Kholwane asking the committee to prioritise a meeting with the SABC board and the shareholder (Pule) as early as next Tuesday to account "on what seems to be the breakdown of corporate governance in the broadcaster".
Recommendations by Cope
But ANC MPs would not hear any of it. "I don't think it would be correct to consider what is recommended by Cope. The letter should not be entertained," said ANC veteran and MP, Rosalia Morutoa. While another, ML Lesoma proposed that the committee deals with the matter "ordinarily as we deal with [our] oversight role".
Gregory Schneemann, also of the ANC, pointed out that the SABC was scheduled to appear before the committee after the recess period [in April].
"We will be discussing the issues of budget and the issues of strategic plan. I think those issues are inter-twined and are related. I suggest that we consider extending the amount of time they appear before the committee and as we consider the budget and the strategic plan, we deal with all the things that relate to the SABC on that given day," proposed Schneemann.
"I don't think any of us disagrees that there are challenges at the SABC. We would all agree on that," he added.
The Democratic Alliance backed the Cope proposal with its MP Marian Shinn saying it was reasonable.
"The SABC is in crisis. Perhaps the only people who aren't aware of that might be some of the previous speakers. The whole nation knows that the SABC is on fire right now and I think it's our prime responsibility to discuss what the problem is and drastically and urgently suggest remedial action," she said.
'There's a crisis'
Kilian also urged the ANC members to reconsider and allow the committee to have a discussion with the SABC and Pule by next week.
"We cannot sit here and pretend that Rome is not burning. We cannot just simply deal with those matters when we discuss the budget. There's a crisis at the SABC," she said.
"I would like to urge the members of the ANC: please reconsider the position and let us discuss it here because this is where it should happen, the only mechanism we have as Parliament is through this committee," added Kilian.
In closing the debate on the topic, Kholwane said: "If you have seen the past events, all is not well in Auckland Park. It's just on fire."
"Looking into the matter and prioritising it is what we are going to do. We are not downplaying the difficulty the SABC is facing now, and this committee will provide leadership," he said.