SABC ‘haemorrhaging from every pore’

Massive debts and a spate of top-level resignations have pushed the South African Broadcasting Corporation to near-collapse, threatening a network once styled as the voice of the country’s democracy.

The resignation of eight of the SABC’s 12 board members as well as its chairperson in recent weeks are just the latest in a string of scandals plaguing the debt-ridden broadcaster.

The board no longer has enough members to take binding decisions. Workers are on strike over a pay dispute, independent producers fume over lack of payment and a deadlock over how to proceed means no decisions are being taken at any level.

“If the board does not function, the SABC does not function. The legal constraints and protection of its own statutes mean that if the board does not meet, the SABC literally grinds to a halt,” said board member Alison Gillwald.

She was addressing Parliament’s communications committee, which on Thursday opened an inquiry into what committee chairperson Ismael Vadi termed a “lack of effective corporate governance”.


Gillwald said members had resigned in the middle of an incomplete audit process. The hamstrung board cannot now take decisions on salary increases or on critical expenditure for coverage of the Soccer World Cup.

The SABC is crippled by over $800-million in debt and is seeking a R2-billion cash injection from the government.

Newspaper reports have outlined R40-million owed to producers, threatening to sink popular local soap operas, the network’s bread-and-butter advertising vehicles.

Even Parliament seems unsure how to proceed, with the committee struggling to agree whether the enquiry should continue and where the blame lay for the rot at the SABC.

Television only came to South Africa in 1976 as the Calvinist apartheid government feared the medium’s influence on its segregationist rule. Once TV arrived, the government used it purely as a propaganda tool.

After the transition to democracy in 1994, the SABC became one of the most visible signs of the new nation, with a new cast of multiracial presenters broadcasting in all 11 official languages.

Now the SABC is accused of being a propaganda outlet for the African National Congress. Around this year’s elections, the network yanked a documentary about political satire that included cartoons of President Jacob Zuma.

Similarly, a documentary on former president Thabo Mbeki never made it to air, while the network was outed in 2006 for blacklisting commentators critical of the government.

In 2008, scandal arose again when chief executive Dali Mpofu was suspended for insubordination, just hours after he had suspended the head of news as tensions rocked a heavily divided board.

Shortly thereafter the previous administration sped through controversial legislation allowing government to dissolve the board, which would be appointed by the president and speaker of the National Assembly.

Mpofu, who also appeared before Parliament this week, said the SABC was in a crisis of “the highest magnitude”.

Opposition parties and the ANC were united in slamming the SABC for what they say is outlandish spending and failure to perform its function.

Mpofu told the committee that protecting the jobs of the more than 4 000 SABC workers was vital. The workers were, he said, “sitting at a public institution on auto pilot, with no leadership”.

Parliament will summon more board members to explain themselves so they could decide whether to dissolve the board, or appoint interim members to salvage the network.

“It is haemorrhaging from every pore,” Gillwald said. “It is unable to perform its basic duties.” – AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

SABC staff ready to join picket line

The national broadcaster has rejected claims that it did not follow correct retrenchment and audit processes

SABC plans to retrench 600 employees

Broadcaster cites “poor sales effectiveness, ineffective commercial product, old pricing models and inadequate technology infrastructure” as driving cuts

Ex-manager says Maroleng was on SABC dismissal ‘hit list’

Allegations have surfaced in court papers that the state broadcaster’s former head was purposefully pushed out by chief executive Madoda Mxakwe and board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini

SABC sued over ‘bad’ clip of Ramaphosa

A senior employee at the public broadcaster wants compensation for claims of ‘sabotage’

The sabotage that wasn’t at the SABC

There is no evidence to support the broadcaster’s claim that its employees had co-ordinated a plan to botch the president’s speech

Editorial: Capture virus hits again

State Security Agency still cannot produce the security clearance certificate required for the incumbent, Baptiste Dungu, to occupy the top post at the Onderstepoort Biological Products
Advertising

Ingonyama Trust Board moves to retrench staff

More than 50 workers at the Ingonyama Trust Board have been issued section 189 notices

Tito needs the IMF, South Africa doesn’t

The IMF loan is given with false motivation — to provide political cover for entrenched neoliberalism and deep cuts in the public service

No proof of Covid-19 reinfection, yet

Some people report testing positive for Covid-19 after initially having the disease and then testing negative. Scientists are still trying to understand if this means that reinfection is possible
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday