SABC gears up for workers' strike

Workers at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) plan to strike next week in a dispute over wages, threatening a nationwide television blackout for the first time since 1976, a union leader said on Friday.

Three unions representing about three-quarters of SABC workers this week won the right to strike after the Labour Court dismissed SABC’s application for a court order to stop the industrial action.

“We have given the SABC management a letter indicating that we’ll be embarking on a strike from July 6,” said Gallant Roberts, general secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU), which represents 30% of the SABC workforce.

The majority of South Africans get their news and entertainment coverage from SABC, which said in May it needed a R2-billion government bailout.

Its board was dissolved last week by Communication Minister Siphiwe Nyanda after nine members resigned amid an investigation into financial mismanagement. Parliament has also passed a vote of no-confidence in the board.

A five-member interim board for the SABC was proposed by Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications on Thursday.

The board, which includes former MTN executive Irene Charnley, Unisa academic Phillip Mtimkulu, media expert Libby Lloyd, advocate Leslie Sedibe and former communications committee member Suzanne Vos, would have to be approved first by the National Assembly and then by President Jacob Zuma.

Charnley was proposed as board chairperson and Mtimkulu as her deputy.

The board members would serve a six-month term. A permanent board would have to be selected by the committee within that time.

Opposition political parties, the Democratic Alliance, the Independent Democrats and the Congress of the People had initially supported Charnley, Lloyd, Sedibe and Vos.

They withdrew their support for the entire board after the ANC refused to drop Mtimkulu’s name.

‘Broadcasting will not be disrupted’
The unions have rejected SABC’s offer of an 8,5% wage hike, which they say breaches the promise of a 12,2% rise the corporation promised in a multi-term agreement.

CWU’s Roberts said other unions—the Media Workers’ Association of South Africa and the Broadcast, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers’ Union—have agreed to join in a strike.

“The strike will start with small pickets and go-slows before it becomes a complete stayaway in about a week,” said Roberts, adding the union would lobby for actors and presenters to join in the strike.

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said the public broadcaster expected the strike to begin on Monday.

“We cannot disclose the details of a contingency plan because people that are on strike will use that against us, but we assured the public that broadcasting would not be disrupted,” said Kganyago.

The global financial crisis-hit SABC, once the mouthpiece of the apartheid government, is under constant criticism about its editorial independence.—Reuters

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