Interference in SABC retrenchments was ‘improper’ — board chair



Efforts to stop the South African Broadcasting Coproration’s (SABC) retrenchment plans amounted to state capture-era political interference, the commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture heard on Monday.

During his appearance before commission, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini compared the frustrating of the SABC’s retrenchment plans to prior efforts to undermine the independence of the embattled public broadcaster.

“What resulted in the work of this commission doing the work that it is doing is still a reality for us. We are still living under those circumstances where you worry about your safety for just trying to do what is right,” Makhathini said.

“And what is the most frustrating things, at times, they will cover some of these things as ‘transformation’. They will label you as somebody who is against transformation, when they’re hiding corruption under transformation. Or they will label you as someone who is ‘gender insensitive’, just because they want to cover certain things, using gender and transformation.”

Makhathini recounted the political pushback experienced by the SABC board after it announced its plans to retrench more than 2 000 permanent workers and freelancers.

Towards the end of 2018, in a major cost-cutting effort, the public broadcaster announced it would be retrenching 981 permanent staffers and 1 200 freelancers. The proposed retrenchments were part of the SABC’s turnaround strategy after the broadcaster reported losses exceeding R1.5-billion for the past two years.

But in January, the proposed retrenchments were scrapped. Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams became a central figure in the impasse between the SABC and government that culminated in the resignation of four of its board members.

Makhathini said efforts by politicians to stop the SABC from implementing its turnaround strategy, which included the retrenchments, was “improper”.

“It’s okay to give inputs and alternatives, but you can’t just stop something without giving alternatives,” he said.

Makhathini was responding to questions by Zondo about supposed political interference at the SABC.

“The question that may arise relating to what you have told me is whether we may have a situation where at SABC, SABC had found a board that wanted to do the right thing and look after the interests of the SABC. And may have done a lot of work in good faith to try and make sure they make a difference in an institution that was going down,” Zondo said.

“But when they put on the table solutions that politicians may not have liked —maybe because there were elections coming — those politicians stopped them.”

We make it make sense

If this story helped you navigate your world, subscribe to the M&G today for just R30 for the first three months

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.”

Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

Eskom and unions reach wage agreement, workers back at work

The power utility warned that the system would take some time to recover because maintenance work had been postponed because of the unprotected strike

Start of State Security Agency R1-million theft case delayed

Thuso Oesi, a former SSA administrator accused of fraud, did not arrive in court for medical reasons

Why government would fall short of cash if the fuel...

But restructuring the Road Accident Fund levy would reduce pressure on consumers

Gordhan’s Eskom ‘blame game’ underwhelms ANC leaders

Sources at a meeting of the national executive committee said a call was made to shift the power utility to Gwede Mantashe’s ministry of minerals and resources

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…