Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

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.”

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

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


Subscribers only

GDP, recession, JSE, rallying rand … these terms mean very...

The economy is not producing work, with many young adults working outside their fields of study or considering leaving the country as a result

More top stories

Europe, Asia rob West Africa of fish

Greenpeace Africa reports that the fishmeal and fish oil industry is ‘robbing the Gambia, Mauritania and Senegal of livelihoods and food’

Covid jab tech helps fight malaria

An estimated two-thirds of malaria deaths are among children under the age of five, most of them in Africa.

Learners moving to other provinces puts education departments under pressure

Gauteng and the Western Cape struggle to put children in class, but Limpopo and the Eastern Cape are closing schools as enrolment plummets

New membership system encounters problems in ANC branches

The Lower South Coast region has complained of a plot by some branch secretaries to manipulate the system

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…