SAfm run like ‘community radio’, not a national station

The situation at the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s key news radio station, SAfm, is allegedly so bad that employees are writing anonymous emails of complaint to SABC chief executive Madoda Mxakwe.

One email, seen by the Mail & Guardian, said: “I would like to bring very disturbing matters concerning SAfm, the situation there does not seem to be improving due to the leadership vacuum that is incessant.” The station has had three acting managers.

The email continued: “The staff morale is down and to be honest Mr Mxakwe we are tired of the bad, unstable leadership we’ve had to endure for the last three years.”

The churn started in 2017, after the resignation of then station manager Dennis O’Donnell. The letter says he had joined SAfm in 1995 and took over as manager in 2007.

According to sources with intimate details on what is going on at the talk radio station, SAfm has been operating like a “community radio station” since O’Donnell’s resignation, with different people being brought in to take on the role of station manager.

One source said one of these manager had abused his power by doing things such as bringing a steady stream of women into his office, with the insinuation that this carries.

And when these managers did resign, it would be under mysterious circumstances.

The email pointed to the importance of SAfm as the national news service and its low listenership: “A national station with under 200 000 listeners is quite a disgrace.”

As a solution, the email writer suggested the path taken to transform SABC News: “The station needs managers from outside of the SABC whose business is to lead and motivate staff to perform to the best of their ability, the kind of leadership that SABC News has in Phathiswa Magopeni.”

A freelance producer at the station, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said SAfm has problems. “There are indeed issues at the station that are being kept under wraps. Some of those include employees doing as they please at the station and this affects how things run.”

SABC’s spokesperson, Mmoni Seapolelo, denied knowledge of low staff morale at the station.

“The corporation has used its policies and internal processes to place suitably skilled and qualified personnel to lead SAfm on an acting basis, as it did with the other five radio stations that did not have station managers last year.”

This, she said, came with a “lengthy recruitment moratorium” between 2018 and 2019. “When the moratorium was lifted at the end of last year, the recruitment process for the station manager of SAfm commenced and a suitable candidate is yet to be identified.”

Seapolelo added: “The SABC can confirm that the current listenership of SAfm is 193000. This signifies a 30% growth in the last three years”.

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is an Open Society Fellow in Investigative Reporting at Wits University. Currently spending six months with the Mail and Guardian in the Investigations desk. He started journalism with Independent Media’s vernacular publication, I’solezwe LesiXhosa in East London. He has freelanced for publications such as GroundUp and Workers World Media.

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