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SABC retrenchment process set to be finalised on Friday

The retrenchment of 303 employees at the financially struggling SABC is set to be finalised by Friday 26 February, when a new organisational structure will also be presented to the board. On Tuesday SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini told the portfolio committee on communications of these developments while he was presenting the broadcaster’s annual report. 

The report was delivered amid a restructuring process that will result in 397 employees being retrenched.

“The process of retrenchment is underway. All those affected have been notified and served with letters. There are also over 70 people at the moment who have already taken the voluntary retrenchment option. The process of transitioning into the new structure for the SABC will be finalised this coming Friday,” Makhathini said.

Deputy Communications Minister Pinky Kekana said although the SABC has managed to proceed with the proposed retrenchments, there was still a long way to go. The organisation has put forward four alternatives as cost-saving measures. These will apply to the new structure, although this structure still needs the approval of the board and labour unions. 

“The unions have still to agree to this and our duty is to convince them to. Because if they don’t, we might find ourselves at square one, where we were talking about the retrenchment of 600 workers again,” Kekana said.

“Among the alternatives proposed is the freezing of salary increases for the next three years, reduction of leave days from 35 calendar days to 28 calendar days, [and] discontinuing the leave-encashment practice, which allowed staff members to convert leave into cash,” she said.

Kekana said the SABC would also consider using third-party companies to collect license fees as allowed by the Broadcasting Act.

“We should also increase SABC content online to follow the shift of advertisers. Currently we are also engaging GCIS [Government Communication and Information System] and asking them to channel government advertising to the SABC urgently,” she said. 

According to Kekana, the department of communications has also asked the president to assist with evaluating the public broadcaster’s funding model.

On finances, SABC chief financial officer, Yolande van Biljon, said the broadcaster is making steady progress in dealing with wasteful expenditure, which has hindered the organisation.

Portfolio committee member Princess Faku said the current position of the SABC is not a good reflection on the current board.

“Declining revenue and audience numbers mean that something is seriously wrong. The SABC must seek ways of attracting audiences outside of their platforms; the content the SABC offers has not [resulted in] the desired revenue. Also the engagement of labour unions is very important to avoid problems — it must be ongoing,” said Faku.

Faku also lambasted the slow progress of the broadcast digital migration and said it was partly to blame for the struggles faced by the SABC.

Chief executive Madoda Mxakwe, said the organisation is not where management wants it to be, but that they are working very hard to make sure it gets there.

“It must be  acknowledged that we took over a crippled organisation … when we took over two years ago; we have done well so far in stabilising the organisation,” said Mxakwe.  

Portfolio committee chairperson Makhosonke Maneli said the SABC should encourage the unions to seriously consider the suggested alternatives. However, he was concerned about the broadcaster’s expenses, such as R6-million spent on catering and over-using consultants during the skills-audit process.

“Our common goal is to stabilise the SABC and ensure that it does not collapse, while also considering the livelihoods of the workers affected. We should support the SABC in resolving [its] problems; more funding needs to be made available, as we had suggested previously,” he said. “The organisation must also reskill certain people to ensure the possibilities of them being absorbed [into a new role].” 

SABC spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo told the M&G: “The SABC is currently not in a position to respond to questions regarding section 189 [which deals with retrenchments] at this stage. In terms of the organisation’s performance, during the 2019-20 financial year, the public service broadcaster continued its journey to improve its internal controls and ensure that governance is restored in the organisation.

“During this period, the corporation was encouraged by a decline in year-to-year irregular expenditure of 40%, amounting to R202-million, compared to R336-million for the year ended 31 March 2019,” Seapolelo added. “Year-on-year fruitless and wasteful expenditure decreased by 87% to R27-million, with R26-million of that incurred from interest and penalties due to late payments caused by cash-flow constraints.”

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.

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