Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Resuscitate the public broadcaster

Back in November, we voiced our loathing for the greedy and corrupt people who stripped the SABC of its integrity. “It isn’t those at the top who pay for their own mistakes,” we wrote. “The brunt, cruelly, is felt by people on the lower rungs of the corporate ladder.”

That prognosis was fully realised last month. More than 600 people were retrenched by the national broadcaster — 346 were compelled to take voluntary severance packages, and the positions of 275 others no longer exist.

The public broadcaster said that some employees went through the recruitment process to seek alternative opportunities but were unsuccessful. The fact that this has been the long-term plan is unlikely to ease the pain for those affected.

The reduction of employees is part of the SABC’s turnaround and long-term sustainability plan that was concluded on 31 March.

SABC group chief executive Madoda Mxakwe said: “The retrenchment process has been extremely difficult for all stakeholders and became emotionally charged at times. The extended process unfortunately also created prolonged uncertainty and a sense of despondency for many. This was understandable and regrettable.”

But it remains all too easy to be numbed by those numbers. The media landscape was brutalised by the pandemic: we have seen a number of publications shut their doors; others, like ours, have had to trim what is already a lean budget. Under such a horrible spectre, it is easy to chalk up job losses to a freak plague.

However, in this quest to resuscitate the SABC, we have to ask ourselves why consequences seem scant. Yes, some, like Hlaudi Motsoeneng, have been kicked out of the organisation, but others, such as Faith Muthambi, have not faced any measure of accountability, and continue to serve the ANC as representatives of the people in parliament.

Everyone knows what Motsoeneng is “alleged” to have done: inflating the salaries of his cabal, giving away advertising spend to the Gupta family and turning the SABC into his personal fiefdom with his hiring and firing game of Snakes and Ladders. Muthambi, as the sentry, enabled his behaviour.

As well as not having the kind of dynamic vision to carry it to the future, the SABC is in this position because we do not mete out consequences. It is because there are no repercussions that we watch media  colleagues lose their livelihoods.

The broadcaster’s decline was signed long before any virus was a threat; sealed by political goons who placed their misguided allegiances above morals or journalistic ethics.

To this end, we must remind ourselves of stories like that of Sam Thobakgale. As Scrolla.Africa reported in December 2019, Thobakgale hanged himself in 2017 after being fired by the SABC. By all accounts a friendly and joyful man, he left behind a family that was entirely dependent on his income.

He, along with 122 others, was fired using fake documents. Already cash-strapped and beginning to feel the hot breath of desperation, the SABC allegedly decided to take a shortcut and tweaked arbitrator documents to nudge the unsuspecting employees out the door.

The shock of losing your job was borne out on our TV screens late last month. Watching a tearful Desiree Chauke struggle through delivering a news bulletin was painful enough, but to see 30-year veteran Noxolo Grootboom exit the SABC under the cloud of retrenchment dressed up as retirement was gutting.

Often when we speak about the rampant graft at state-owned entities we tend to forget that there are people employed there. People who have served dutifully for years. People who make this country function.

Headlines speak of millions and billions lost and drama and intrigue at a board level, but we seldom talk about what that means for those who have to do the grunt work. That wet coal and dirty water is one aspect of the crime. There’s also the toll it takes on workers.

Years of corruption and mismanagement have hobbled the public broadcaster. The SABC’s assets were sold and allowed to run down. The corporation sold its archive to MultiChoice for much less than it was worth. In July 2020, we reported how the SABC pays more than R3-billion of its revenue to salaries, even though more than 50% of its permanent staff are not suited or skilled for the positions they hold, and it is projected that the broadcaster will make a loss of R1.2-billion for 2020-21.

In 2019, the SABC was handed a R3.2-billion bailout and, if its current financial position does not change, the begging bowl will be out again for more taxpayers’ money.

We would do well to remember that a public broadcaster is designed to play a crucial role in our democracy. With government resources and infrastructure behind it, the SABC, in theory, is able to deliver news, information and current affairs to almost every corner of South Africa through its multiple platforms. The importance of that service cannot be overstated and is one we cannot allow to die.

Another bailout or turnaround strategy just won’t cut it.

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 and receive a 40% discount on our annual rate..

Kiri Rupiah
Kiri Rupiah is the online editor at the Mail & Guardian.
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Seven years’ radio silence for taxpayer-funded Rhythm FM

Almost R50-million of taxpayers’ money has been invested but the station is yet to broadcast a single show

Q&A Sessions: Zanele Mbuyisa — For the love of people-centred...

She’s worked on one of the biggest class-action cases in South Africa and she’s taken on Uber: Zanele Mbuyisa speaks to Athandiwe Saba about advocating for the underrepresented, getting ‘old’ and transformation in the law fraternity

More top stories

New sex abuse claims against aid workers exposed in DRC

Investigation finds extensive abuse of power by men allegedly working at organisations such as the World Health Organisation

Platinum records for South African mines

The miners are in a comfortable position as the world creeps towards a lower-carbon future

Denel money woes clip air force’s wings

A senior officer says the shortage of spares and and ability to service aircraft and vehicles has a negative effect on the SANDF’s operational ability

State fails at-risk children as R55m orphanage stands empty

Boikagong Centre in Mahikeng has been closed for almost two years because it did not meet safety requirements. The discarded children say they want a safe place to learn, but instead endure rape and other violence
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×