Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Political interference mounts over SABC retrenchments

The SABC is facing political pressure to suspend its planned retrenchments of about 600 employees, despite the public broadcaster facing a bleak future with R1.2-billion projected loss for the 2020-21 financial year. The public broadcaster was this week expected to brief the portfolio committee on communications about its turnaround plan, staff optimisation, editorial policy and skills audit. 

But that presentation did not see the light of day on Tuesday or Wednesday, as the board and the executives were not given an opportunity to go ahead with it by the ANC benches. 

“The SABC board and management were scheduled to appear before the parliament’s portfolio committee on communications on Tuesday … In this meeting, the committee resolved that the SABC will come at a later stage to present. We are awaiting further communication on this matter,” said acting SABC spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo.

Portfolio committee chairperson Boyce Maneli told the Mail & Guardian that there was a unanimous decision this week that SABC’s decision to retrench was premature and that more consultations should take place. 

“In this meeting, it became clear to the committee, during opening remarks by the deputy minister, that the SABC [had not done] what was expected of it, and was not in possession of all the answers that were required,” Maneli said. “The committee resolved that SABC management should go back and hold proper consultations before presenting on the subject matter. Most importantly, the SABC will be invited to respond to all the issues that were raised by the deputy minister, CWU [ Communication Workers Union], Bemawu [Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union] and the editorial forum.” 

Maneli said the committee resolved that the public broadcaster should: “conduct [an] open and transparent skills audit, as well as reskill and upskill its workforce … Furthermore, the ANC’s position, which is consistent with that of government, is that of saving existing jobs in all sectors of the economy and creating more new jobs in line with the National Development Plan.” 

This follows an alleged verbal instruction on July 17 by Deputy Communications Minister Pinky Kekana to SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini, that the public broadcaster should suspend its section 189 process and rescind the board’s resolution on the implementation of its target operating model and the R700-million reduction in employee compensation and headcount. 

“We were stopped from presenting this week. This is a political issue and this is a repeat of what happened in 2018. Remember, the SABC was instructed by [Minister of Communications] Stella [Ndabeni-Abrahams] to stop the process, then last week the same thing happened but that came through the deputy,” said one SABC insider.

The M&G understands that the SABC board has written to Kekana, requesting that her instructions should be written down to comply with the law, and to allow the board to deliberate on them. 

The court had previously found that the board has exclusive powers to control the affairs of the SABC and that the shareholder (the minister of communications) was precluded from exercising any powers to instruct or control the public broadcasters’ directors in how they run the corporation. 

Kekana, through her spokesperson, Zandile Ngubeni, denied instructing the SABC to stop the retrenchment process. “The DM [deputy Mminister] cannot instruct the SABC, so it was not an instruction … As she represents government as a shareholder, she stated on record that, based on the unions not having been consulted, and the skills-audit process not being a transparent process, she does not support the retrenchment process, Kekana said. 

“From her [the deputy minister’s] perspective, this is what she thinks needs to happen until all compliance and governance of section 189 are met, including but not limited to the consultation with the unions, a skills audit that is transparent, et cetera. Also, there seems to be manipulation of certain processes, so there needs to be transparency at all times by the SABC in [its] approach to the processes,” said Kekana.

The M&G understands that the board has told Kekana that it can’t run a parallel process to that of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).  

Last week the SABC and the unions met the CCMA about the public broadcaster’s section 189 process. The M&G reported last week that battle lines had been drawn between the SABC and the unions, which vowed to picket over the retrenchment process.  

The unions threatened to approach the labour court for an interdict if the CCMA process continued without their concerns about the skills audit, consultation and alleged unilateral restructuring being addressed.

The SABC, however, has rubbished claims by the unions that there were no consultations, that the skills audit process was not transparent. 

The public broadcaster has had serious cash flow and revenue challenges for several years, and has relied on government bailouts. Last year, the government extended a bailout of R2.1-billion, as part of a R3.2-billion total bailout. 

The SABC told the M&G last week that it has to cut costs because of its dire financial situation, with its salary bill accounting for more than 45% of its expenditure. In its prepared presentations, seen by the M&G, the SABC has also revealed that it spends only 21% on content. 

As a benchmarking exercise, it showed that eMedia Holdings, which has more than 20 channels and fewer than 1 000 employees, spent 11% on staff costs. MultiChoice, with more than 30 channels, spends 15% on employees and 43% on content, even though its model is built on advertising revenue. 

“Look at the BBC: they get about R80 billion a year from the government via TV licenses and then the SABC is expected to carry out its public mandate, but it is not supported,” an SABC insider said. “[The] reasons for any company to retrench is economic and structural — [a]  skills audit has never been part of that. We have been consulting with all the stakeholders.”

It was reported by City Press that the SABC was told by the ANC during a meeting at the party’s headquarters to stop with the retrenchment process. 

Subscribe for R500/year

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 get a 57% discount in your first year.

Thanduxolo Jika
Thanduxolo Jika

Thanduxolo Jika is an investigative Journalist and Co-Author of We are going to kill each other today:The Marikana Story. The Messiah of Abantu.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

South Africa’s mothballed ‘supermall-ification’ sets strip malls up for success

Analysts agree that the country has enough malls and that, post-Covid, the convenience of local centres lure customers

Mabuza’s Russian jaunts and the slippery consequences of medical tourism

For more than five years the deputy president has remained steadfast in his right to travel abroad to receive medical treatment

More top stories

Deputy president Mabuza begs Tshwane voters: ‘Don’t abandon the ANC’

Angry Atteridgeville residents hurl insults at ‘dysfunctional’ ANC full of ‘corrupt individuals’ as Mabuza fails to placate them with party T-shirts and doeks

Taxi operators clash with cops over disputed Route B97 in...

Three suspects remain in custody following their arrest on charges of attempted murder and assault after eight taxis were impounded

SA teens, you’re next in the queue for a vaccine...

Teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 will be able to register to receive their Covid-19 jab from 20 October. This group will be given only one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, for now

Former US secretary of state Colin Powell dies aged 84

The 84-year-old died as a result of complications from Covid-19
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×