South Africa: Debate On SABC Seeks a Solution to Looming Retrenchments At the Public Broadcaster


The South African Broadcasting Cooperation (SABC) is in a quagmire of a looming massive retrenchment process due to its unhealthy financial situation, attributed to its bloated wage bill. The Inkatha Freedom Party's Member of the National Assembly, Ms Zandile Majozi, urgently brought a motion before Parliament to debate this matter to see if a solution cannot be brokered to avert its catastrophic effect to many households at a time when the economy is constantly shedding jobs, a predicament further exacerbated by the devastating effect of Covid-19 on the global economy.

She said: "We have resolved as a party that an action must be taken to resolve the escalating crisis of the imminent retrenchment of SABC employees. The problem of decades of mismanagement at the SABC is not sustainable. The bailouts cannot be seen as a solution to the SABC problems. This crisis is indicative of government's hesitation to address the core problems facing the SABC. The restructuring and cost-cutting measures cannot be avoided."

She further decried the lack of effective leadership at the SABC over the years. "The current instability at the SABC is a result of recurring poor leadership, as the SABC has over a short space of time been under the leadership of well over nine government ministers. It is also unfair that the SABC gets only "2% of government grants while other state-owned enterprises get constant bailouts that amountsto billions of rands."

In her view, there is a need for a collaborative effort to get the SABC back on track to ensure that it is fit for purpose. [It must] be restructured for the purpose of its continuity. She said to achieve all this, there is a need for an independent human resources consultant to manage the restructuring of the SABC and to pay attention to complaints about its top-heavy structure that accrues 30% of the 40% costs of compensation at the national broadcaster.

"Let's put our political differences aside for the sake of its employees, and we can't allow a blackout at the SABC," she said.

Taking part in the debate, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Communications, Mr Makhosonke Maneli, said there have been an ongoing problems at the SABC since the 5th Parliament, and the SABC has been a subject of investigations by various entities which produced audit reports that underscored mismanagement and maladministration as the main causes of its inefficiencies. Subsequent to that, he said the Committee on Communications came up with its own recommendations, but these recommendations were simply not implemented, that is why the SABC is where it is today.

He said the retrenchment of workers at the SABC would be the last and grave option. "If preventable, it must be prevented. That is the view of the committee," he said.

He said the need to reposition the SABC cannot be overemphasised. "The SABC should look at various ways of optimising its competitiveness, grow its revenue streams and upskill its personnel to be self-sustainable and operate competitively in its market. Currently, the SABC has not exploited its full potential and it must discover that potential before it even considers embarking on retrenchments."

The Democratic Alliance's Ms Phumzile van Damme said: "We feel the pain, anxiety, sorrow and depression of hard-working SABC employees, who need to put bread on the take for their families. And we hope that the impending retrenchment process will be done with the empathy and dignity it deserves. We know that this process has brought so much uncertainty and unease to many employees at the national broadcaster. But we won't lie, retrenchments were always looming at the SABC. Those who were negating (denying) them were only playing to the political gallery. They were simply telling a lie."

She said today the government seems to care about the problem of rising unemployment when it does not care at all. "Where was the government when many journalists in radio and print were laid off by many media houses during the hard lockdown? Parliament can do nothing about the impending retrenchments at the SABC. It is a process governed by the Labour Relations Act and it (Parliament) can't interfere."

The Economic Freedom Fighters' Mr Vuyani Pambo said even if the minister attempts to take the SABC's management to court, [the minister] must personally pay for such action because he minister will lose the case and can't expect the public to pay for that. According to him, the impending retrenchments are tantamount to an emotional abuse of SABC's employees by the government. He said all the blame for the financial problems now faced by the SABC should be put on the door step of the government's intentioms to reduce the public servants' wage bill to support its neoliberal financial policies.

He said what is needed now is an immediate capital injection at the SABC to save jobs and to turn the public broadcaster into a healthy institution that is capable of withstanding competition from its competitors.

Mr Steven Swart of the African Christian Democratic Party said the major problem at the SABC is political interference. He said: "The 5th Parliament came up with recommendations on how to turn the SABC around, but due to political interference, those recommendations were never implemented. Political interference is at the heart of SABC's current problems."

Mr Nqabayomzi Kwankwa of the United Democratic Movement said the SABC is where it is today because it has never received adequate funding to conduct its public mandate. He said. "To this day, no one has quantified the financial viability of the SABC to carry out its mandate to serve the public."

According to Ms Thandiswa Marawu of the African Transformation Movement, among other things, the failure to ensure that the SABC evolves and embraces the economic benefits of digital migration, must be seen as the cause of the public broadcaster's current financial crisis. She said: "Had the SABC migrated, it would have maximised its revenue streams and margins and would have been in a position to withstand competition and would be financially sustainable by now. And it would not have found itself where it is currently."

Also participating in the debate, the Minister of Communications, Ms Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, said the SABC is a victim of state capture. She said: "We are all to blame for that. Contrary to views expressed by others, the government is doing all it can do to save jobs at the SABC."

She added that they went as far as requesting payment holidays for the SABC, to keep it afloat, and they have recently injected more than R2 billion to that effect. She said this crisis comes at a time when the Communications Ministry is in a process of remodelling the SABC funding and operational model to ensure that it withstands competition from its competitors, which have huge financial muscles.

This, she said, is to ensure that the SABC does not die a natural death. She said part of tha remodelling is to determine the cost of its unfunded public mandate, to look at staff optimisation, upskilling of its personnel, and how all of these combined can contribute to its viable revenue streams.

"In addition to that, we are looking at reviewing policies and legislation that will optimise its value chain so that we can have a healthy SABC. This starts with you by paying your TV licence to swell its revenue and to ensure that the SABC is in a position to conduct its public mandate in a sustainable and profitable manner in order to avoid these predicaments in future," said Ms Ndabeni-Abrahams.

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