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Wed Oct 22 03:41:47 SAST 2014

Cosatu an SABC rerun?

S'Thembiso Msomi | 06 March, 2013 01:01

The circus at the beleaguered public broadcaster holds valuable lessons for Cosatu.

Unless the leaders of the trade union federation learn from what has been happening in Auckland Park over the past few years, they will soon find themselves a fallen giant.

Who would have thought that the SABC - the country's largest media company - would degenerate to such a state? It has become nothing more than a laughing stock.

Over the past week, the broadcaster's board announced that it had removed the controversial acting chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, only for board chairman Ben Ngubane to publicly reverse the decision.

Ngubane's colleagues then claimed he was acting beyond his scope, and Motsoeneng remained removed from the post.

The infighting at the SABC has had so many twists and turns over the years that not even the main protagonists in the drama appear to know what is going on.

Board members who were strong political allies just the other day, collaborating in ousting potential rivals at both board and executive levels, are today sworn enemies.

In the process, the SABC's core business - that of providing quality broadcasting services - suffers.

While the broadcaster remains the largest player in the business locally, with the vast majority of viewers and listeners still getting their news and entertainment programmes primarily from the SABC, competing operators are increasingly eating into what used to be considered as the organisation's core markets.

Private broadcaster e.tv and its news offshoot eNCA are fast becoming the preferred destination for news content for most English-speakers.

The same seems to be happening on radio, where growing numbers of people are tuning into privately owned stations for news and current affairs.

This has happened largely because, instead of focusing on how to improve its content and maintain audience loyalty, the SABC has spent most of the past decade consumed in meaningless power struggles that have only served to distract its leaders and managers from carrying out their duties.

So entrenched is the infighting that one gets the sense that the interests of individual players - and those of the politicians they seek to appease - far supercede those of the organisation.

Judging by the latest developments at Cosatu House, the trade union federation seems to be headed in the same direction as the SABC.

While Cosatu affiliates have every right to investigate the claims of corruption and political misconduct that have been made against its general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, there is reasonable suspicion that the whole saga is part of a grand political scheme that has very little to do with the interests of the federation's 1.8million members, and everything to do with internal politics.

By its very nature, Cosatu is a political animal and has scored many gains for its members over the years by virtue of its strategic alliance with the ruling party.

But the manner in which its leaders are now going about using the federation's structures to position themselves for public office after the 2014 general election could well weaken, and even destroy, Cosatu in the long run.

Just like infighting at the SABC has given the likes of e.tv space to grow, and in some cases, overtake the public broadcaster, Cosatu runs the risk of being replaced by new unions such as the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union as the preferred representative of workers on the shop floor.

As events in the mining sector demonstrated last year, Cosatu and its leaders have taken their eye off shop floor issues - preferring instead to devote their energies to endless struggles for the control of the ruling party.

This has had disastrous consequences, not only for the federation and its affiliates but, as we saw in Marikana, for the country as a whole.

Just as the collapse of the public broadcaster would not augur well for our democracy - with the vast majority of the poor being denied access to information - a weakened and divided trade union movement would rob us of an important and fairly independent voice.

Though part of the ruling alliance, Cosatu often plays a crucial role in opposition to some of the government's more controversial decisions. Often it is more effective than all the political parties in the opposition benches at the National Assembly.

Once it abandons this role to become a mere stepping stone for those seeking to ascend to higher office through appeasing any of the political elites vying for power, it would have begun its march down the SABC's shameful path.

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Wed Oct 22 03:41:47 SAST 2014 ::