The SABC whirlwind: Four big issues plaguing the national broadcaster

10 December 2018 - 08:17 By Odwa Mjo
The SABC is pleading for a bail-out from government.
The SABC is pleading for a bail-out from government.
Image: Waldo Swiegers. (C) Sunday Times.

The public broadcaster has been over-burdened with financial woes as it tries to clean up in the aftermath of Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s reign, which left the SABC in a shambles.

A new board was appointed in 2017 to save the sinking ship. Since their appointment,  board members and executives have been faced with the challenge of reviving the SABC at whatever cost.

Here are the four big issues plaguing the broadcaster.

Money matters

The SABC board projected that the broadcaster would run out of funds by March 2019 and made a plea to government for a R3bn cash injection to keep the public broadcaster alive.

The board has a January deadline to present the outcome of an independent skills and salary audit, and a strategic plan to parliament, or its members could face dismissal.

The public broadcaster planned to cut costs by not paying board members for every meeting attended, but rather for every scheduled board meeting.

The broadcaster has also cut down on staff perks such as bottled water and biscuits, and is monitoring printing costs.

According to SABC chairman Bongumusa Makhathini, cost-cutting measures had saved up to R400m

Retrenchments

In the midst of its financial instability, the SABC sought to retrench 981 full-time employees and more than 1,000 freelancers.

If the crisis is not solved, thousands may not receive their salaries by the end of March.

During her tenure, former Minister of Communications Nomvula Mokonyane slammed the SABC for the planned retrenchments.

According to Makhathini, promotions and salary increases under the previous executive and board added to the public broadcaster’s financial woes.

The SABC board said it had had to negotiate terms with production companies behind popular soapies such as MuvhangoGenerations The Legacy and Uzalo. The broadcaster is expected to pay the companies R20m rand a month, but has negotiated to pay only R5m.

The SABC reported that it also cannot afford to pay other service providers, including Sentech, the Southern African Music Rights Organisation, SuperSport and the South African Football Association.

Board resignations

Last week, four board members, Mathatha Tsedu, Krish Naidoo, Khanyisile Kweyama and John Mattison, resigned following a letter from minister of communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.

In it she accused the board of not acting in the interests of South Africa and the public broadcaster.

Ndabeni-Abrahams and the board are at odds about the retrenchment of thousands of full-time employees and freelancers.

According to TimesLive, the minister said her department would desist from any further engagement with the SABC due to the board’s decision to go ahead with retrenchments.

In November 2017, Makhathini told Sunday Times: “In life you must have things that you are prepared to stand [up] for. If it means being pushed out for standing up for what is right, it’s a better exit than me sitting here and trying to be liked and to be popular at the expense of the SABC,” Makhathini told Sunday Times in November.

According to TimesLive, ANC chief whip for the parliamentary communications committee Lerumo Kalako said the SABC might have to report directly to parliament until a new board is appointed.

SABC vs Safa

In October, the South Africa Football Association (Safa) took to parliament to request that the sports portfolio committee release Bafana Bafana and Banyana Banyana from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) stipulation that binds the teams to the public broadcaster.

This followed a stand-off between Safa and the SABC, after the broadcaster offered the soccer body only R10m to renew its TV rights that expired in April.

Under the previous agreement, Safa and the SABC agreed on R110m. However, this time it was seeking R200m for the yearly contract.

Safa’s dispute with the SABC affects national soccer matches, as well as the Nelson Mandela Challenge, the ABC Motsepe League and the junior national teams.

In November 2017, the SABC failed to broadcast the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match between Bafana Bafana and Nigeria at Johannesburg's FNB Stadium, as well as the Banyana Banyana Afcon tournament in Ghana.

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