Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams 'spurns' SABC plea

Board chair says government ignored request for bailout

09 December 2018 - 00:05 By ANDISIWE MAKINANA

SABC board chair Bongumusa Makhathini has accused the government of failing to help the ailing broadcaster by not responding to requests for a government guarantee.
In a letter to communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, copied to President Cyril Ramaphosa, finance minister Tito Mboweni and parliament's committee on public accounts, Makhathini also said the minister gave the board "five minutes" to consider her instructions to immediately stop retrenchments at the SABC.
"It was most unfortunate, considering the magnitude of this matter, that the minister gave the board five minutes to consider the directive and respond," Makhathini said in the letter.
The Sunday Times understands that the ANC is not entirely opposed to retrenchments, but disagrees with the scale of the proposed lay-offs. An insider said the party wanted the board to "cut the fat at the top".
"There are many managers who are managing managers at the SABC. That's where you should cut," said the source.
Makhathini said the board "deliberated for about 25 minutes" following the minister's instruction but that "the pressure placed on the board was not conducive to finding a mutually agreeable solution".
He said: "Agreeing to the directive would have legally compromised both the minister and the board, taking into account the applicable legislation and court judgment."
Ndabeni-Abrahams was appointed minister two weeks ago. The board also clashed with her predecessor, Nomvula Mokonyane.
The fight escalated after Ndabeni-Abrahams's appointment and led to four board members resigning this week.
The board was divided on how to save the public broadcaster, with other directors siding with Ndabeni-Abrahams.
In his 33-page letter, Makhathini complained that little has been forthcoming from Ndabeni-Abrahams's department and the National Treasury despite repeated requests for a cash injection.
The SABC board has projected that the broadcaster would run out of money by the end of March.
In her letter after a heated meeting with the board last week, Ndabeni-Abrahams threatened to "desist from all engagements with the SABC board, including National Treasury and turnaround task team".
Makhathini said this was regrettable and the board hoped that Ndabeni-Abrahams would reconsider her position.
"From the outset, it is regrettable that the honourable minister indicated that as the shareholder she had no option but to desist from any further engagements with the SABC board and we hope that the minister would reconsider this stance," he said.
The four board members resigned following last week's meeting with Ndabeni-Abrahams. At the meeting she allegedly accused the board of not acting in the best interests of the country and the broadcaster by seeking to retrench some 981 full-time workers and more than 1,000 freelancers.
The 12-member board is now inquorate and cannot take legally binding decisions. Parliament must now fill the vacancies.
Makhathini's letter said the board disagreed with the minister's opinion that it was not acting in the best interest of the corporation, its shareholder, parliament and the public.
"The board is acting in the best interest of the millions and millions of South Africans that are dependent on the public broadcaster's services on a daily basis," he said.
Makhathini said despite providing information to the minister's department on the SABC's finances, it chose not to respond to the board at all.
Ndabeni-Abrahams declined to comment on the matter.
The ANC whip on the communications committee, Lerumo Kalako, said the board may have to be dissolved and the SABC executive would need to report directly to parliament until a new board has been constituted.
"The executive is there and nobody is going to touch that executive; we are going to defend it. We are fully behind the executives. They can still continue to operate while we are trying to put a board in place," said Kalako.
"At the end of the day, we don't depend on the board to make them [executives] account to parliament."

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