The SOS Coalition (SOS) and Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) note with alarm the Minister of Communications’ press statement issued on 17 September 2018. There are too many assertions in her statement that are simply untrue and require urgent correction.
She says that the SABC has “ignored the advice and support of the shareholder” forgetting that it was the government’s own Treasury that insisted on retrenchments as a condition of the previous bailout which were not complied with. Currently, the salary bill, according to the SABC, stands at R3.1bn annually when the SABC is R1.3bn in debt – a situation that is clearly untenable and that jeopardises the financial sustainability of the SABC. While the SABC has yet to default on paying salaries, it has certainly defaulted on paying its independent producers with dire consequences for the television industry as a whole, including, doubtless, hidden retrenchments.
Her statement that the Board has “insisted on retrenchment as the foremost and only solution” is simply untrue as the SABC made comprehensive public proposals on its turn-around strategy which addresses a range of issues and not just staff numbers as was discussed that the Department of Communication’s Colloquium on Public Broadcasting just last week.
Her statement that the well-being of the SABC is “not the exclusive domain of the staff and its management” is incorrect in law as section 13(11) of the Broadcasting Act explicitly provides that the SABC Board “controls the affairs of the Corporation” while section 13(13) makes it clear that the SABC Board “is the accounting authority of the Corporation”.
The statement represents a shocking and unlawful attempt to position the Minister, once again, as able to interfere in the management of the SABC’s affairs under the guise of being “the shareholder representative”. In the most recent High Court judgment on the role of the Minister vis a vis the SABC Board, SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition and Others v
the SABC and Others, Matojane J held, at para  that “the Minister, as the representative of the sole shareholder and not a member of the Board, does not have the right to act on behalf of the SABC or to manage its business or affairs”. Further at para  the Judge held that “in her engagement with the Board, the Minister represents the sole shareholder of the SABC – the government of the Republic of South Africa. It is Parliament, not the Minister, that represents the public interest and performs the oversight role on behalf of the public”.
SOS and MMA are of the view that the long term financial sustainability of the SABC is essential to the well-being of our democracy. SOS and MMA are aware that any SABC retrenchments in the media sector will exacerbate unemployment in that sector which has already been hit hard by the mass retrenchments that resulted from the collapse of Gupta- linked media enterprises. However, SOS and MMA question the bona fides of those who claim to care about retrenchments at this time, having stood by silently when the SABC engaged in reckless hiring and salary inflation during the term of the previous Board and management constituting fruitless and wasteful expenditure as found by Parliament in its Ad Hoc Committee Report on the SABC and corroborated by the Auditor-General’s findings at the time.
The Minister’s statement appears to be a cheap electioneering ploy to shield the ruling party from the consequences of its disastrous interference in SABC Board and management matters over the past decade.
Like other civil society groupings such as SANEF, the SOS Coalition and MMA are urge the SABC Board and management to ensure that any proposed retrenchments really are the last resort and that these, should they occur, take place strictly in accordance with section 189 of the Labour Relations Act.
Lastly, we urge the Treasury urgently to provide the SABC with its requested guarantee (not a bailout) as soon as possible in order that its finances can be stabilised.
About Us: The SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition (SOS) is a civil society coalition that advocates for the presence of robust public broadcasting in the public interest to deepen our constitutional democracy. The coalition SOS campaigns for an independent and effective public broadcaster. We engage with policy makers, regulators, and law makers to secure changes to promote citizen friendly policy, legislative and regulatory changes to public and community broadcasting public broadcasting.
MMA is Media Monitoring Africa (“MMA”) is an NGO that has been monitoring the media since 1993. We aim to promote the development of a free, fair, ethical and critical media culture in South Africa and the rest of the continent. The three key areas that MMA seeks to address through a human rights-based approach are, media ethics, media quality and media freedom. MMA’s vision is a just and fair society empowered by a free, responsible and quality media.