SABC Board to hold special meeting to discuss retrenchment proposal

The SABC Board, Executives and the Ministry appeared before the committee on Wednesday night. It was a heated meeting which ended on Thursday morning after midnight.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) Board will on Thursday hold a special meeting to consider a repeat proposal by the Communications Minister to halt retrenchments.

The public broadcaster is forging ahead with its ongoing retrenchment process to reduce the numeration cost to the organisation. Around 400 permanent staff are affected.

Concerns of transparency in the process have been raised, and the SABC’s senior management has been accused of imposing the process with little consultation.

As Bulelani Phillip reports the stalemate over retrenchments persists three years on, the SABC Board will look to consider whether to accept or reject the Minister’s proposal to halt retrenchments.

Concerns over Section 189 process

On Wednesday, Communications and Digital Technologies Deputy Minister, Pinky Kekana, says SABC Board and Executive members should personally pay the costs of cases they lose in courts. Kekana made the opening remarks as the SABC appeared before Parliament’s Communications Committee.

The SABC Board, Executives and the Ministry appeared before the committee. It was a heated meeting which ended on Thursday morning after midnight.

Kekana told the committee that one of the concerns of the Ministry as a shareholder is the history of SABC losing many labour cases in courts. She says it is one of the reasons that the Ministry had concerns about the Section 189 process when unions complained about lack of consultation.

“And the unfortunate situation that the SABC from time to time finds itself in is when they lose many of these cases. And I am on record chair saying from here going forward, if cases by the SABC Board of the Executive are lost, it can’t be at the expense of the entity, while we are saying the entity is bleeding.

“And I am saying one of the things we will have to do is that, if cases are lost and they appeal and lose, somebody must pay and they must pay from their pockets,” Kekana explained.

‘No no further bailout for SABC’

The SABC has not received any financial assistance from government for interrupting scheduled programmes to broadcast COVID-19 related issues during the lockdown. This was the expression of SABC Board Chairperson, Bongumusa Makhathini.

“The impact has affected the SABC during the COVID-19 lockdown. We requested assistance because we have displaced quite a number of our normal programming to make way for public announcements. We did not get the money because government, National Treasury, has made it clear that there is no further bailout for the SABC. And we have to make sure that we do everything possible as informed by our turnaround strategy to get the SABC out of the situation it’s in.

Decision to reduce salary bill

SABC Group CEO, Madoda Mxakwe, has defended the decision to reduce the salary bill through retrenchments. He says the figure of job cuts has further been reduced by 200, while some affected employees will have an opportunity to apply for other vacant positions.

“The original number of affected employees was 600. The board engaged with us and said go back and relook at this and ensure that these processes are done in a very sensitive and humane way, ensure that there is personal and professional counselling of those affected employees. It was within that, that we then reduced that number to 400. Even on that 400, we then said there is going to be some people that can go on retirement. And by the way, we cannot force people to take voluntary packages. It has to be an initiative from the employees.”

During the Board’s engagement with committee members, ANC MP, Princess Faku failed to understand why the SABC has been unable to generate revenue.

“So now you are retrenching. Part of the bailout pre-condition was for the SABC to be able to generate revenue. Revenue has not been generated in the past two years. There has been no revenue at the SABC. Money has been invested in content but you don’t see the results of that Chairperson.”

The DA’s, Phumzile van Damme wants action to be taken against SABC Deputy Board Chairperson, Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi for allegedly breaching her fiduciary responsibilities. This comes after Mohlala-Mulaudzi publicly revealed that she was among the minority board members who did not support the retrenchments at the Public Broadcaster.

Mohlala-Mulaudzi came out following an emotional meeting between the Group Executive of News, Phathiswa Magopeni, the COO, Ian Plaatjies, and staff in Auckland Park on Tuesday. Van Damme is not impressed with Mohlala-Mulaudzi.

“How has her going on TV helped the situation? She says she saw on TV that the staff were upset. If you are a board member, you should be fully appraised with the matter of what’s going on. And instead of going on TV to make yourself look like this celebrity which, – doesn’t support the board. You have breached the PFMA, you have breached the SABC charter, and you should be held accountable. And I am going to make sure of it, – because this is what you do at every entity you go.”

However, the EFF’s Vuyani Pambo, came out in support of SABC board members who publicly stated that they did not support the section 189 process. Pambo disagreed with Van Damme.

“We celebrate that members have come out openly and publicly to express that this is not a position which is shared by all members of the board. It cannot be that in this country,-especially at this time when we are shedding so many jobs,- when we are going through so much unemployment, – that the national asset is participating in making sure that Black people,- the majority of our people are further unemployed.”

When she had her turn to speak, Mohlala-Mulaudzi defended her decision to speak publicly and dismissed suggestions by Van Damme that her actions to speak on TV was a publicity stunt.

“I find those kinds of comments really unfortunate because we as the minority on the board have tried and gone to great lengths and depths and have been at great pains to try and resolve this matter within the board. But because consistently we are not being listened to. Consistently information is not being given to us selectively. And consistently we are told that this is something that doesn’t fall within the purview of the Board but falls within Executive Management.”

Decision to reduce salary bill

SABC Group CEO, Madoda Mxakwe, has defended the decision to reduce the salary bill through retrenchments. He says the figure of job cuts has further been reduced by 200, while some affected employees will have an opportunity to apply for other vacant positions.

“The original number of affected employees was 600. The board engaged with us and said go back and relook at this and ensure that these processes are done in a very sensitive and humane way, ensure that there is personal and professional counselling of those affected employees. It was within that, that we then reduced that number to 400. Even on that 400, we then said there is going to be some people that can go on retirement. And by the way, we cannot force people to take voluntary packages. It has to be an initiative from the employees.”

During the Board’s engagement with committee members, ANC MP, Princess Faku failed to understand why the SABC has been unable to generate revenue.

“So now you are retrenching. Part of the bailout pre-condition was for the SABC to be able to generate revenue. Revenue has not been generated in the past two years. There has been no revenue at the SABC. Money has been invested in content but you don’t see the results of that Chairperson.”

The DA’s, Phumzile van Damme wants action to be taken against SABC Deputy Board Chairperson, Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi for allegedly breaching her fiduciary responsibilities. This comes after Mohlala-Mulaudzi publicly revealed that she was among the minority board members who did not support the retrenchments at the Public Broadcaster.

Mohlala-Mulaudzi came out following an emotional meeting between the Group Executive of News, Phathiswa Magopeni, the COO, Ian Plaatjies, and staff in Auckland Park on Tuesday. Van Damme is not impressed with Mohlala-Mulaudzi.

“How has her going on TV helped the situation? She says she saw on TV that the staff were upset. If you are a board member, you should be fully appraised with the matter of what’s going on. And instead of going on TV to make yourself look like this celebrity which, – doesn’t support the board. You have breached the PFMA, you have breached the SABC charter, and you should be held accountable. And I am going to make sure of it, – because this is what you do at every entity you go.”

However, the EFF’s Vuyani Pambo, came out in support of SABC board members who publicly stated that they did not support the section 189 process. Pambo disagreed with Van Damme.

“We celebrate that members have come out openly and publicly to express that this is not a position which is shared by all members of the board. It cannot be that in this country,-especially at this time when we are shedding so many jobs,- when we are going through so much unemployment, – that the national asset is participating in making sure that Black people,- the majority of our people are further unemployed.”

When she had her turn to speak, Mohlala-Mulaudzi defended her decision to speak publicly and dismissed suggestions by Van Damme that her actions to speak on TV was a publicity stunt.

“I find those kinds of comments really unfortunate because we as the minority on the board have tried and gone to great lengths and depths and have been at great pains to try and resolve this matter within the board. But because consistently we are not being listened to. Consistently information is not being given to us selectively. And consistently we are told that this is something that doesn’t fall within the purview of the Board but falls within Executive Management.”

One of the Board members in the majority, who supported the retrenchments, Michael Markovitz, defended the board’s decision to go ahead with the Section 189 process.

“What we have tried to do in good faith is to follow a lawful process. We are a Board of processes and valid procedures. We have tried our best to think of every possible solution. But unfortunately, when you have got a situation of spending R3 billion on staff cost and you only spending a billion on content,- it’s very difficult to turnaround a broadcasting business like this.”

Another Board member who was against retrenchments is the Sub-Committee Chairperson for News and Editorial matters, Marry Papaya revealed how the COO Ian Plaatjies suggested crossing to eNCA if the SABC had a blackout.

“What we can’t allow is for the core business of the SABC and that is News and Editorial to experience a blackout. I was shocked when someone told me that the COO might have inadvertently said that when we had a blackout, can’t we get the crossing from our competitor Enca. Now, that might have been an allegation but that’s how people are perceiving things. There is a whole lot of stuff being thrown about.”

Plaatjies did not deny this but he said he made these comments when he was with Phathiswa Magopeni.

“The comment was made around that, I said we should switch to Enca in the event of a blackout. Now, I said this in jest (jokingly) to the GE of News. The shocking part of it is that this wasn’t in that open forum that I mentioned this. But this was in a closed meeting I had with her. So I am really shocked that Marry has this information and would even raise it in a public forum as if it was true and valid. It was in jest. And in fact, the meeting I had with the GE of News was to ensure that we do develop a robust plan to prevent a blackout situation.”

Political parties on SABC retrenchments

Political parties in the committee have agreed that the SABC Board should go back to the drawing board to find solutions and that retrenchments should also be the last resort. A call was also made that the Board should engage with the shareholder.

The IFP’s Zandile Majozi was one of those who made this call.

“The shareholders and the SABC Board must just go back because it is not only the responsibility of the Board only. The shareholders also must be responsible for the entity and go back and say what is it that we can do actually to make sure that we solve this.”

ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule has called on the tripartite alliance and other organisations to unite behind SABC workers who are facing retrenchments. Speaking in an exclusive interview with the SABC, Magashule said the governing party is monitoring developments at the public broadcaster.

“This is high time that as the ANC and as Cosatu, the SACP as the tripartite alliance as well as other forces Sanco, Youth league and everybody, there’s a need to ensure that we support our brothers black and white and all of us must go out and support the workers at SABC. We can’t allow retrenchments to take place.”

EFF Member of Parliament’s Communications Committee Vuyani Pambo has come out in support of SABC board members who have publicly said they do not support the public broadcaster’s decision to retrench staff.

Pambo disagreed with DA committee member Phumzile van Damme who wants action to be taken against deputy board chairperson Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi for allegedly breaching her fiduciary responsibilities by publicly saying the board was divided over the retrenchments. Pambo was speaking last night when SABC board members appeared before the committee.

“We celebrate that members have come out openly and publicly to express that this is not a position which is shared by all members of the board. It cannot be that in this country, especially at this time when we are shedding so many jobs, when we are going through so much unemployment, that the national asset is participating in making sure that Black people, the majority of our people are further unemployed.”