Some SABC board members break ranks to oppose retrenchments

Staffers at the SABC outside the public broadcaster’s headquarters in Auckland Park on 16 November 2020. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

The public broadcaster’s deputy chairperson Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi has slammed the process, saying it has already had a ‘serious impact on staff morale’.

Impassioned pleas by employees of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), protest action and the apparent temporary withdrawal of redundancy retrenchment notices have, plagued the broadcaster this week. 

However, with the public broadcaster confirming on Wednesday morning that the retrenchment process was continuing as planned, some board members are speaking out against the cost cutting measure.

An urgent meeting with the SABC board and executive was held on Tuesday, along with Communications and Digital Technologies Minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, and her deputy Pinky Kekana. 

Ndabeni-Abrahams implored the board to “consider all options,” and to prioritise preserving jobs. 

Also on Tuesday, disgruntled SABC employees aired their grievances in no uncertain terms.

In a widely shared video, senior news journalist and Prime Time anchor Chriselda Lewis took the editorial floor, telling  Phathiswa Magopeni – group executive for news and current affairs – in an impassioned speech to go back to her office and do what she was supposed to do, instead of retrenching people.

ALSO READ: WATCH: SABC withdraws redundancy notices after day of high drama

The SABC was due to appear before Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications on Wednesday morning to provide an account of the retrenchment process, and any contingencies to mitigate “the current strife with employees and unions”.

“I would like to call on the employees of the public broadcaster to exercise restraint and patience during this period of intervention by the department and Parliament,” Ndabeni-Abrahams said.

Earlier this week, Ndabeni-Abrahams rejected the SABC’s retrenchment move, saying it did not follow the steps outlined in the Government Technical Advisory Centre, and that use of the Labour Relations Act meant retrenchments should be the proven last resort.

But the SABC’s retrenchment decision has not been supported by the entire board. 

‘Other ways of cutting costs’

Deputy chairperson of the SABC board, Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi, told The Citizen on Wednesday that five board members stood in solidarity with staff members over the impending retrenchments. 

Mohlala-Mulaudzi slammed the process, saying it has already had a “serious impact on staff morale”.

“There are other ways for cost cutting and to reduce salaries, such as the freezing of salary increases and bonuses, rather than retrenching people.”

She said that Ndabeni-Abrahams was a shareholder of the SABC on behalf of government, but that the board should make an independent decision, which may nullify the minister’s opposition to the retrenchments. 

“That is why we want our voices to be head, to maybe start influencing those with a different view, that the approach adopted is not correct or in the best interest of staff.” 

Mohlala-Mulaudzi also highlighted to the resulting problem of skills loss, should staff be retrenched. 

‘Best interest of SABC’

She said that staff had put their lives on the line to cover the Covid-19 pandemic and “this is the ‘thank you’ they get”.

“We are willing to look at any options to assist staff members. Even during lockdown, we were prepared to make a contribution to the Solidarity Fund because we felt so strongly about all the people suffering during lockdown. Now this is adding to the pain.

“Fundamentally, we need to do what is in the best interest of the SABC. What is in their best interest is to continue to function in unison.”

She said the only way to ensure a functional public broadcaster without securing another bailout was “to keep staff and morale intact”.

The public broadcaster’s 2019-2020 annual report revealed a net loss of R511 million, a 12% decline of total revenue, a R791 million TV licence revenue reduction, and R202 million in irregular expenditure. Fruitless and wasteful expenditure declined by 87% to R27 million. 

Updates to follow as more information becomes available.

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