Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams does not have the power to give instructions to the SABC board, the DA said. Picture: Siyabulela Duda/GCIS

Cape Town - Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams does not have the power to give instructions to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) board, and "If she is not up to the task she is welcome to resign," the Democratic Alliance said on Sunday.

The DA was in possession of a letter to SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini by Ndabeni-Abrahams and its contents were cause for serious concern, DA spokeswoman Phumzile van Damme said.

At first instance, while the communications minister does indeed have an oversight role over the SABC, she does not, however, have the power to give instructions to the board. The fact that she has decided to 'desist from all engagements with the SABC board' because it refused to take her instruction to halt retrenchments is puerile and in violation of the SABC’s independence," she said.

Ndabeni-Abrahams should continue to discharge her oversight role as shareholder and could not decide against doing so because the board would not take her instructions and “ no longer acting in the interests of the company, shareholder, and parliament..." as stated in her letter. "If she is not up to the task, she is welcome to resign," Van Damme said.

The current SABC board had done well to enforce its independence and stand up to political interference by former communications ministers and it was evident it was doing the same with the current minister.

"That being said, the SABC board reports to and is accountable to parliament and has not covered itself in glory regarding its proposed plan to retrench 2200 staff.

"The DA has consistently said that the board must conduct an independent skills and salary audit before considering retrenchments, a view that was shared by the rest of [parliament's] communications portfolio committee when the board appeared before it last week. The committee also requested that the board present a clear strategic plan that will see the board self-sustain by cutting costs and exploring new revenue streams and funding models. The board has thus far done neither," Van Damme said.

The SABC had until January to present both the results of an independent skills and salary audit, as well as a clear strategic plan to parliament or face the risk of being axed. In terms of section 15a of the Broadcasting Act, parliament could dissolve the SABC board for the inability to perform its duties “efficiently”.

"The DA is not blind to the politics at play. The SABC board has been adamant about enforcing its independence and this is not a situation Luthuli House [African National Congress headquarters] would be happy with going into an election.

"It has in the past had the SABC under its control and made sure that the public broadcaster was its mouthpiece and portrayed the ANC in a positive light to the electorate. The dissolving of the current board would allow for parliament to appoint an interim board which could quite likely be filled with ANC-friendly individuals who would be at Luthuli House’s beck and call," she said.

The ball was ultimately in the SABC board’s court. In January it should not give the communications committee reason to dissolve it, by presenting the results of an independent skills and salary audit and a clear strategic plan.

"The DA is serious about rebuilding the SABC, protecting its independence after years of financial mismanagement, corruption, and political interference by the ANC. We are also serious about protecting SABC staff against unjust retrenchment. We will not allow SABC staff to lose their jobs without just cause. We wait for the SABC board and management to redeem itself and we hope it will do so," Van Damme said.

African News Agency (ANA)