Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. Picture: Ntswe Mokoena/GCIS

Johannesburg - Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams deliberately withheld from Parliament last week that Finance Minister Tito Mboweni had declined, in a letter, to provide a guarantee to public broadcaster SABC, the main opposition Democratic Alliance said on Monday.

The financially strained South African Broadcasting Corporation has warned of a probable blackout as it struggles to pay its debt and staff.  Recent mishaps, including a fire in a canteen last month which saw 15 people hospitalised for mild smoke inhalation, have raised concerns about the risk to employees due to the failure to do maintenance work on facilities.

In a statement, DA shadow minister of communications & digital technologies Phumzile Van Damme said Mboweni's letter dated June 25, which her party had seen, "also reveals a finance minister who does not understand the constitutional role of the SABC".

Van Damme said Ndabeni-Abrahams, who appeared before parliament's portfolio committee on communications on July 3, made no mention of the letter, which the DA legislator said contained crucial information that not only the public, but parliament ought to have been appraised of.

She said Mboweni, in the letter, stated that the SABC "is ultimately only an implementing agent for the department of communications".

"The SABC is not an implementing agent for department of communications as stated by Mboweni," van Damme said. "It is flabbergasting that he does not know this.

The DA said Mboweni should appraise himself on the role and mandate of the SABC "and once having done so, continue negotiations regarding funding for the SABC with this knowledge in mind".

Van Damme said the SABC played a crucial role of educating, entertaining and keeping millions of South Africans informed especially the impoverished and those in rural areas who could not afford satellite TV or streaming.

Ndabeni-Abrahams had also made it clear she had no understanding of her role over the public broadcaster during her appearance in parliament last week, said van Damme.

"We have already requested that the minister of communications work with the SABC in good faith and putting aside her personal feelings about the SABC which has firmly established its independence," she said.

She said the current SABC management and board were working hard in the most trying circumstances and negotiations for financial assistance must continue in good faith "with the law, the public interest and the thousands of SABC staff in mind".

African News Agency/ANA