File picture: African News Agency (ANA)
File picture: African News Agency (ANA)

SABC faces blackout threat amid anger over retrenchment plans

By Siviwe Feketha Time of article published Nov 17, 2020

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Johannesburg – The SABC retrenchment debacle degenerated into a stand-off and a threat of a possible blackout as newsroom employees refused to go on air and demanded answers over the impending job cuts at the public broadcaster.

This comes as the SABC is planning to dismiss around 400 employees as part of the new newsroom structure, which workers claim they were not consulted about.

On Tuesday, the SABC released its annual report in which both the board and executive management expressed confidence that the corporation’s leadership was on track in its plans to turn it around.

An emergency meeting was called at the SABC Auckland Park studious between the management and workers, who had been embarking on lunchtime pickets against the move restructure.

At an emotionally charged meeting, news presenter and journalist Chriselda Lewis made a plea to the group executive for news, Phatiswa Magobeni, to reconsider the stance on retrenchments.

“When you came here, this is not what we expected from you. So many of us in the journalism industry are looking up to you,” she said.

The public broadcaster indicated late Tuesday that the dismissal letters that had already been sent to employees had been withdrawn following the emergency meeting.

Speaking to Independent Media, SABC group executive for human resources Mojaki Mosia stressed that while the restructuring process remained contentious, it could not be avoided as it was at the centre of reducing cost drivers within the organisation.

“There are three major cost drivers. The first is the salary bill and the second one is the signal distribution, and the third one is content.

’’If we appreciate what the business is all about, it is about content investment. If we do not invest in content, we will not be in the position to attract audiences,” Mosia said.

The SABC’s annual report for 2019/20 indicated a net loss of R511 million, a 6% decline compared to the previous financial year, which was R482.4 million.

The SABC also recorded a 12% revenue decline year-on-year, to R5.7 billion, which has mainly been attributed to a decrease in advertising spend across its platforms.

The financially troubled public broadcaster’s cash on hand was at R 72 million at the end of the financial year, a R58 million decline from the 2018/19.

Mosia said the SABC was spending over 40% of its revenue on compensation while just over 20% was spent on content. “The opposite needs to happen,” he said.

He pointed out that the SABC was confronted by redundant positions, which he said were no longer required by the organisations and which did not fit in the new organogram.

“We thought that can be solved by natural attrition. It cannot be, the reason being that those that leave through voluntary means are actually resigning from the core, and not from the support staff.

’’What the new proposed structure seeks to do is to extract inefficiencies and work with the ratio so that the ratio should shift to have more in the core staff which are revenue generators and reduce the support staff,” he said.

Unions have, however, rejected the move by the SABC leadership and vowed to challenge moves to fire workers.

The unions, who accuse the management of making employees scapegoats for their failures, have also pointed out that there were still vacant posts which the SABC had to be filled, which the workers could be allowed to fill instead of being fired.

Mosia, however, stressed that employees had to individually apply for the critical positions that are vacant in the new structure.

“Let them compete among themselves. We are going to ring-fence the process internally.

’’As much as we talk about 400 redundant positions, there are about 170 vacancies in the new structure, which means internal people can be redeployed but they need to compete,” he said.

SABC chief executive Madoda Mxakwe said the executive management under his leadership was also hard at work to ensure that governance was restored at the public broadcaster.

“The corporation was once again encouraged by the decline in year-to-year irregular expenditure, by about 40% and amounting to R200m compared to the R336m for the year that ended in March.

’’Year-on-year fruitless expenditure has decreased by 87% and that equates to R27m,” Xakwe said.

Political Bureau

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