SABC on course for R1.2bn loss in 2020/21 – board chairperson
Johannesburg – SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini says his deputy’s comments about being opposed to retrenchments at the public broadcaster left him shocked, describing them as ‘highly unfortunate’, while insisting that job cuts have to go ahead at Auckland Park.
Earlier this week the SABC retrenchment debacle degenerated into a stand-off and there was a threat of a possible blackout as newsroom employees refused to go on air, demanding answers over the impending job cuts at the public broadcaster.
The public broadcaster announced a net loss of R511 million in Parliament on Tuesday when it presented its annual report for 2019/20.
The SABC plans to dismiss around 400 employees as part of the new newsroom structure. Just over 170 jobs will be re-advertised as part of the restructure.
SABC board deputy chairperson Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi revealed on Wednesday morning that five of the 11 non-executive board members at the SABC – including herself – were against retrenchments at the public broadcaster.
Speaking to IOL on Wednesday afternoon, Makhathini said the public broadcaster had no choice but to retrench staff as their projections for the 2020/21 financial year showed there would be a R1.2bn loss at the SABC after the public broadcaster was severely impacted by Covid-19, with declining advertising and TV licence revenues.
Makhathini said Mohlala-Mulaudzi had no right to voice herself outside of the board’s resolutions.
“It is my duty to communicate the decisions of the board. It was highly unfortunate (for the deputy board chairperson to speak out). It shocked me.
“According to the board charter, I am the spokesperson for the board and that is normal, that is how things are done. When it comes to board resolutions in South Africa, once a resolution has been adopted and management has been mandated to implement, it becomes a board decision.
“Board members will always have differences and disagreements, but it cannot be right to present such in the public, the board may as well cease to function.
“It is highly unfortunate that the deputy board chairperson chose to break from the board. Board members should remain loyal to the board,” he said.
Makhathini said the Zondo Commission into State Capture had demonstrated how boards were manipulated and compromised, adding that Mohlala-Mulaudzi’s actions went against sound governance principles.
Earlier, Mohlala-Mulaudzi had gone on a media drive to express that at least five non-executive board members out of 11 were against the retrenchments at the public broadcaster.
She also said there was a possibility some who had voted in favour of the retrenchments could change their mind.
“Some on the board do not agree with the Section 189 process. We feel there must be better consultation and we feel that Section 189 takes the SABC backwards instead of forwards.
“Some on the board have been pushing this issue of Section 189 very vigorously, but some of us feel that the Section 189 process will have a detrimental effect on the turnaround strategy of the SABC,” she said.
Makhathini said the public broadcaster had no choice but to retrench staff as their projections for the 2020/21 financial year showed there would be a R1.2bn loss at the SABC.
He said the Treasury’s R3.2bn bailout for the SABC had been paid in two tranches – R2.1bn last October and R1.1bn in March.
He said the SABC could not, as part of the conditions outlined by the Treasury, utilise any of the bailout money to pay for salaries.
“There will be a board discussion, whatever we do we will promote the stability of the SABC, we are not going to go crazy about unity if that unity is not based on facts and figures,” he said.
In defending the decision to embark on retrenchments, Makhathini said the matter had been a discussion point for more than two years and said the board elected to make no adjustments to their fees for the next two years “for the stability of the SABC”.
“The matter of the SABC’s salary bill is also a compliance issue for Treasury, the salary bill sits at almost 43% of total expenditure, which is unsustainable because we should be spending that on content and fulfilling the public mandate,” he said.
Makhathini said the immediate goal was to reduce the SABC’s R2.35bn salary bill by R700m and they would achieve this, he said, by implementing retrenchments, by freezing salaries for the next three years and by reviewing leave and sick leave policies.
He said in the past five years, there were several costly irregular appointments and many decisions were taken that were not in the best interest of the public broadcaster.
“We need to be allowed space and time to implement the turnaround plan. Implementing a turnaround plan is a three- year journey.
“No business can be turned around in one or two years, a lot needs to change in terms of adhering to the regular legislative framework and governance, we need to create new compelling and exciting content, we need to monetise better, we need to reduce exorbitant signal costs and reduce staff cost, it is critical that we must do that,” he said.
“It is also important for the board to be in charge and be independent in controlling the affairs of the SABC.
“As we have seen at the Zondo commission, it is boards that have to account for what went wrong. The responsibility and accountability rests with the board,” he said.
Makhathini also said the SABC suffered a R1.5bn deficit after it had to dispense with some programmes during the lockdown. He said they had tried to approach the government for assistance in terms of revenues lost due to unforeseen circumstances, but this was denied. – Additional reporting by Political Bureau