Production houses, together with unions, actors and musicians, are to stage an unprecedented march next week against the SABC for non-payment of nearly R60 million. But the protest could be too late as dozens of companies have had to retrench staff while others face imminent closure.

The TV crisis march on June 4, organised by the Television Industry Emergency Coalition (TVIEC), has been provoked by the public broadcaster's non-payment of millions of rands to independent producers for completed seasons of programmes already aired on TV.

The R58 million does not take into account money owed for royalties and repeat fees which artists, writers and producers have been struggling for years to get from the SABC.

The TVIEC, which consists of the Independent Producers' Organisation, the South African Screen Federation, the Producers' Alliance, the Documentary Filmmakers' Association, the Writers Guild of South Africa as well as the Creative Workers' Union, told the Saturday Star yesterday it was fighting for a transparent, fair and sustainable SABC.

Kgomotso Matsunyane, head of TOM Pictures, said that after she was forced to retrench staff, she was left with just three staff members. She has been waiting for payment since October.

"We had to move to smaller offices and have had to redefine the company. The SABC is making us unsustainable. They have 501 excuses and are using silly tactics not to pay us."

Charl Blignaut of Moja Movie Factory, which produces Mtunzini.com, said the company has not been paid for season two and half of season three, although the programmes had already been aired.

"I can't finish post-production for the other half of season three because I haven't been paid. Viewers will be left hanging because we can't produce the rest of the season," said Blignaut.

Matsunyane said producers had no faith in the public broadcaster's management and board.

"We have to submit our invoices after our programmes have been aired. But they have so many rules. You have to say May 29, 2009 on the invoice - if you say 29 May 2009, they won't accept it. They are using little things like that to not pay us.

"They're playing around with our lives. It's criminal. An investigation should be launched into we how we got to this position," she added.

Meanwhile, the TVIEC said there was "a deep arrogance in the heavy-handed management style" displayed by the SABC.

"Budgets are lower than they were seven years ago. Price-fixing of fees for crew and cast and unsustainable production fees have left companies vulnerable and exhausted, while SABC management take home exorbitant salaries and performance bonuses - some bonuses exceed an entire year's production fee for a major daily soap - and enjoy first-class air travel, five-star hotel suites and lavish entertainment," their statement said.

When asked how the SABC was dealing with production companies' threats to take their tapes of popular TV programmes and when the SABC plans to pay production companies, spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo said: "The SABC recognises the challenges faced by the production industry and reiterate we are doing everything in our power to assist. However, the public broadcaster expresses disapproval of the allegation that says the there is a lack of commitment from the SABC.

"The aim for the operational task team to meet was to establish who is still owed, and in return the public broadcaster to provide its schedule of payments. That process, as far as the SABC is concerned, is still going on.

"Once the process is finalised, we will communicate," she said.