Johannesburg - The SABC is owed a staggering R25 billion in unpaid licence fees that have steadily accumulated over three years and are sinking the public broadcaster into deep financial trouble.
The mountain of debt is revealed in Parliament’s written reply from Communications Minister Nomvula Mokonyane to Phumzile van Damme, who is a DA MP and the party’s spokesperson on communication.
Van Damme, in questions sent to the minister seen by The Star, wanted to know, among other things:
* The total number of licence holders at the SA Broadcasting Corporation as of April last year
* The outstanding amount due in licence fees; and
* The amount the broadcaster wrote off in unpaid debts.
Mokonyane stated that an astonishing R25 588 801 443 was owed to the SABC in unpaid fees over the last three years as viewers chose not to pay their licence fees.
The minister added that the debt could have been higher but the public broadcaster wrote off more than R4.5 billion of unpaid debts on over a million “invalid” accounts in the 2016/17 financial year.
As of April last year, there were just over 9 million licence holders, 2.6million of whom had paid in full and 539693 were paying monthly or making part-payments.
Van Damme on Monday described the debt as a direct result of mismanagement of the SABC over the recent years, adding that South Africans had lost confidence in the public broadcaster and that many had stopped paying in protest.
“Advertisers also withdrew their business by not wanting to advertise with an SABC in turmoil. One of the biggest tasks of the new board is to look at new sources of revenue and start moving away from licence fees,” she said.
“The bulk of their funding is from advertising. The SABC board should continue to restore confidence and vigorously attract advertisers back to the public broadcaster in order
for it to stay afloat,” Van Damme added.
In its annual report for the 2016/17 financial year released in September, the SABC posted a net loss after tax of R977million. The organisation said it “experienced financial constraints owing to revenue streams deteriorating at a rate of 6% higher than cost reduction”.
“Cash and cash equivalents as at the end of the 2016/17 financial year were R82m compared to the previous year’s R881m,” the report said, accentuating the grim state of the organisation’s financial affairs.
The report added that this resulted in its not being able to pay its debts in full.
Van Damme added that the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications conducted regular oversight over the broadcaster, but would assist it in exploring new revenue collection methods.
“One of the recommendations of the SABC inquiry (last year) was for the portfolio committee to look at other public broadcasters from around the world in order to come up with some ideas around the funding models for the SABC,” she noted.
Her views were echoed by Mziwamadoda Kalako, the ANC’s MP and whip of the party’s study group on communications.
Kalako expressed great concern at the amount owed to the SABC and the losses it made in the previous financial year.
“As the ANC, we are concerned about this because we can’t have an SABC, as a public broadcaster, which cannot sustain itself.
“The SABC does not have any collection mechanisms to collect what is owed to it, which is a major problem. We have been asking them to develop that system,” Kalako said.
He did say, however, that collection was not the only problem, and they would explore other revenue-collection methods, including visiting other broadcasters from other countries.
SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said he could not comment immediately on the large sums owed to the organisation.
On alternative revenue collection, he said he could not speak publicly about this as it was a “corporate issue”, which he didn’t want to divulge because of the “competitive space that we find ourselves in”.
Kganyago said the SABC gets roughly 80% of its revenue from advertisers, 17% from licence fees and 3% from government grants.