The Minister can’t tell the SABC what to do

Please find attached a soundbite in English by DA Shadow Minister of Communications, Phumzile Van Damme MP

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is in possession of a letter to the SABC board Chairperson, Bongumusa Makhathini, by the new Communications Minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, and its contents are cause for serious concern.

At first instance, while the Communications Minister does indeed have an oversight role over the SABC, she does not, however, have the power to give instructions to the board. The fact that she has decided to “desist from all engagements with the SABC board” because it refused to take her instruction to halt retrenchments is puerile and in violation of the SABC’s independence.

Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams must continue discharge of her oversight role as shareholder and cannot decide not to do so because the board will not take her instructions and “…is no longer acting in the interests of the company, shareholder, and Parliament…” as stated in her letter. If she is not up to the task, she is welcome to resign.

The current SABC board has done well to enforce its independence and stand up to political interference by former communications ministers and it is evident it is doing the same with the current one.

That being said, the SABC board reports to and is accountable to Parliament and has not covered itself in glory regarding its proposed plan to retrench 2200 staff.

The DA has consistently said that the board must conduct an independent skills and salary audit before considering retrenchments, a view that was shared by the rest of the Communications Portfolio Committee when the board appeared before it last week. The committee also requested that the board present a clear strategic plan that will see the board self-sustain by cutting costs and exploring new revenue streams and funding models. The board has thus far done neither.

The SABC has until January to present both the results of an independent skills and salary audit, as well as a clear strategic plan to Parliament or face the risk of being axed. In terms of Section 15A of the Broadcasting Act, Parliament can dissolve the SABC board for the inability to perform its duties “efficiently.”

The DA is not blind to the politics at play. The SABC board has been adamant about enforcing its independence and this is not a situation Luthuli House would be happy with going into an election.

It has in the past had the SABC under its control and made sure that the public broadcaster was its mouthpiece and portrayed the ANC in a positive light to the electorate. The dissolving of the current board would allow for Parliament to appoint an interim board which could quite likely be filled with ANC-friendly individuals who would be at Luthuli House’s beck and call.

The ball is ultimately in the SABC board’s court. It must in January not give the Communications Committee reason to dissolve it, by presenting the results of an independent skills and salary audit and a clear strategic plan.

The DA is serious about rebuilding the SABC, protecting its independence after years of financial mismanagement, corruption and political interference by the ANC. We are also serious about protecting SABC staff against unjust retrenchment, we will not allow SABC staff to lose their jobs without just cause. We wait for the SABC board and management to redeem itself, and we hope it will do so.

DA calls for urgent meeting in Parliament and appointment of the SABC board following threatened strike action

The DA fully supports the right of SABC staff to engage in legal strike action.
Many of the demands contained in today’s final letter of demand sent to SABC management by the Broadcasting, Electronic Media and Allied Workers Union (BEMAWU) and the Communications Workers Union (CWU) are reasonable, particularly:

  • the immediate appointment of the SABC board as recommended by Parliament;
  • disciplinary action against former SABC COO, Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s so-called “enforcers”; and
  • full investigation of the “protest policy”.

The brilliant work initiated by the interim board to steer the SABC to calm waters has been stalled, and the public broadcaster has begun sliding backwards.
The SABC has many talented, qualified staff who care deeply about ensuring that the public broadcaster delivers on its mandate to South Africa.
They are therefore well within their rights to take action to prevent the SABC sliding backwards and once again becoming a cesspool of corruption, mismanagement and poor programming.
We will request that the meeting agreed upon by Parliament’s Communications Committee this week to allow for the SABC 8 and BEMAWU to appear in order to tell their side of the story be scheduled within the week.
We are also currently exploring what steps we can take to force President Zuma to appoint the permanent SABC board. Many of the concerns raised by the SABC staff could have been prevented did the SABC have a board in place.
The DA looks forward to engaging with the SABC’s staff, the individuals who work tirelessly, and often thanklessly to keep the SABC on air.

Meddling Muthambi at it again

Communications Minister, Faith Muthambi’s blatant attempt to go undermine the authority of the new SABC interim board, in order to delay it from performing its duties, will not go unchallenged.
Today, the SABC secretariat handed members of the interim board letters – during its meeting with the Communications Committee and hundreds of SABC staffers – indicating that they cannot begin their work until security clearance has been granted, and signed off by her office.
The Minister does not have the authority, legal or otherwise, to prevent the duly appointed members of the SABC interim board from meeting with representatives of Parliament – to whom it accounts, by law.
Moreover, the Broadcasting Act does not require the security vetting of the SABC’s interim board, and lists short timelines for both its nomination and appointment so that the public broadcaster is not without a board for a long period of time.
The SABC has been without a full constituted board since September 2016, and further delays can most certainly not be afforded. The Minister’s attempt at a filibuster of the work of the SABC interim board is only at odds with the spirit of the Broadcasting Act, but also the Office of the President.
The President approved, by signed letter, the appointment of the interim board on 27 March 2017. The appointment letter signed by the President did not require that members of the interim board be security vetted, and must be taken as the final word in this regard.
It is not surprising that Minister Muthambi seeks to delay the work of the board, as it is likely to undercover, in its investigations, her further complicity in the collapse of good governance at the SABC.
We also strongly caution her against attempting to strong-arm the interim board like she did with the previous board. During the Ad Hoc committee on the SABC, testimony was given by former members of the board of how she interfered in the board in order to force the illegal appointment of the former COO of the SABC, Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
The DA looks forward to meeting with the Minister when Parliament reconvenes, where she will have to account for this, and other actions.
The SABC interim board has a short period of time within which to start the process of cleaning up the SABC. First order of business is a disciplinary inquiry into the fitness of Hlaudi Motsoeneng to hold office.
The inevitable cannot be delayed, we urge the Minister to move aside and let the board do its work.