How to fix the SABC? Easy: bang!

2009-05-01 00:00

THERE is not much wrong with the SABC that wouldn’t be solved by a large explosion.

Many talented and committed people work for the national broadcaster, but their efforts are too often negated by an all-consuming culture of inefficiency, incompetence, inertia and worse. The continuing malaise at Auckland Park impacts upon the country in many areas, not least sport.

Mature viewers may suggest SABC sport has actually improved in recent years, recalling bygone days when somebody at the SAUK would decide to halt live coverage of a tightly-contested cricket match with a few overs remaining because the match had overrun by a few minutes.

Instead of witnessing the end of the game, incredulous sports fans would be left watching a report on a cultural festival in De Aar.

Some may even hanker after the unforgettable programming in the late 1980s when, in the first bloom of multi-cultural euphoria, SABC sports shows were hosted by two studio presenters wearing identical blazers and sitting side by side, one giving soccer news in Zulu, then the other discussing rugby in Afrikaans, each evidently unable to understand what the other was saying.

The images endure: Pieter van der Bergh staring intently at the camera listening hard for the moment when fellow presenter Lunga Williams would finish an exuberant soccer preview, and then linking to his own segment with a straight-faced “Ja, nee, Lunga, vandag op Loftus … ”.

Nostalgia is not what it used to be, but today’s sports fans may be entitled to ask what they get in return for the licence fee, to ask why the corporation broadcasts so little major rugby and cricket, why the quality of soccer production is poor and why so many minor sports seem to be ignored.

It is a personal view, and a decade has passed since I took the SABC dollar, but the answer to all these questions may well lie in the walls of the formidable SABC headquarters, still located in a quiet, leafy suburb west of the Johannesburg CBD. An incurable sickness is ingrained in the buildings, in the labyrinthine tangle of tunnels beneath Radio Park, in the endless corridors lined with bleak offices where a hermit could comfortably exist for decades without ever being disturbed and maybe above all in the five lifts that serve the TV block, the four smart lifts not so long ago reserved for white staff and visitors and the fifth installed for blacks.

This is where the root cause of the SABC’s institutionalised dysfunction is to be found, right there in the concrete structures where neatly clipped National Party acolytes in grey sweaters, grey shirt and ties, grey trousers and compulsory swart skoene tried to manipulate the hearts and minds of the people.

Not many people know why the original architects were told to design an SABC tower block with 28 floors in an area where there seemed no shortage of available land. The explanation, so the story goes, is that on a clear Highveld day, it is possible to look north from the panelled executive offices and boardroom on the 28th floor and see a distinctive nipple on the distant horizon, the Voortrekker Monument.

This may seem implausible, but the man-made monolith is actually not visible from offices on the 27th floor and, well, a 29th floor would have been an unnecessary luxury, wouldn’t it?

Can we anticipate an SABC renaissance? The process would probably be assisted by the injection of bold senior management willing to take risks and responsibility in equal measure and the ejection of the ANC comrades, wearing Armani rather than grey suits, spiritual descendants of the NP acolytes, who even now see the corporation as a vehicle to manipulate hearts and minds.

Above all, if the SABC Board really want to change the place, if they really want to unlock the potential of all the creative, dedicated and outstanding people on their payroll, if they really want to provide sports coverage worthy of one of the world’s leading sporting nations, then they should get some explosives, blow up the offices at Auckland Park and move to a brand new, purpose-built, modern broadcast centre somewhere like Midrand.

Boom, boom, boom … easy as that.

•Edward Griffiths is a journalist, author, former CEO of SA Rugby and general manager of SABC sport, and has been involved in various SA bid campaigns.

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