SABC board members throw in the towel in fresh battle with government

At least two board members of the embattled South African Broadcasting Corporation are understood to have resigned amid allegations of political pressure being brought to bear on the board.

News24 understands, from two sources with firsthand knowledge of the board’s affairs, that deputy chairperson Khanyisile Kweyama and DA-nominee John Mattison have thrown in the towel.

Claims that Krish Naidoo will follow suit are as yet unconfirmed. Naidoo denied his intention to resign to the City Press this weekend.

READ: Low staff morale, fear and anger at the SABC

News24 was unable to reach the Presidency, Kweyama or Mattison immediately.

The SABC, in a short statement, said it had "noted" reports that three members of its board had resigned and referred all queries to the Presidency.

In the same statement, the broadcaster denies that its group chief executive Madoda Mxakwe had also resigned.

READ: Our CEO hasn't resigned, says SABC

The resignations follow a strained meeting between the board, newly-appointed Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams and her deputy, Pinky Kekana, last Thursday.

The battle between the board and government over looming retrenchments at the public broadcaster came to a head during the meeting and another source close to the Communications ministry told News24 the resignations were in protest of some of the board members' treatment of the minister at the sitting. 

A letter in which Ndabeni-Abrahams states her intention to no longer engage with the board over a dispute regarding the retrenchments was leaked to the media over the weekend.

Ndabeni-Abrahams said she had been forced to cut ties with the board after the meeting and would "report this impasse to the president, Parliament and all relevant stakeholders" City Press reported the letter as saying over the weekend.

"The board made it clear at the meeting that, irrespective of the success of [a] government guarantee or bailout, they will still proceed with retrenchments. As the shareholder representative, we were left with no option but to desist from all engagements with the SABC board," she wrote.

The SABC embarked on a process to cut jobs by 980 staff and more than 1 200 freelancers in an effort to stem the financial crisis it finds itself in.

The broadcaster needs at least R3bn to stave off a March 2019 D-day, when it will find itself unable to pay salaries or bills.

Sources close to the board again confirmed City Press reports that the meeting between the minister and the board was highly charged with Ndabeni-Abrahams seemingly arriving with the express intention of putting a stop to retrenchments.

The SABC's current salary bill is pushing a projected R2.7bn for the 2018/2019 financial year, which equates to roughly 40% of its revenue.

"We realised that the board was no longer acting in the interests of the company, the shareholder, and Parliament as the representative of [the] South African public to which the SABC board is accountable," said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

Ndabeni-Abrahams added that the board had flatly refused to allow her time to familiarise herself with the turnaround strategy and retrenchment plans.

This is at odds with another paragraph in the letter which states the board will "review the pace and quantum of the impact of the [retrenchments] should funding be found".

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