SABC faces collapse

The SABC is in chaos, with the finances of the state broadcaster in such disarray that a halt has been called to producing new TV shows and staff members fear they won’t be paid.

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said this week that the organisation’s finances were “under pressure, with the SABC now funding its activities from its reserves”, and put the blame on the global economy, the media, the parliamentary inquiry into the fitness of the SABC board to hold office and a lack of government support.

However, numerous senior insiders say the situation is far worse.

“We’re not even sure [if] we can pay salaries at month’s end,” said an insider close to the treasury division.

“Hlaudi’s [Motsoeneng] chickens have come home to roost ... It’s worse than [the SABC’s financial collapse in] 2008 – but this time it’s not likely that anyone will bail us out,” said another.

However, Kganyago insisted salaries would be paid and denied the crisis was worse than in 2008.

“We collect revenue every day. Yes, our reserves are down, but we are able to meet all our commitments,” he said.

A human capital management crisis

None of the highly placed insiders City Press spoke to wished to be named for fear of losing their jobs. They all said that posts were now frozen.

“The problem is that Hlaudi went on a drive to make freelancers permanent and now we are stuck with an inflated human resources (HR) bill in finance, risk, HR, the executive, news, sport and marketing. They don’t know what to do with the people because they can’t be moved to critical operational areas such as TV and sales because they lack the necessary skills,” said one.

Many of those promised permanent jobs received only fixed-term contracts, and now, says Hannes du Buisson, president of the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers’ Union, those contracts are not being renewed and, increasingly, former staffers are heading to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) because they had reasonable expectations of their contracts being renewed.

“We have so far filed three disputes for freelancers who were given fixed-term contracts by Motsoeneng,” said Du Buisson.

“Our members had been working towards promotions, but the posts they sought are no longer open.”

Tuwani Gumani, general secretary of the Media Workers’ Association of SA, said the SABC had cut back hard on security staff.

“We have repeatedly warned the SABC that it is facing a human capital management crisis. People are now being reduced in tranches,” he said.

Regarding former freelancers, Gumani said: “We predict there will be a substantial number of CCMA cases coming.”

About the frozen posts, Kganyago said yesterday: “There are a lot of people in the building, some are not utilised fully ... And they are asking where can they convert people’s skills to fit the needs of the positions, because the wage bill is already more than it should be. So, until they utilise these people properly, these vacancies will remain frozen.”

He said the SABC would be hiring only where scarce skills were required.

Regarding a surge in CCMA cases, he said: “We do not have control over people going to the CCMA.”

Growing discontent

Meanwhile, there is growing discontent over acting group chief executive officer (CEO) James Aguma, whose term Communications Minister Faith Muthambi extended for three months in January. According to the SABC’s most recent annual report, Aguma received a 67.25% increase in salary last year, which pushed his package from R1.3m to nearly R2.2m per year. Aguma also collected a 13th cheque of R181 000 last December.

Kganyago said Aguma’s was not an “unreasonably high increase”.

“He was a manager, then he became chief financial officer and then acting CEO. Of course he had to get increases. Over a long period, we did not pay 13th cheques. But then we realised that this was going against our conditions of employment. And the board approved this,” he said.

TV content producers are jumpy. Three insiders said no new TV shows were being commissioned and “all the SABC will be doing is renewing existing contracts”.

Said one insider: “A memo was circulated recently to say that the SABC couldn’t meet its commitments, so producers would not receive mid-month payments, which is standard when they first sign contracts.” This may have an adverse impact on SABC3’s relaunch in April.

Another insider said: “SABC1 and SABC2 will be okay, but there is talk that SABC3 won’t make it. They are making no money and no one knows how long they can stay on air.”

One TV content producer said: “I was in ... a meeting with senior TV people because they had stopped paying on a project I am attached to. They say it is just a delay. They assured me all contracts would be paid out, but there would be no new commissions. SABC3 is flat broke.”

Kganyago responded: “I don’t know what they mean. Yes, SABC3 is not reaching its targets – that is why it is relaunching. Next week, we will be showcasing the new programmes, including local content.”

Regarding a freeze on new shows, Kganyago said: “That is not true. In January, we put out new content on SABC2. In February, we did the same for SABC1. In March, it is SABC3.”

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