SABC News anchors wear black as concerns over on-air blackout grows

0:00
play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
SABC News presenters wore black on Friday in support of protesting colleagues.
SABC News presenters wore black on Friday in support of protesting colleagues.
Screengrab: SABC News
  • SABC News anchors and fielded reporters donned all-black attire on Friday in support of protesting co-workers.
  • This comes as fears of an on-air blackout on the station looms.
  • Staff members are protesting the public broadcaster's retrenchment plan in which 400 workers will likely lose their jobs.


As concerns about a possible on-air blackout grow, SABC News anchors and reporters on Friday surreptitiously joined their colleagues who were protesting outside through quietly wearing black attire on-air.

Anchors appeared dressed in black behind the desk in Auckland Park with the same going for field reporters out covering stories -- marking the second time that they have joined in making a statement on air through their wardrobe.

Angry SABC staff first organised a silent "Black Friday" clothing protest on 22 July 2016 when they wore black in open revolt against the then SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng and in support of their fired so-called "SABC8" news colleagues. Yesterday they all donned black clothing on-air again to send a powerful and unified message.

SABC workers are protesting the embattled and overstaffed South African public broadcaster's retrenchment plan in which 400 workers will likely lose their jobs. 

SABC News
SABC News anchors and field reporters wore black on-air on Friday.
SABC News
SABC News anchors and field reporters wore black on-air on Friday.
SABC News
SABC News anchors and field reporters wore black on-air on Friday.
SABC News
SABC News anchors and field reporters wore black on-air on Friday.
SABC News
SABC News anchors and field reporters wore black on-air on Friday.
SABC News
SABC News anchors and field reporters wore black on-air on Friday.
SABC News
SABC News anchors and field reporters wore black on-air on Friday.
SABC News
SABC News anchors and field reporters wore black on-air on Friday.
SABC News
SABC News anchors and field reporters wore black on-air on Friday.
SABC News
SABC News anchors and field reporters wore black on-air on Friday.
SABC News
SABC News anchors and field reporters wore black on-air on Friday.

Some political parties, like the ANC and EFF, joined trade unions and protesting workers on Friday outside SABC buildings across the country.

Politicians and their populist rhetoric have provided no solutions for the SABC's deepening financial quagmire except politicising an already difficult issue and saying they don't want workers to lose their jobs. 

Various factions are now trying to distil the SABC battle over job cuts into a politicised battle between the SABC board -- painted as "bad" -- and SABC workers who are "good". In reality, the issues are extremely complex, and the challenges around the need for retrenchments much more multi-faceted. 

The SABC board said in 2019, and again this year, that if the ANC-led government doesn't want job cuts, it will have to commit to giving the broadcaster an additional R1 billion per year. The company, who recently announced a net loss of R511 million, is on track to make another loss of at least R1.2 billion next year.

Meanwhile, staff say that top management executives took a lazy, uninformed and unworkable cookie-cutter approach in deciding on cuts within the proposed new SABC structure.

As part of their controversial restructuring, execs have scrapped SABC News TV current affairs shows on SABC2 like Zwa Maramani in Tshivenda and Ngula Ya Vutivi in Xitsonga. For now, Fokus in Afrikaans on SABC2, Cutting Edge in Nguni on SABC1 and Special Assignment in English on SABC3 will remain on-air.

Hannes du Buisson, Bemawu spokesperson, said that "some of the complaints from staff are people saying 'My position on the system is as an administrator'. The SABC scrapped my position but I'm the only one at the SABC that must certain content licensing fees."

The trade unions said if the SABC fires permanent staff and then replaces them again with freelancers and independent contractors the personnel cost won't go away but that the cost of paying for labour would end up somewhere else on the balance sheet.

Black-on-air concerns

Meanwhile, concerns are growing around a possible blackout of the SABC's TV channels and radio stations, in particular, SABC News (DStv 404) - a situation known as "black-on-air".

Interestingly, it is in SABC executives', the board's and SABC staff member's best interest that the news channel remains on-air without any blackout.

SABC News as a TV news channel -- similar to eNCA, Newzroom Afrika and the now-defunct ANN7 and SABC Encore -- was commissioned by MultiChoice and is made exclusively for the pay-TV provider. The contract, worth millions of Rands funnelled to SABC coffers, comes with clauses that include penalties for non-performance and non-delivery -- like on-air blackouts.  

If there were to be a blackout of the SABC News channel because of a strike, or possible sabotage, the broadcaster, which is already struggling financially, could lose even more money should MultiChoice enact any penalty clauses over content disruption and decide to withhold or decrease payment.

To prevent a blackout, Ian Plaatjes, SABC chief operating officer, told parliament's portfolio committee on Thursday that "a robust contingency plan" exists especially around SABC News.

Ian said it was necessary to revise the plan since the original one included staff members who may be affected by retrenchments. "Some of the names on there were people who might be affected and we just had to double-check that as well," he said.

Late on Friday, the SABC issued a statement saying the broadcaster "is fully aware of a plan to create a 'blackout' on our platforms. We can confirm that there are contingency plans in place that will kick in immediately should this self-induced crisis be precipitated. There will be consequence management against any employee who is involved in the planned blackout".

The SABC said that it "has a statutory duty and public mandate to provide uninterrupted radio and television services for millions of South Africans" and that it "wants to assure the public that we remain committed to delivering our public mandate of informing, educating and entertaining South Africans, irrespective of any planned misconduct or ill-discipline".

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24