Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has announced that National Treasury would be providing a portion of relief to the SABC within the next 10 days.
Ndabeni-Abrahams was delivering her budget vote in Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, where she said the remainder of the bailout would be paid in the next 45 days.
The SABC has been in a financial crunch for about a year preventing it from developing any new original content and paying all its creditors. Staff members have also been worried that their salaries might not be paid.
“This is subject to the SABC meeting all the set conditions and requirements. In this regard, we will work with the minister of finance towards an institutional mechanism to support the turn-around effort and this includes the appointment of the chief restructuring officer,” Ndabeni-Abrahams said.
Her announcement on Wednesday represented an about-turn from last week when she said she would not support a bailout for the SABC if they did not provide a convincing turnaround strategy.
The minister had been at loggerheads with the SABC board, leading to frustration that she was either unwilling or dragging her feet in bailing out the public broadcaster.
While Ndabeni-Abrahams has stressed the need for the SABC to be rescued, she has sternly questioned the credibility and workability of the broadcaster’s turnaround strategy.
However, SABC acting chief operations officer Craig van Rooyen countered any misgivings about the turnaround strategy which he confirmed was already approved by the SABC board.
SABC spokesperson Vuyo Mthembu confirmed Van Rooyen’s point and added that the broadcaster is facing serious occupational health and safety hazards owing to aging equipment and lack of maintenance due to financial constraints.
“The SABC urgently needs re-capitalisation for it to be sustainable,” he said.
There has been growing concern about the SABC’s facilities which seem to be deteriorating. In May, SABC staff were evacuated from Radio Park in the Auckland Park building following a diesel leak. In a separate incident in June, a fire broke out in the cafeteria of the building. It was allegedly caused by an electrical issue.
The cash-strapped broadcaster indicated in late 2018 that it was looking to reduce the number of permanent employees by 981, and the number of freelancers by 1200. The broadcaster decided against this after protests and public criticism.
Speaking during the debate in the National Assembly, DA shadow minister of communications, Phumzile van Damme, made a plea to Ndabeni-Abrahams to ensure that the important role that the SABC plays in our democracy is protected, supported and respected.
“Is this minister upset that the SABC no longer exists to serve only the ANC’s interests? Is it because the SABC bravely reported on how she attempted to block reporters from covering protests at an ANC manifesto launch? Is that why?” asked van Damme.
“Work together with the SABC in good faith and National Treasury, so that the people of our country do not have to continue to suffer,” she added.