WRAP | SABC stands firm on blackout as union strikes

A general view of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) offices in Durban, South Africa.
A general view of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) offices in Durban, South Africa.
Darren Stewart
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20 November 19:10

The Communication Workers Union on Friday led a strike at SABC outlets across the country – this as management did not accept its demand to terminate the retrenchment process.

In the early hours of the morning, however, the SABC board announced it would suspend retrenchment consultations with 400 staff for a week. Despite this, strike action proceeded, with union members picketing outside the SABC outlets including its headquarters in Auckland Park, Johannesburg.

The CWU's general secretary, Aubrey Tshabalala, said the union wants the SABC to "withdraw the letters of dismissal and abandon the restructuring process." It described the seven-day suspension of the s189 process as a "PR exercise".

Among the demands of the union, included in a memorandum handed over to CEO, Madoda Mxakwe, are:

* Management to withdraw all dismissal letters with "immediate effect"

* The abandonment of all retrenchments

* The dismissal of the SABC board and the appointment an administrator

* The defence of indigenous languages

* A skills audit.                   

Mxakwe said the memorandum would be handed to the board, and in hopes of receiving a response early next week.

Late on Friday afternoon the SABC issued a statement indicating it has "contingency" plans for a possible blackout on its platforms. "There will be consequence management against any employee who is involved in the planned 'blackout'," the statement added.

The SABC said it remains committed to its public mandate to inform, educate and entertain South Africans.

20 November 17:21

The SABC said viewers and listeners would not be met with dead air or blank screens due to any action from the striking union.
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20 November 16:53

The SABC has issued a statement indicating that it has "contingency" plans for the blackout on its platforms. 

"There will be consequence management against any employee who is involved in the planned 'blackout'," the statement read. 

The SABC said it remains committed to its public mandate to inform, educate and entertain South Africans.

20 November 15:04

The public broadcaster's CEO Madoda Mxakwe has accepted the memorandum.

He says it will be taken to the group's board. 

"Once a response will be submitted, we will engage with the leadership of CWU and the ANC Youth League". 

Tshabalala had initially called for the SABC leadership to respond in "three minutes", but that never seemed likely to happen. 

Mxakwe says he hopes to get a response "early next week". 

"The board must sit today," shout members of the crowd. 

20 November 14:40

The CWU is calling for 

* Management to withdraw all dismissal letters with "immediate effect" 

* The abandonment of all retrenchments 

* The dismissal of the SABC board and the appointment an administrator 

* The defense of indigenous languages 

* A skills audit 

Tshabalala says the broadcaster must be "shut down" unless its demands are met. 

"We are not starting inside [i.e. the building] we are starting here [outside]," he says. 

20 November 14:32

Tshabalala is now asking SABC CEO, Madoda Mxakwe, to respond to a sms. 

The sms apparently states that staff must return to work this afternoon. 

"Don't test us," some in the crowd shout as he reads the sms. 

Mxakwe says the strike is authorised. 

Tshabalala states the sms is illegal. 

"Who is that person?" shouts someone in the crowd. 

20 November 14:24

Tshabalala says the union has received support from "almost all political parties" except "that blue one" a reference to the DA. 

He says the fight against capitalists that are "retrenching our people" must be taken forward. 

The union must also pressure Cell C to reemploy workers, he says. 

20 November 14:21

Aubrey Tshabalala, General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union, is going to read the memorandum on behalf of the union, which called for the strike on Friday. 

Tshabalala has accused SABC management of lying. 

"I want tomorrow to hear only recordings playing on SABC. There must be nothing on air," he says. 

20 November 14:09

The Communication Workers Union is also set to handover a list of demands to SABC management. 

20 November 14:07

The ANC Youth League is about to submit a memorandum of demands to the board of the SABC. 

These include

* Disbanding the SABC board,

* The immediate withdrawal of s189 retrenchment notices, 

* For the communications minister to publicly say the SABC will not be privatised

* Salary cuts for executive management 

* An end to outsourcing 

* More African programmes 

20 November 13:57

The South African National Editors Forum has urged the SABC and the management of its newsrooms to mediate their way out of the financial storm brought about by the broadcaster’s now-suspended plans to start retrenchment consultations.

SANEF calls for mediation in SABC debacle as unions stand firm

20 November 12:27

SABC staffers continue their lunchtime picket outside the Auckland Park headquarters, joined by supporters of various political parties. Similar pickets are taking place at regional offices across the country. 

20 November 10:08

Tshabalala says the CWU demands still stand. "We want the SABC to withdraw the letters of dismissal and abandon the restructuring process."

20 November 09:44

The Communication Workers Union had described the seven-day suspension of the implentation of s189 notices as a "PR exercise". Spokesperson Aubrey Tshabalala says the temporary reprieve does not give them any assurance that the matter has been resolved. 

20 November 08:15

Fin24's Sibongile Khumalo and Khulekani Magubane have written a primer on how the public broadcaster got into its current mess. 

SABC: Musical chairs at its 27th floor headquarters has brought its day of reckoning

20 November 08:14

Good morning and welcome to Fin24's converge of events at the SABC for Friday. 

In the early hours of the morning, the SABC board announced that it would be suspending retrenchment consultations with 400 staff for a week. 

This comes after employees at public broadcaster reacted angrily to the proposed job cuts, threatening to down tools and leave the airways dark. 

A strike by one of the group's major unions has been planned to start at noon. There is as yet no word yet on how the temporary suspension of the retrenchment processes will impact the strike. 

SABC suspends retrenchment consultations for a week

19 November 20:01

Workers at SABC will "down tools" on Friday at 12pm – this as management has not accepted demands of the Communication Workers Union to terminate the retrenchment process.

The union's general secretary, Aubrey Tshabalala, confirmed the strike in an interview on SABC's news programme SA Today on Thursday. CWU, an affiliate of Cosatu, had given SABC management until 17:00 on Thursday to accept its demands. The downing of tools would essentially amount to a blackout of programming.

The strike will take place at SABC outlets across the country, said Tshabalala. Workers will be protected, he said. A memorandum will be handed over to SABC representatives. The union also wants the broadcaster to be placed under administration, as it does not believe the board is "correctly governed", said Tshabalala.

Staff had engaged in lunchtime pickets on Thursday.

The SABC was thrown into turmoil earlier this week, as staff had refused to accept retrenchment notices being sent to 400 of their colleagues. The retrenchment process is part of plans to restructure the broadcaster and cut costs. On Tuesday, management of the news division had withdrawn notices as staff threatened to cut feeds and walk off. The next day however, staff were notified that the retrenchment process would continue.

The Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union (Bemawu), meanwhile, has also lodged an application with the labour court, to interdict the retrenchment process. According to Bemawu president Hannes du Buisson, the SABC had not consulted sufficiently with unions on the process. SABC management has denied this, saying it exceeded legislative requirements.

Prior to CWU announcing the strike, SABC's group executive of human resources Dr Mojaki Mosia appeared on SA Today, indicating that management could not work contrary to the resolution of the board; it would amount to insubordination. He, however, said that management had noted the request of organised labour. Mosia said SABC workers were given the option to select voluntary severance packages or the offer of early retirement, to minimise the number of employees affected by the s189.

19 November 18:53

As the board holds an emergency meeting to chart the way forward, here are some figures that illustrate the challenges in the public service broadcaster and how they have led to the SABC's current predicament.
The SABC in numbers: 5 figures that lay the broadcaster's troubles bare

19 November 17:57

Mosia said SABC workers were given options to select voluntary severance packages, as well as offering early retirement, to minimise those affected by the s189. 

19 November 17:50

Earlier, in an interview on the broadcaster's programme SA Today, Dr Mojaki Mosia, group executive of Human Resources at the SABC said the request of organised labour would be noted, unless the executive is directed differently to the resolution of the board - which is to restructure the organisation.

"I think the question is -  can we work contrary to the resolution of the board, and the answer is no, we can't." he explained it would be "insubordination" to act differently. 

19 November 17:43

Tshabalala said that the union wants to see the SABC placed under administration, as it believes the board is not "correctly" governed.

19 November 17:40

Workers will down tools at all SABC outlets across the country, said Aubrey Tshabalala, general secretary of the CWU.

He said workers would be protected - whether they are union members or not.

He said there would be no intimidation or threats of disciplinary hearings. 

A memorandum will also be handed over to SABC representatives at each outlet.

19 November 17:28

SABC workers will go on strike on Friday at 12pm, said Communications Workers Union general secretary Aubrey Tshabalala.

He confirmed the strike action in an interview on SABC's programme SA Today.

This comes as management has not accepted demands to terminate retrenchments.

19 November 14:56

Bemawu, which represents some 1 300 SABC staff, says it has approached the Labour Court to apply for an interdict against retrenchments. 

Union applies for interdict to halt SABC retrenchments as staff picket

19 November 12:39

Five columnists give their view on the SABC debacle - on what went wrong and what should happen going forward if the public broadcaster is going to be saved.

ANALYSIS | SABC retrenchments and past mismanagement: How staff are paying the costs now

19 November 12:27

The Communication Workers Union has given the SABC until 5pm to withdraw the retrenchment letters, otherwise a strike will go ahead on Friday.

19 November 12:07

Tshabalala says the Communications Workers Union represents some 900 workers at the SABC. He says the broadcaster may face a blackout if management fails to heed their call to reverse redundancy letters. Tshabalala sounded a warning to the SABC board Chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini, saying he does not understand the power of workers.

19 November 11:59

The Communication Workers Union is joined by the leadership of Cosatu. The federation's President, Zingiswa Losi, says the federation is of the view that the SABC has taken a "bad decision" in resolving to cut jobs, particularly at a time when the country is dealing with high unemployment.

"Workers cannot be the first to leave when they do not sit in boardrooms where decisions are taken," says Losi.

19 November 11:51

Aubrey Tshabalala, the Spokesperson of Communication Workers Union, one of the unions representing workers at the SABC, is addressing a media conference on the events that have taken place in the past few days at the public broadcaster. The union has given the SABC an ultimatum to reverse all the letters of dismissal issued to staff.  Tshabalala says workers will embark on a strike as from Friday if the letters are not withdrawn.

19 November 11:38

SABC staff, meanwhile, are feeling "traumatised and emotional" amid uncertainty about their futures at the public broadcaster.  

"We are still holding on, not sure what will finally happen," an employee tells News24 reporters Riaan Grobler and Lwandile Bhengu. 

Feelings of uncertainty and fear roam the corridors in the newsrooms of the SABC after employees received retrenchment notices.

19 November 11:12

At radio station RSG the 5 permanent presenters – Martelize Brink, Johan Rademan, Fritz Klaaste, Jacqui January and Haidee Muller – have all received letters saying their services will be terminated from 1 December, reports Channel24. 
RSG station manager: 'The presenters got letters, chilling, cold letters saying your service is terminated'

19 November 10:35

Fin24 columnist Khaya Sithole has looked what is facing Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. 
Khaya Sithole | The SABC is messing with Stella's groove

19 November 10:35

As Fin24 editor Ron Derby has written in an opinion piece, the current crisis at the SABC was a long time coming. 
Ron Derby | SABC paying the cost for the reign of Emperor Zuma and his faithful servants

19 November 10:34

As a week of high drama at public broadcaster the SABC continues, unions are set to brief the media on Thursday morning about a possible strike. 

The SABC was thrown into turmoil earlier in the week after staff refused to accept retrenchment notices being sent to 400 of their colleagues. The notices would have kicked off the start of a process that have had ended in job losses, as the broadcaster seeks to cut costs.  

Management appeared to withdraw the notices following a backlash which included employees threatening to cut feeds and walk off, only to send staff an email on Wednesday to say that the retrenchment process would continue. 

Thursday's briefing will be held by the Communication Workers Union, together with officials from labour union federation Cosatu. 

Fin24 will be following developments at the cash-strapped broadcaster throughout the day. 

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