Staff are unhappy about possible 0% salary increases as the new board tries to restore credibility, contain costs and increase revenue.
It is nearly three weeks since I was appointed with my 10 colleagues to serve on the new SABC board for a five-year term. The unprecedented challenges at the public broadcaster are well known and the new board has begun its work with vigour and urgency to ensure good governance, financial stability and programming excellence.
During this short period, the new board has been through an intense induction process, appointed board committees and taken a number of crucial decisions to try and stabilise an organisation that has been plagued by maladministration for nearly a decade.
Given that all our top executives are serving in an acting capacity, a major priority is the appointment of a new CEO, COO and CFO. While no board decisions have been taken yet, we are involved in an intense and detailed process to scrutinise and find the right executives to lead the SABC into the next era.
Continuing where the interim board left off, we are determined to turn the SABC around and entrench its place as the shining light for independent public broadcasting in South Africa and on the continent.
In order to achieve this, we need the support of all our stakeholders, including our management and staff, Parliament, the minister of communications and, most importantly, the South African public.
Our management and staff have kept the organisation going during a time of extreme dysfunction. Our people at the SABC are undoubtedly our most valuable resource. We empathise with and support those who have suffered intimidation as a result of the behaviour of rogue executives. We have approached the courts to recover money we believe was acquired improperly. People must be held accountable.
With the firing of COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng and the disciplinary action against acting CEO James Aguma and his subsequent resignation, the SABC has begun the process of healing and rejuvenation. We will not rest until all those implicated in misconduct, illegality and corruption are removed from the SABC, following due process. There have to be consequences for those who played a part in destabilising this vital public institution.
Huge losses and massive debts
The new board received a detailed handover from former members of the interim board and we have met members of the Special Investigating Unit to get a progress report on the various investigations the interim board asked for.
The inescapable reality is that this recent period of chronic governance failure has led the SABC down a road of huge losses and massive debts. As will be presented to Parliament this week, in the SABC’s second quarter report, mismanagement by previous SABC boards and executives has left a significant hole in the corporation’s finances and it will take us time to move the dial in a different direction. This board has agreed to defer its own fees while it assesses the SABC’s finances.
We continue to pursue a government guarantee – not a bailout – from Treasury, to deal with the overhang of approximately R650m in debt we inherited. Our intention is to use this guarantee to solicit a bank loan to enable us to bring our back payments up to date while we return the corporation to growth.
Treasury has not approved this guarantee and the new board will review and refine its proposal. However, even if a guarantee is provided, the SABC has to be self-sustaining. We have to increase revenue by getting the basics right and ensure that costs are contained. Since we have no assurances from government that we will receive the guarantee, or when, we must prepare to sustain the business if it does not come.
For these reasons we cannot be seduced by short-termism and fall for quick fixes. South Africans expect us to build and protect a vibrant, sustainable public broadcaster that will endure beyond our five years as board members.
We have appealed to our staff to understand the situation the SABC finds itself in. Our recent proposal of a 0% increase was met with resistance and strike action from certain unions and staff. However, our cost-conscious decision has to be properly understood in the light of five years of above CPI increases for SABC staff and the fact that we now have no available funds for any increase, let alone the 10% unions demanded. Agreeing to this salary increase would place the corporation and jobs in jeopardy.
Staff morale is crucial and we hope we can resolve our differences with organised labour in a constructive and mutually beneficial manner. We are confident that we can build a public broadcaster that grows its income successfully, to provide secure and rising salaries for staff.
The SABC needs to focus on materially improving revenues from advertising, sponsorship, government grants and licence fees. We are encouraged by considerable improvements in licence fee collection and will be engaging advertisers and agencies soon about our plans for the SABC.
Apart from our governance and financial imperatives, the board is determined to properly equip the SABC for the digital world that is already upon us. We need a renewed focus on digital technology and must urgently finalise our digital terrestrial television (DTT) roll-out plans and content offerings for the long overdue digital migration. We must ensure that all SABC content and programming becomes available on all platforms – DTT, mobile and online.
Our vision for the SABC must include a financially sustainable, modern, independent public broadcaster that brings South Africa, Africa and the world into the homes of all South Africans, regardless of their financial situations. We believe we can achieve this vision and look forward to the support of our staff, management and the South African public.
Makhathini is chairperson of the SABC board