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SAFTU alarmed at threatened retrenchments at SABC

The South African Federation of Trade Unions is alarmed at the threat to hundreds of jobs at the SABC.

At a time when South Africa has one of the sixth highest levels of unemployment in the world, the federation opposes any further jobs losses,. But it would be a double blow for the pubic broadcaster to lose jobs, not only for the workers themselves and their families, but for the people of South Africa, for whom the SABC and its workers provide an essential public service.

It is yet another example of workers being asked to pay the price for a crisis of corruption and mismanagement for which they are not to blame, a crisis of which indeed they were the main victims, just as in state-owned enterprises like Eskom and Prasa.

The SABC staff suffered during the disastrous years in which Hlaudi Motsoeneng treated his staff and service providers with contempt and tolerated no opposition to his corrupt dictatorship.

As a result of Motsoeneng’s pillaging and mismanagement, the SABC was bankrupted. The auditor-general gave it an adverse audit opinion for 2016-17 when it recorded a staggering loss of R1.1bn. In the next financial year to March 2018 it recorded a net loss of R622m, owes its creditors R694-million and is still in the midst of a severe financial crisis.

Instead of making the work pay wth their jobs, the government and NPA should be recovering these losses from those who robbed the public broadcaster of millions of rands and turned it into an ATM machine for Motsoeneng and all the other thieves who were looting both the SABC and our economy as a whole.

The other dangerous consequence of mass retrenchments is that they come at a time when the new SABC Board is struggling to restore its credibility and fulfill its public mandate, as defined by the Constitution, the Broadcasting Act, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa Act and the Electronic Communications Act.

It is mandated to reflect South African attitudes, opinions, ideas, values and artistic creativity, showcase South African talent in educational and entertainment programming, offer a plurality of views and a variety of news, information and analysis from a South African point of view, and advance the public interest.

This is so important, as the SABC has a huge audience, especially Its radio stations which command a 71.8% share of adult radio listening in SA which translates to 28.1 million adult listeners in all official languages.

Before 1994 the SABC was just a propaganda weapon for the apartheid regime, spewing out racist lies and concealing the crimes of the National Party and its big business allies. Then, under both Presidents Mbeki and Zuma its was used to advance their factional interests, and in Zuma’s case to add it to the long list of public institutions which his cronies, including Motsoeneng, used to enrich themselves.

Motsoeneng negotiated the outrageous deal with Multichoice which, in return for getting an SABC news channel on DSTV, it handed over rights to archives which are part of our national heritage to a private company. He also initiated the policy of banning images of violent protests and promoting only ‘good news’ stories, which was used to stifle the voices of angry workers and poor communities.

This worsened the already blatant class bias of the public broadcaster which gives far more coverage to business than labour concerns, in part because of its over-reliance on revenue from advertising, sponsorships and other commercial partnerships, which account for 85% of its income.

If the public broadcaster it to reverse this trend and become the true voice of all the people, especially to take advantage of the new opportunities offered by digital terrestrial TV, it will require more not fewer staff.

The SABC Board claims to currently have 1,000 managers for a staff complement of approximately 3,400, including allegedly “managers who were looking after desks”.

This is another of the Motsoeneng legacies. As CEO Chris Maroleng told parliament, the wage bill was unacceptably high due to years of “irregular salary increases to numerous employees promoted from admin to manager in a short space of time, the blatant disrespect for recruitment and policy with regard to appointment and promotion and the payment of critical skills allowances where these were irrational”.

This was Motsoeneng’s strategy of ‘jobs for the boys’ to buy off staff so that he could carry on enriching himself.

However the solution to this problem is not retrenchments but redeployment of any such staff into real productive jobs, producing more and better programmes, and ending financial mismanagement and inefficiency.

SAFTU will stand in solidarity with workers who refuse to accept retrenchments as the solution to the SABC’s problems. We shall continue to campaign for a truly independent SABC which reflects all the people of South Africa, especially the workers and the poor whose voice is still largely unheard in the commercial media and not still sufficiently on the SABC at present.

SAFTU is also pressing ahead with plans for a workers’ and socialist media hub, which will provide a platform for all those who want to see the end of a capitalist system and a democratic socialist society, in which, in the words of the Freedom Charter “All the cultural treasures of mankind shall be open to all, by free exchange of books, ideas and contact with other lands”.