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Mass axings, boardroom battles and sports-rights victory – just another week at the SABC

2019-08-26 00:00

As the public broadcaster, the SABC, managed to regain some rights to flight football matches on TV and radio stations, it appears that a major fight is under way, with employees facing the axe and allegations of a battle on the board tasked with turning the broadcaster around.

The SABC has filed papers in the labour court to sack 28 staffers who were promoted or appointed irregularly during the time of former chief operating officer (COO) Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

But the staffers and their unions are ready to take the fight back to the broadcaster, arguing that they are being made scapegoats.

And there are claims of board conflict contributing to the sudden resignation earlier this month of Craig van Rooyen, the broadcaster’s acting COO.

SOCCER IS BACK

The cashless SABC announced that it had reached a deal with MultiChoice over the broadcast of PSL matches on its TV and radio stations.

Already, the broadcaster has faced public uproar after it failed to secure the rights from the pay channel.

This forced government to intervene, and eventually a deal was reached.

With the new deal, City Press understands that the SABC will fork out R72 million to beam 66 games on TV and radio stations.

This is a far cry from the R280 million that MultiChoice wanted for the 144 games, City Press has been informed.

The new deal means that the SABC will pay just under R1.1 million for each game it broadcasts on its channels.

MultiChoice refused to confirm the terms of the deal, saying: “With regard to the details you are looking for, these are contractual matters and contracts are by nature confidential.”

In a statement following the conclusion of the deal, the pay channel’s group chief executive, Calvo Mawela, said: “We remain committed to the long-term investment in sports … An important element of the investment is in sports broadcasting and sponsorship rights, which provide critical revenue streams for sports bodies that filter down to every tier and have an undeniable impact on the development of sport.”

In the same statement, SABC’s group chief executive, Madoda Mxakwe, said: “In line with our public mandate, we are pleased to have reached an agreement, in the interest of the South African public. Most importantly, this commercially viable deal is aligned to the goal of having a financially sustainable public broadcaster.”

Meanwhile, sources say the SABC has reached an agreement on radio rights for PSL matches, to be announced on Monday.

It will include 168 matches on all African language stations, XKFM and Radio 2000.

Sources say SABC payment will be in the form of a trade exchange of air time to the PSL.

JOBS FOR PALS

The next battle the SABC is likely to face will be waged by staff and their unions, after it filed papers in the labour court to set aside 28 irregular appointments and promotions made during Motsoeneng’s tenure.

In an affidavit before the court, SABC group executive for human resources Jonathan Thekiso fingered “Mr Hlaudi Motsoeneng and other senior personnel who have since left the SABC” as the architects of “irregular and unlawful” appointments and promotions.

Thekiso said the court action to reverse the appointments was aimed at addressing the crisis [mostly financial] facing the broadcaster, and that this was part of a series of critical interventions by the SABC’s new board of directors aimed at restoring the integrity, stability and proper functioning of the SABC.

Motsoeneng said he was not aware that the SABC had blamed him and his former colleagues for the irregular appointments.

“It looks like they are trying to reverse all the appointments that I have made. If they do, half of the SABC was employed by me. Will they fire all of them? They should have also notified me when they mentioned my name in court, so that I could also appear and explain to the court what had transpired.”

Besides setting aside the appointments, the broadcaster wants these “to be declared unlawful and invalid”; the employees to “immediately vacate the positions”; and those who oppose the action to pay for legal costs.

“As a result of the aforementioned irregular appointments, the environment within the SABC’s business has become toxic and has significantly affected staff morale,” wrote Thekiso.

“For as long as these irregular appointments and promotions persist, there can be no harmonious working relations within the SABC, given the underlying discontentment of those employees who have witnessed the irregular appointments, and similarly, have seen this effectively allowed to occur by senior personnel within the SABC as a result of broken governance.”

According to Thekiso, competent and qualified individuals were overlooked or their applications were declined.

“Instead, other employees were favoured, often without the requisite skills or qualifications. The SABC is in the process of taking steps to turn its organisation, which has been plagued by corruption and mismanagement for years, around. For as long as these irregular appointments persist, so does the old regime of corruption, inefficiency and organisational paralysis,” he wrote.

In one case, a post for a specialist producer or presenter was advertised, and interviews were conducted.

One of the requirements of the post was a degree/national diploma in journalism or any other relevant tertiary qualification/s.

“A total of three candidates were short-listed ... The request shows that Dimakatso Motsoeneng did not have any of the qualifications required in terms of the advertisement. The other two candidates, however, possessed such qualifications. Nevertheless, Motsoeneng was recommended and appointed above the candidates who met the requisite qualification requirements,” wrote Thekiso.

Dimakatso Motsoeneng said she was unaware of the court application and referred all enquiries to the SABC.

The unions have criticised the selection of the 28 names that the broadcaster wants axed, chosen from a list of about 120 irregular appointments disclosed when the SABC attempted to institute the section 189 action.

“There are claims from some of the respondents that they have been targeted,” said a source.

“There seems to be a drive to get rid of the Hlaudi ghosts, regardless of whether they are good or bad.”

Approached for comment, SABC spokesperson Vuyo Mthembu said that the broadcaster, “out of respect for the rule of law, consciously engaged in legal proceedings against ... employees who were irregularly appointed. Those affected employees have an opportunity to defend themselves in a court of law. Thus, the SABC resists any attempts of drawing it into litigation through the media.”

She said the SABC followed “a comprehensive process” and that its decision to pursue these cases was based, among others, “on the recommendations of the reports of the Public Protector, the parliamentary ad hoc committee and its own internal investigations”.

She reiterated that “this is the first phase of the process and, as indicated previously, the continuous investigation might reveal additional irregular appointments.”

Of the list allegedly given to unions, she said: “The SABC is on record as having disassociated itself from such a faceless list. The SABC remains committed to enforcing sound governance measures and consequence management, aimed at ensuring strict adherence to all its policies.”

BOARD MEMBERS VS EXECUTIVES

Speculating about Van Rooyen’s resignation, some sources say he was tired of constantly attending disciplinary hearings.

Others say he was tired of the political stresses of the job.

But his resignation letter cites “personal decisions about my wellbeing, my family and the direction I would like to take my career”.

In it, he thanks “most members of the board” and proceeds to name each of them except two – deputy chair Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi and Marcia Socikwa.

Sources speculate that they played a role in his decision to resign.

Van Rooyen’s omission of their names is underscored by another letter sent to the board in June by Mxakwe and chief financial officer Yolande van Biljon which raised the issue of “challenges that undermine the performances of the executive” with regard to two board members.

City Press reliably believes that they were also referring to Socikwa and Mohlala-Mulaudzi.

The letter, as well as some sources, claim that the two are constantly negative and often petty, questioning every report made by the executive in a way that undermines the rebuilding of the SABC.

The members, they say, appear resistant to the consequence management being driven by the executive, who are second-guessed, resulting in a breakdown of trust.

Both women were surprised by the claims, which they strongly deny.

There is also, however, the matter of Socikwa’s racism scandal at the University of SA, where she is accused of mistreating Indian and coloured staff members.

The issue was raised when Socikwa was being interviewed for the SABC board.

The portfolio committee on communications wanted Socikwa to follow up with proof that she was not guilty of racism and was not misleading Parliament when saying she had been exonerated of the charges. Parliament did not respond to queries about its oversight of the matter.

Responding to allegations of undermining the executive and causing a rift on the SABC board, Socikwa and Mohlala-Mulaudzi said that reference to Van Rooyen omitting them from his letter is a “red herring as much as it is alarming. It is humorous to deal with who was thanked, as opposed to the content and cause of his resignation.”

They added: “We serve the institution for no personal aggrandisement and honour from employees. At best, this is frivolous ... as we have had cordial working relations during his tenure. Our ethical compass remains the only test of good governance expected of us as board members.

“We have had robust discussions at times, but all such discussions have been pointed at assisting to formulate strategies to enhance the SABC turnaround strategy. These interventions have, to a large extent, been met with resistance from the executives, but we will not be deterred. Our single-minded proposition is for the SABC to be viable.

“There is no agenda to have the executives dislodged from their positions, but rather, as part of our fiduciary duty, to ensure we work with the executives to restore the SABC to viability ... and financial standing by means of a bailout, meeting the conditions set out by the minister, and a bankable, long-term turnaround strategy. The executives are expected to be accountable at all material times in our journey to rescue the SABC from the morass.”

The SABC’s board chair, Bongumusa Makhathini, said: “We respect the right of the media to keep the public informed on matters that are of public interest. However, as the board, we do not at this stage wish to comment on internal matters in the public arena.”

He stressed that “the SABC is in dire need of a bailout from government to enable us to function as a fully fledged national public broadcaster”.

City Press believes that even after August payments, there is still R130 million owed to the country’s independent producers, the lifeblood of the broadcaster.

The SABC was promised financial aid from the state months ago, but Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams failed to respond to a request last week for an update on when a bailout or loan guarantee can be expected.

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November 10 2019