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Ramaphosa steps in as SABC board digs in its heels

2018-12-10 00:00

President Cyril Ramaphosa wants a full board within six weeks, while uncertainty still looms over Treasury guarantee

The four remaining members of the SABC board are not budging, despite the resignation of four members last week in a move many speculate was aimed at bringing about a total collapse of the first independently minded board in a decade.

“They are going nowhere; that is what I hear. In fact, the tide against them seems to be turning,” an ANC senior told City Press.

“The caucus is divided, but many are furious about the near collapse of the board. The broadcaster cannot afford it.”

It is clear that President Cyril Ramaphosa has put his stamp on developments.

His spokesperson, Khusela Diko, said on Saturday that Ramaphosa was assured by Parliament that the vacuum created by the resignations would be filled within six weeks.

“He has consulted with Parliament about the leadership vacuum that has been created by the resignations. It will be speedily addressed. The advert to fill vacancies has already been issued,” Diko said.

She hinted that there was a possibility that Parliament’s communications portfolio committee might sit in January and make recommendations.

This was confirmed by several members of the committee, who told City Press that most of them were agreed as to the way forward.

They said the committee was preparing to meet as early as January 2 to work through CVs and begin short-listing so that names could be presented to the National Assembly at its first proper sitting in the new year.

“The goal is that interviews be scheduled by the end of January,” said a committee member.

Only the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) appeared to be in disagreement.

EFF spokesperson and communications committee member Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said it would be a huge battle to interest credible candidates in the eight available board seats.

“Secondly, it will be difficult because whatever you do, at the centre of the problems at the SABC is Treasury’s guarantee letter. If Treasury does not give that guarantee, you are doomed,” he told City Press.

FINANCIAL CRISIS

A source close to the board told City Press that the SABC’s financial crisis was much more immediate than the projection of the money running out by March.

About R600 million is needed to run the place for a month. The projection for January revenue is just under R380 million. But salaries take about R250 million and R60 million must go to Sentech.

The source said there was no room to negotiate on these bills.

The board has just written to Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba to ask if they can partially pay their electricity bill so they can keep the lights on, because there is no way they can pay the full bill for Auckland Park.

“This is the SABC you are talking about,” said the source, pointing to the shame of being a beggar.

There are fears that there will be a further knock – because advertisers react immediately to negative coverage of the SABC, and licence collection takes an immediate dip.

The source believed Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams was playing hardball about the guarantee while not allowing the board to take steps to save costs – including retrenchments.

“This is the same shareholder that allowed the institution to be gutted,” the source said.

ANC DIVIDED

But Ramaphosa appears to have stepped in, asking Ndabeni-Abrahams for “a detailed report on the stabilisation of the SABC,” said Diko.

Michael Markovitz

The four remaining board members – chair Bongumusa Makhathini, broadcast technology specialist Michael Markovitz, university dean Dikwanyane Mohuba and lawyer Jack Phalane – are believed to have received support from all major political parties last week, including the ANC.

“I have been getting calls from senior ANC leaders saying they are so, so disappointed in what has happened,” one board member told City Press.

As the four have decided it is business as usual, the only way they can be removed is through a parliamentary inquiry.

ANC insiders say Ramaphosa “knows that it is not worth collapsing the board, that it will be faster to get the seats filled”.

Insiders believe that the four remaining members were expected to cave and hand in their resignations after the others resigned last week, leaving the board inquorate.

SABC communications head Neo Momodu confirmed that “no executive director has resigned”.

Asked about the impact of the resignations, she said: “An inquorate board cannot meet to take legally binding decisions until a sufficient number of directors has been appointed.

“However, the management of the SABC, under the leadership of its executive directors, is responsible for the management of the operations of the SABC. Thus, the SABC continues to discharge its legislative mandate of informing.”

The source close to the board, however, believes the inquorate situation puts Ndabeni-Abrahams in a strong and “dangerous” position because she is now allowed to liaise directly with the executive.

“But I think the money will now come,” said the source.

LEGAL CHALLENGE

The board is believed to be perplexed about why Ramaphosa released the four members without them having to serve a three-month notice period.

This notice period is at the president’s discretion, but he has to prove “good cause” when it comes to their reasons for resigning, precisely to ensure that there isn’t an inquorate board.

Last week, civil society group the SOS Coalition and Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) questioned whether Ramaphosa had acted within the law.

They used the example of John Matisonn, who resigned because “he did not agree with the board’s resolution on the proposed retrenchments”.

“SOS and MMA are of the view that disagreement with a board decision/direction, or disappointment over a lack of government support, cannot constitute ‘good cause’,” they said in a statement.

“SOS and MMA have instructed their attorneys to write to the president, requesting written reasons for accepting the four resignations with immediate effect.”

However, Diko said Ramaphosa “believed that representations are cogent and that is the basis on which he accepted their resignations”.

Meanwhile, the 2017 interim board has issued a statement denying that the reason some of them resigned was over the Mafoko Security tender award.

In a statement, the board said: “We did not resign because of the tender. The tender was awarded on June 30 2017.

The interaction between the interim board and the Special Investigating Unit regarding the Mafoko tender commenced with the submission of whistle-blower allegations regarding collusive tendering between Mjayeli Security Services and SABC staff in 2017.

“The whistle-blower allegations resulted in an amendment to the original 2017 presidential proclamations, and the amendment was then published on July 6.”

They dismissed allegations by the DA’s Phumzile van Damme, who suggested that there may be a link between their resignations and the investigation, saying: “There is no link at all between the two events.”

Additional reporting by S’thembile Cele

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February 17 2019