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Stella still at war with SABC

2019-07-07 12:05

According to sources, the communications minister is at odds with the board of the public broadcaster.

Hostilities between the communications ministry and the SABC appear to be continuing unabated as the broadcaster waits for financial assistance from the state, which was promised in March.

This is amid concerns that the lives of SABC workers are at risk because of unmaintained facilities as the embattled broadcaster’s debts cross the R1.8 billion mark after its coffers were fleeced during the state capture years.

Senior sources say that SABC bosses were once again left shaking their heads this week after Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams and her team appeared before the parliamentary portfolio committee and, despite stressing the need for the SABC to be rescued, questioned the credibility and workability of the broadcaster’s turnaround strategy.

At one point Ndabeni-Abrahams said: “Treasury said this turnaround strategy that was presented by SABC does not meet our funding requirements and as the ministry we had serious concerns ourselves and we said we have to contract external support, which is why we contacted the GTAC [Government Technical Advisory Centre, an agency of National Treasury] and said: ‘Come and help the SABC to be able to develop a responsive turnaround strategy that must give confidence so that in the next three years or five years the SABC must not come back and ask for another bailout.’”

HEATED SPAT

Ndabeni-Abrahams later got into a heated spat with DA committee member Phumzile van Damme, who asked her to stop bad-mouthing the SABC and to be mature about her relationship with the SABC’s bosses.

This week Van Damme told City Press: “I got the sense that she was acrimonious towards the SABC executive and this also has a historical basis – when she said that she was going to stop talking to the SABC board. She seemed to not understand her role and the court judgement that stressed that the board has ultimate authority and she may just input and perform oversight over the SABC. Unfortunately she seems to be allowing her personal feelings to taint a management that has expressed independence and done an excellent job so far, even cutting almost R1 billion in costs.”

Ndabeni-Abrahams denied Van Damme’s claims in Parliament on Wednesday.

But a well-placed communications insider told City Press: “Apparently the minister regularly trashes [the SABC board and executive] in her department and to other organisations.”

Ndabeni-Abrahams did not respond to detailed queries from City Press this week.

Her spokesperson, Nthabeleng Mokitimi-Dlamini, said: “Please note that the minister will table the department’s budget vote in Parliament on [Wednesday] July 10, wherein plans for the department and entities, including the SABC, will be clearly outlined.”

Treasury did not respond to queries from City Press this week about whether it was in fact unhappy with the SABC’s turnaround strategy, but numerous sources inside the SABC said the broadcaster and Treasury had an excellent relationship and were working together.

City Press has been privy to all 11 preconditions established by Treasury for the SABC to be given a loan guarantee and bailout.

They include issues such as cash flow projections, cost-cutting measures, action against those implicated in corruption, explanations on why previous bailouts failed, the sale of non-core assets, private sector partnerships, investment plans, and the like.

Sources stressed that the SABC had met almost all the conditions except those that were within the minister’s power, such as the appointment of a restructuring team and broad policy for the sector.

Sources also said the SABC was grateful to GTAC’s assistance, especially in defining the separation of the broadcaster’s public and commercial interests.

“We have never had any negative feedback from the department,” said a senior manager.

HOSTILE

The minister and her department’s showing in Parliament was apparently perceived as so hostile that the next day SABC acting chief operations officer Craig van Rooyen appeared on SABC TV to counter their statements.

He said: “I just want to confirm that there definitely is a turnaround strategy and it is a strategy that’s approved by the SABC board. It’s not a strategy that needs to be approved by Treasury. The board is the only body that can approve or reject the SABC strategy and this was already done in August last year. Subsequent to that we’ve cascaded the strategy throughout the company and it is already being implemented.”

SABC spokesperson Vuyo Mthembu confirmed Van Rooyen’s point and added that: “The SABC is facing serious occupational health and safety owing to aging equipment and lack of maintenance due to financial constraints. The SABC urgently needs recapitalisation for it to be sustainable.”

The state of the SABC’s physical assets was raised by its chief executive, Madoda Mxakwe, in Parliament as well.

It is widely spoken of in the SABC that one of the victims of the generator petroleum spill at the broadcaster, an asthmatic, is still in a critical condition in hospital. The spill was followed by a fire caused by a faulty circuit board that saw more than a dozen staffers being taken to hospital.

Sources fear that it is only a matter of time before someone is critically endangered in the workplace if the loan guarantee is not forthcoming.

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July 21 2019