SABC in crisis mode a day after mass retrenchments

Johannesburg – The crash of systems at the SABC due to mass retrenchments and lack of preparation for a new structure led to embarrassing interruptions in broadcasting that saw TV and radio shows resorting to old content to avoid dead air and a blackout.

Sunday World can reveal that President Cyril Ramaphosa has summoned Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni- Abrahams to a meeting to discuss the crisis plaguing the public broadcaster.

On Thursday, the systems that the corporation – with four TV and 18 radio stations – uses to edit and air content crashed for hours, leading to stations using old content.

So dire was the situation that a briefing by cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister on the lockdown regulations announced by Ramaphosa on Monday had to be postponed by 30 minutes due to the collapse of systems.

Though the SABC downplayed the crash of systems and blamed it on power failure, Sunday World understands both the ENPS – a system the SABC uses for input, editing and output of content – and SAP, which is used for personal details of employees and their contracts, and procurement of goods and services, crashed.

Sunday World has seen communication among panic-stricken senior producers running around trying to save shows that could not go on air because the SABC failed to provide economic indicators, which include the strength of the rand against other currencies.

“The entire broadcasting system came to a standstill this morning [Thursday]. This morning all had to use content from the previous day. They didn’t have contingency plans. They can’t say these are teething problems. You can’t run Africa’s biggest public broadcaster without planning,” a source at the SABC said.

Old technological infrastructure and loss of critical skills due to retrenchments are among factors blamed for the collapse of systems.

SABC spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo said the broadcast interruptions experienced on Thursday were due to power failure and “not any other reason as alleged”.

“In any situation in which there are broadcast interruptions due to power failure there is pre-recorded content that goes on air in an instance where live broadcast is not permissible. It is, therefore, not an anomaly for old content or music to be broadcast during this period,” she said.

“The SABC has ensured that the transition into the new structure is well-organised and it is not true that the preparations were insufficient.” Ndabeni-Abrahams’ spokesperson Mish Molakeng did not confirm or deny that Ramaphosa has summoned the minister to an urgent meeting regarding developments at the SABC.

“The minister’s position on the SABC retrenchments has been consistent and it is that retrenchments should always be the last resort.

“Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, together with the minister of labour, have implored the SABC board in a series of meetings to explore alternatives. Any retrenchments, at the height of the growing unemployment rate, are unfortunate,” he said. “The president meets with ministers whenever he deems it appropriate.”

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