SABC retrenchment revolt now targets Mboweni’s Budget speech

Johannesburg – The SABC is on high alert for a possible disruption or blackout of the broadcasting of the Budget speech to be delivered by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni on February 24.

Sunday World can reveal that the embattled public broadcaster had its hands full trying to ensure that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) was not disrupted by staff members affiliated to the Communications Workers Union (CWU) this week.

Evidence has emerged showing that the union had instructed its members to down tools at 5pm on Thursday, just hours before Ramaphosa took to the podium in parliament to deliver his Sona.

At the heart of the action is the ongoing retrenchment of 303 workers as part of the SABC’s contentious turnaround strategy, which has faced opposition from inside and outside the corporation.

On Monday, union bosses and members met and decided on the disruption of the Sona as part of the protest against retrenchments. WhatsApp messages to members, seen by Sunday World, show the planning of the Sona blackout.

One message reads: “Comrades, you are encouraged to stay away from work and withdraw your labour in response to the continued and unlawful section 189 where people continue to receive redundancy letters daily. We call upon you to rise and not allow the bloodbath to continue under your watch.”

The message continues: “You’re protected as CWU, Bemawu and non-unionised employees to stay away. SABC offices across the country are no-go zones on Thursday, 11 February 2021.”

Another message reads that members should stay away from SABC lies, accuses SABC management of worrying only about lining its own pockets and that members should reject privatisation and outsourcing at the corporation. “Freelancers stay away, you are next.

SABC is closed for business on Thursday 11 February 2021, so stay away,” it reads. But a voice clip of one of the broadcaster’s general managers shows that SABC management knew of the plan just two days earlier before the Sona. In the clip, the manager reads out a message from union leaders for a strike on Thursday

“in an effort to inflict the maximum amount of pain and inconvenience to the employer, to encourage them to heed our request”.

A source at the SABC said the employees’ next target was Mboweni’s Budget speech. “On Monday at around 16h00, we had a meeting [over the Sona blackout]. But by Tuesday they [SABC management and board] knew.”

The SABC leadership has faced stiff opposition from unions, the government and parliament to its plan to retrench 303 workers. Under pressure Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has also been at loggerheads with the corporation over the process to cut jobs. She has since demanded from the organisation a new plan that shows how affected workers were to be redeployed, a skills audit and a fresh process of consultations.

This was after staff members formed a convoy outside the Union Buildings last month in protest against reduction in headcount. SABC spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo said it had not received notification from CWU regarding a stay away on the day of the Budget speech.

“However, should that happen, the SABC has contingency plans in place to ensure uninterrupted public mandate services to millions of South Africans who depend on the public broadcaster for news, information and entertainment,” she said. Seapolelo said there had been no disruption to the Sona broadcast on any SABC broadcast platforms.

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