The SABC board has given the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams and deputy Pinky Kekana seven days to convince the National Treasury to grant the corporation a R1.2-billion bailout to avert retrenchments.
On Thursday, a tense special meeting of the corporation’s board was forced to reach a compromise to afford stakeholders more time to suggest alternatives to the planned job cuts, amid pressure from inside and outside the public broad- caster for the section 189 process to be scrapped.
The meeting also resolved that Ndabeni-Abrahams must intervene in the SABC payment dispute with the signal distributor Sentech over its unpaid bill of R300 million, which is considered one of the major cost drivers for the SABC.
Kekana said the ministry asked the SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini to convene a special meeting to clarify the resolutions taken at its Thursday meeting and to explain the seven days suspension period for the section 189 process.
“We need a detailed report on what transpired at that board meeting and once that has been done, we will be able to understand what they meant by seven days suspension and other things they agreed on,” she said.
The gathering was a culmination of a dramatic week during which the organisation came under pressure from the government, opposition parties and civil society organisations to abandon its retrenchment plans.
Sunday World reported in June that the public broadcaster was planning to reduce its headcount by 600, a number that was recently revised to 400.
It has emerged that before the interview with the SABC on Wednesday, ANC secretary general Ace Magashule called Ndabeni-Abrahams and told her that the ANC was against the retrenchments.
Sources privy to the conversation said Magashule also said the party would encourage its structures to support action against retrenchments at the public broadcaster.
Sources at Luthuli House, the ANC’s headquarters, said the board of the SABC was set to be dissolved should it persist with the retrenchments.
Two board members who attended the Thursday virtual board meeting said the board’s suspension of the retrenchments was to also accommodate suggestions by unions.
Another board member said the meeting was unanimous in deciding that Ndabeni-Abrahams and Kekana must be given seven days to help convince the National Treasury to release funds to rescue the SABC as they also felt that the retrenchments would have far wider effects on the livelihood of those employees to be affected.
The two board members said the board agreed that if R1.2 billion a year was released and Sentech’s signal debt addressed by the Department of Communications, it would be able to avert the retrenchments.
They said the SABC was failing financially because it has not been receiving much needed financial support from the government in terms of subsidies, which now stand at R200 million a year despite the fact that the public broadcaster was forced through its mandate to cover public events, which cost it millions in production, without revenue.
When contacted by Sunday World, SABC spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo confirmed the public broadcaster’s board had suspended the section 189 process for seven days but she refused to divulge more details.