Uproar as SABC silences some indigenous tongues

Johannesburg – An uproar has erupted at the SABC over what senior editors call the discrimination against several indigenous languages in violation of the public broadcaster’s mandate.

The SABC top brass have been accused of side-lining television news bulletins in Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Xitsonga, Tshivenda, IsiNdebele and Siswati.

Senior editorial members in the newsroom – the biggest on the continent – are up in arms over the SABC’s new TV news structure.

In an e-mail to Phathiswa Magopeni, the SABC group executive for news and current affairs, the executive producers of the “undermined” languages said the new structure only recognised Afrikaans, IsiZulu and IsiXhosa as terrestrial TV languages and “treats our languages as other languages”.

“Executive producer positions are removed and declared redundant in our languages. But the same positions are retained only in Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa. We don’t understand why we are treated differently and yet all languages are producing 30 minutes bulletin per slot,” said the executive producers in a grievance about the discrimination of “minority languages”.

“We feel we are being discriminated against on the basis of ethnicity. This structure perpetuates that other languages are inferior. It degrades even worse than apartheid era”.

The grievance was lodged by executive producers of SABC2 Xitsonga TV news Robert Ngobeni, Veli Mkhwanazi (Siswati TV news SABC1); Nndede Ramushwana (Tshivenda TV news SABC2) and Borentsi Mooko, bulletin editor for Sesotho TV news on SABC2.

They said positions were not replaced in their departments, which were also disadvantaged in the digital space.

The Tshivhenda and Siswati bulletin editor positions have been vacant since 2015 and 2018, respectively, and have since been frozen, while the position of Afrikaans executive producer position was filled when it became vacant in 2018.

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“Only English, Zulu and Xhosa TV news bulletins are afforded digital space. Our languages are not. Zulu and Xhosa share a modern studio with a video wall [studio 9]. Xitsonga, Tshivenda, Sesotho, Sepedi and Setswana share an extremely old and unadvanced studio 10,” the producers said.

The senior journalists also claimed that their news bulletins were cancelled at times to make way for IsiZulu and IsiXhosa news during events of national importance that impact on the slots of the IsiZulu and IsiXhosa news.

The executive producers have since threatened to go to court over what they say was “decimation of languages”.

The Pan South African Language Board has warned that the constitution is very clear on the language rights of South Africans and that none should be discriminated against.

PanSALB acting CEO Xolisa Tshongolo said the SABC was constitutionally obligated to make provisions for and service all language groups and to serve without bias.

SABC spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo said the public broadcaster’s commitment to fulfilling its public service mandate and the preservation and promotion of indigenous languages, through its various radio and television platforms would never be compromised.

“Therefore, the allegation that there are efforts to commercialise the public broadcaster at the expense of indigenous languages is misleading and factually incorrect. The SABC fully understands that the corporation’s mandate is to keep the country’s citizens informed, educated and entertained. The broadcaster is committed to serving the South African public, defending democracy and broadcasting to all, in their languages,” she said

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