As Parliament is still in recess some MPs are expected back early in January to continue with outstanding business. Some of them are members of the Communications Committee who have to conduct interviews to fill the vacancies in the SABC Board.

The SABC board’s four resignations in December last year brought the number of vacancies of non executive board members to eight. The committee had already been struggling to fill the initial four vacancies for months in 2018.

Four candidates with chartered accountant qualifications withdrew at the eleventh hour. Interviews to search for all the best eight candidates will continue. Last month the UDM and the DA in Parliament were on the opposite sides on whether the SABC Board should be dissolved to appoint an interim one.

United Democratic Movement (UDM) Chief Whip Nqabayomzi Kwankwa said the best way to address the current vacuum in the board is to dissolve the four member non-executive board and appoint an interim one.

But the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Phumzile van Damme disagreed with Kwankwa that an interim board should be appointed.

Kwankwa says: “The most logical step to take at this point in time is to dissolve the current board and to put in place an interim board that will oversee in particular the elections process in South Africa and the coverage of the elections process and then the sixth democratic Parliament can be in a position to do nominations and interviews for permanent board members to ensure stability. However, between now and May next year, there is not enough time for the current democratic Parliament to be conducting interviews and doing nominations for permanent board members.”)

Van Damme says: “The DA’s position is that the appointment of an interim board would be an absolute disaster for the Public Broadcaster, – in that the process of the interim board is not as vigorous. There is no interview process. It needs to be political parties that can give their names forward. We want a stable and permanent board for the SABC, and therefore believe that we should fill all vacancies in January as agreed by the Portfolio Committee on Communications. We held a meeting a few weeks ago and decided that we will conduct all interviews in January for approval at a sitting of the National Assembly in February. We believe there is enough time to both interview and submit the names to the National Assembly for approval.”

The crisis facing the SABC had also grabbed the attention of other political parties like the African People’s Convention (APC) and Congress of People (COPE).

APC Leader Themba Godi said it has the potential to derail the upcoming general elections in a few months’ time

“The risk is huge for the election because there is no other media institution that covers the country and the elections equal to the SABC , so if the SABC is not in a good position to even start planning on how to run  the elections, then it means your election coverage is going to be very Ad Hoc. It’s going to be problematic and the ability to give full spectrum coverage might impact on parties like the APC in terms of the SABC having properly planned and  having the  requisite capacity to cover everybody in all corners of the country.”

COPE Spokesperson Dennis Bloem had shared similar sentiments and blames President Cyril Ramaphosa for having being silent for months about the crisis at the public broadcaster.

“We are saying if the problem of the retrenchment of the SABC workers is not being resolved immediately, it can have a devastating consequence for the upcoming national elections. The country can’t afford to have retrenchments of workers at the Public Broadcaster at such a crucial time. The SABC is the most effective media entity that reaches everybody,- rural and urban. The people depend on the public broadcaster for information. People on the farms, on the road are depending on SABC for information. Our call to President Ramaphosa is to intervene immediately before it is too late. We need the SABC.”

Last month Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi told SABC news in Parliament that the resignation of board members was due to lack of political support.

“It is absolutely a strong and independent board and that is why it has not received the support of the sitting president and his cabinet it’s because they are unable to manipulate it they’re unable to impose in relation to editorial decisions, that’s why they have not given them the support that they’re supposed to give which is a guarantee letter.”

More than a week after receiving and accepting the resignation of four SABC Board members, President Ramaphosa dismissed claims that the African National Congress (ANC) is trying to collapse the SABC board so it could take full control of the public broadcaster to advance the party’s election Campaign. The president had spoken on a Prime Media radio station last month.

“I must refute that. I refute as President of the Republic but also as president of the ANC there is just no truth in that.  What we want to see is a strong SABC.  We want to see a well-functioning SABC and we want to see a well resourced SABC. That is completely devoid of any truth.  We will always seek to act in the interests of South Africans because it is a public broadcaster and where we’ve got to insure that there is prudence and independence, we will do so.”

The deadline for nominations of candidates to fill the vacancies of eight SABC non-executive board members was almost two weeks ago. The next step will be to shortlist and interview candidates for the positions.  Parliament’s Communications Committee Chairperson Hlengiwe Mkhize has thanked the public for using the opportunity to submit SABC board nominations. The number of nominations received and the quality of candidates will only be known in a few weeks’ time when the committee meets.

Mkhize says: “We early in the year will meet in Mid-January and the committee will meet and determine the quality and the number of applications and we will further communicate with the public.”

It’s hoped that the interviewing process and the final approval of the recommended candidates by the National Assembly will have been concluded in February.

While the search for the board will continue there is a possibility of SABC employees getting half a salary at the end of February and NO Pay at all at the end of March.

These were the predictions made by former SABC Board Member Mathata Tsedu when the board appeared before Parliament towards the end of last year.

Tsedu told the committee that there is a possibility of a day zero salary for employees at the end of March if the public broadcaster’s financial crisis was not addressed.