DA Shadow Minister of Communications, Telecommunications and Postal Services Phumzile van Damme has expressed disappointment over the ANC in Parliament’s “apparent refusal” to allow the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) staff to participate in discussions about the planned retrenchments at the public broadcaster.

The SABC has informed its staff that it plans on retrenching 600 people and letting go of 1 200 freelancers. The public broadcaster says it is trying to reduce the salary bill by R700 million.

The Communications and Digital Technologies Committee will sit for two days, Monday and Tuesday, to discuss – among other things – the retrenchments process at the SABC.

Van Damme says the scheduled meetings do not include a slot for SABC staff to address the committee.

She says she had requested that the staff be present to provide their perspective regarding the retrenchments process and that two days be set aside to hear from both management and staff, but the request was denied without an explanation.

“Hearing both sides of the story would have allowed for Parliament to have a full picture of the process,” she said in a statement.

In the video below, SABC unions lament looming retrenchments: 

Van Damme says the DA will write to the Chairperson of the committee, Boyce Maneli, for an explanation on why their request was denied. The party will also again request that staff be present during the scheduled meetings.

Van Damme says the committee should not use COVID-19 as an excuse, but should rather find creative ways to allow for the staff to partake in the meetings.

“Ordinarily in a situation such as this, the Committee would have arranged an oversight visit to the SABC’s headquarters to hear staff grievances. Lockdown does not mean that rigorous oversight can fall by the wayside; it means Parliament must be creative. A virtual meeting with representatives of SABC staff would have been apt.”

Van Damme says while it is common cause that the SABC has a high salary bill, this is due to years of mismanagement at the public broadcaster. In June, the SABC informed Parliament that the cut of R700 million from the salary bill would help the public broadcaster break even.

She says that it is tragic that SABC staff have to deal with the possibility of losing their jobs amid a global pandemic.

“It is tragic that during a global pandemic, in the middle of winter SABC, staff are having to deal with the possibility of losing their jobs. It is not mere “numbers,” that are being cut but the livelihoods of living, breathing and feeling human beings. It is important that this handled with sensitivity, and all staff grievances thoroughly ventilated.”

The DA has also accused the ANC of politicking the retrenchments. The ANC is reported to have asked the SABC to halt the retrenchments as this would cause an “embarrassment” for the party ahead of the 2021 local elections.