Over 600 South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) employees are saying their final goodbyes and are re-living some of their most vivid moments at the public broadcaster.

This Wednesday is the end of the road for many of the 621 employees who are marking their last day after being retrenched or taking voluntary severance packages.

The SABC will transition to its new structure from Thursday.

Video journalist, Thabo Madilola, has worked at the SABC for 26 years. He says the SABC has been his family.

“Being the camera person for President Thabo Mbeki was the highlight of my career. One of the stories, when I look back, brings tears to my eyes – is when I went to Ethiopia, and they took us to a camp. When we entered, we just saw babies and bones. As I was filming, my viewfinder was getting misty – when I took my head up, I realised that I was actually crying. I have seen the best of SABC, now I am experiencing the worse. SABC is part of me. A lot of people there are like my family, not colleagues.”

On Tuesday, the SABC issued a notice to all staff that the retrenchment process had been concluded and the organisation will transition into its news structure on 1 April.

In Auckland Park, the mood remains sad and sombre as many long-serving employees bid their farewells.

The SABC says its Section 189 process can withstand any legal scrutiny. It says this has been validated by two Labour Court judgements.

However, some staff members say they believe the process was flawed and brutal. “It’s saddening because we were doing our jobs from the bottom of our hearts, not knowing that SABC is planning to destroy us. Looking at the way they are treating us and pushing us out, I decided to take the package,” says one of the employees.

Another staff member says, “To me, the objective was to make the numbers. They were pushing out people that were experienced, that have skills and they are trying to exploit those that are in junior positions. They are getting rid of skilled people because they don’t want to pay for the skill.”

Unions 

Trade union the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers Union (Bemawu)  says it will seek a dispute resolution meeting with the SABC over what it says are complaints received over irregularities in the retrenchment process at the public broadcaster.

Bemawu and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) met with the SABC to discuss the completion of the retrenchment process. The public broadcaster says the transition into the new structure will begin from the first of April.

Bemawu’s application to compel the SABC to withdraw redundancy letters was dismissed with costs: 

CWU says that the job shedding will cripple the SABC  and hamper its ability to fulfill its public service mandate.

CWU’s Aubrey Tshabalala says, “SABC was never transparent on this matter. In February, they said only 303 workers are going to lose their jobs but today we hear over 600 workers. That number could easily double because we believe the process has not stopped. Government has handed the SABC to private hands who are basically going to cripple the SOE’s. Content will now be outsourced. We don’t think we should give up on this fight because once we do so, we will basically allow SABC to completely collapse.”

Meanwhile, Bemawu says it will be pursuing individual cases of alleged unfair retrenchment at the SABC. It is planning to approach the Labour Court for intervention.

Bemawu says they are collecting information from affected individuals to build their case.

“We have received quite a number of complaints from employees who were not placed and disqualified. We are currently doing a headcount. We will pursue those unfair retrenchments in the Labour Court.”

A labour consultant, Tony Healy, says that just like the SABC, many companies have retrenched in the past 18 months. He says that the SABC will have to restore staff morale after cutting over 600 jobs.