Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has called on South Africans to pay their  SABC TV licences in a bid to alleviate the SABC’s financial crisis.

As many as 400 full-time staff face retrenchments due to the public broadcaster’s financial woes. Many have received letters of redundancy.

The SABC has suspended the retrenchment process until the end of December 2020 to allow for further consultation.

Members of Parliament have been debating the crisis at the SABC amid a stand-off between management and workers over the job cuts.

Ndabeni-Abraham has blamed state capture for the SABC’s woes.

“The SABC was embroiled in the state capture and all of us here must take the blame because it happened under our watch. We need to look into remodelling the SABC as a public broadcaster into a multi-channel broadcaster we want. Let’s start paying our TV licences, the SABC’s success depends on three cans; the I can, you can and we can. “

Ndabeni-Abrahams has told the National Assembly that her department and the National Treasury are discussing the issue of the SABC’s unfunded public mandate. She says the SABC is a commercially funded public broadcaster.

It receives only 17% of its funding from public sources. She says at the heart of the crisis at the SABC is the appropriate funding model for the expansive public mandate amid escalating costs for content, signal distribution and labour.

She added that the SABC is competing for its revenue with pay markets with stronger balance sheets.

Retrenchments, the last resort 

The African National Congress (ANC) has called on the SABC’s leadership to work with all stakeholders to find a solution to its funding problems. ANC MP and Communications Committee Chair Boyce Maneli says retrenchments at the public broadcaster must be the last resort.

Maneli says the public broadcaster must explore all opportunities and use digital platforms to increase revenue while reducing costs. He adds that the public broadcaster should find ways to collect revenue from commercial broadcasters that carry its content.

Earlier, the Inkatha Freedom Party’s (IFP) Zandile Majozi blamed instability and poor leadership in the ruling ANC for the public broadcaster’s financial woes. Majozi says the current SABC board must stay on.

SABC employees cautioned 

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has cautioned SABC employees,  some of whom face retrenchment, to be weary of the support from people she calls wolves in sheepskin. MP Phumzile van Damme has called on the workers to trust legal processes and uphold the independence of the SABC during the retrenchment process.

Van Damme says they feel the pain, distress, and anxiety of hardworking, talented, and deserving SABC staff who stand to lose their jobs.

She says the retrenchment process must take place with compassion, empathy, and respect.

“Unlike other political parties who will stand at this podium today and tell you they will stop retrenchments; we will not lie to you. Lying to you would be nothing but a self-serving false promise whose only aim is to play to the gallery, to gain support at the ballot. We warn you not to accept help from wolves in sheep’s clothing who will turn around and devour you. You may think those wolves have your best interests at heart. No, it is their interests they have in heart.”

COVID-19 coverage

The United Democratic Movement (UDM) has called on the government to pay the SABC for covering COVID-19 related events from some of the R200 billion in the loan guarantee scheme it launched with the Reserve Bank.

The party’s Deputy President Nqabayomzi Kwankwa has told the National Assembly that the scheme was earmarked for the protection of business revenue from the effects of the pandemic.

He says the broadcasts of events of public importance meant the SABC could not advertise in those slots. He added that it is also time to discuss how the SABC’s public mandate should be funded.

SABC debate in Parliament: