The Minister of Communications Nomvula Mokonyane will be in the National Assembly to answer more questions about the retrenchments at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) during a ministerial economic cluster question and answer session on Wednesday.
On Monday, the public broadcaster notified its staff about its intention to embark on the retrenchment of 981 permanent staff and not to renew the contracts of 1200 freelancers.
Mokonyane and Finance Minister Tito Mboweni are among the members of the Economic Cluster who are expected to face pressing questions on various issues in the House.
Political parties react to SABC’s retrenchment plan
There has been mixed reaction from political parties in Parliament about the SABC proposed retrenchments to save costs.
The manner in which the SABC announced its intention to retrench close to 1000 permanent employees and not to renew the contracts of 1200 freelancers was condemned by the National Freedom Party Member of Parliament Achmed Shaik-Emam.
“I am actually very surprised and I think it is very irresponsible behaviour on those who are discussing this in the public domain without the matter being dealt with internally, because all of us have a role to play to be able to protect the citizens of this country, including the employees of the SABC. So surely we must play a role in all negotiations in terms of the well-being of our employees. You are supposed to discuss the matter with all the different role players before you take it to the public domain. As far as we are concerned also from a parliamentary point of view we were not aware that a decision was being taken already to go a retrench a certain amount of people.”
The Inkatha Freedom Party says they are still not convinced that the proposed retrenchments by the SABC are done in good faith and in a transparent manner.
The IFP’s Mkhuleko Hlengwa says, “Advertisements for posts at the SABC are still being issued as we speak now in the midst of the proposed retrenchment process. It therefore begs the question whether these retrenchments are done in good faith and in the interest of the SABC’s survival or is it a witch hunt to get rid of certain employees in order to bring on other people. It therefore muddies the waters in so far as transparency is concerned for the SABC to speak from both sides of its mouth. You cannot be hiring on one hand and firing on the other. We do want to see the SABC turnaround on a path and trajectory of prosperity and success, but it must not be at the expense of justice.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by the United Democratic Movement Chief Whip Nqabayomzi Kwankwa. “The problem is that they are putting the cart before the horse. On the one hand they are asking for a bailout from government. On the other hand they are busy with a retrenchment process without having considered all the other avenues to embark on a cost cutting programme. So we are saying this decision to us, – is a bit premature. There are certain unions that do not agree with certain proposals on the table. So from where we are sitting consultation process should continue. All the other avenues should be explored in terms of cost cutting measures at the SABC. And once all of that has been completed, then the SABC management can come to us and say they are ready for retrenchments.”
The Freedom Front Plus’s Wouter Wessels says the SABC’s decision to go ahead with retrenchments was regrettable. He says there are various other ways to save costs and recover lost money.
“The SABC is actually in a very good position if you go and look at the viewer ratings of the public broadcaster and they still have the most viewers than other television stations in South Africa. And that means the SABC should be in a very sound financial position and they aren’t. And that is what they should first be looking at the financial mismanagement and finances and monies should be recovered from those who were guilty of corruption and fraud within the SABC.”
The African Christian Democratic Party’s Steve Swart says it will not be necessary for the SABC to retrench if it could implement the Public Protectors 2014 report called ‘When Governance and Ethics Fail’ and the parliamentary Ad Hoc Committee recommendations to recoup money lost due to irregular expenditure.
“Should the SABC be successful in its applications to the Labour Court to have irregular appointments and irregular promotions declared invalid and to recover monies that were irregularly paid to staff members during that period as well as having other contracts running into millions of rands, that were irregularly awarded declared invalid and recovering those funds as well, then it may not be necessary for any retrenchments at all; because the SABC would then have sufficient funds to cover its expenditure.”
The Democratic Alliance’s Phumzile van Damme says only a proper independent staff and salary audit will allow Parliament, the public and the SABC staff to have a sound understanding of the rationale behind the retrenchments.
“Of great concern to us is that this process is being conducted without a proper independent skills audit having being undertaken at the public broadcaster so that it can be seen which skills are needed and which ones are not. The process also appears to be haphazard and illogical. As an example the SABC in the documents indicates that it will fire all its freelance employees. Freelance employees include popular anchors such as Redi Tlhabi, Sakina Kamwendo and Robert Marawa. The DA will not allow for the SABC to play Russian Roullete with the SABC staff these are people who have families and bills to pay.”
The African National Congress (ANC) study group in the Communications Committee in Parliament says it maintains that retrenchments should be the last resort to save costs at the SABC. “Our position has been always that retrenchments must be the last resort. SABC must always make means and find other ways trying to avoid (retrenchments). You remember the board have appeared before us twice and we have expressed ourselves as a committee in that regard. And as the (ANC) study group we have not been briefed about the developments now. So we don’t know the reasons why they finally decided to go ahead,” says ANC Whip in the committee Lerumo Kalako.
Kalako also says they would like to see the SABC’s present its plan and process that it will follow to recover the millions it has lost due to irregular appointments and promotion. Kalako says various factors such as the current economic conditions have to be taken into account when the SABC wants to embark on such a process.
The Public Broadcaster earlier announced that it would approach the labour court to set aside irregular appointments, huge salary hikes and promotions to recoup over R60 million due to such irregularities.
“What we’ll be interested in is for them to come and put before us the plan and the process to do that. The only worry I’m sure we will have, – is the effect it will do to those individuals who actually some of them are head of families and extended families. That is why we’ll insist on them to putting the plan before us as the committee, so that we can see if the plan will not do damage to an extent where people are committing suicide. You know when you have to pay monies which you have used long time, and you know the situation of many of the South Africans today their positions economically today it’s dire, the high standard of living and prices are high and everything is expensive. So we will have to take those things into conjunction.”
Meanwhile the ANC Chief Whip’s office has announced that former Higher Education Minister and ANC MP Hlengiwe Mkhize will become the new Communications Committee Chairperson in Parliament.
Mkhize will replace Humphrey Maxegwana who will be moved to co-chair the Joint Ethics and Members Interests Committee.