The SABC has refuted newspaper allegations that sheer incompetence and not sabotage was the real reason behind the broadcast of an incorrect version of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech on gender-based violence  and xenophobia in September 2019.

The SABC labelled the incorrect broadcast as a “well-considered and coordinated act of sabotage.”

SABC News and Current Affairs Group Executive Phathiswa Magopeni said, at the time, that any employee found to be involved in the alleged sabotage would be dealt with accordingly “within the confines of the SABC’s human resources and disciplinary policies.”

The SABC said that its preliminary investigations indicated that unauthorised changes were made to the clip without proper communication.

Consequently, SABC suspended three permanent staff and unscheduled one freelancer. The public broadcaster also instituted an independent disciplinary action led by an independent Chairperson.

Two employees were found guilty; one was dismissed while another received a written warning. The third employee was cleared of all charges.

The SABC, in a statement says due process was followed in the disciplinary action and has denied the Board’s involvement in the disciplinary process.

SABC Group Executive of Human Resources Jonathan Thekiso says in terms of charges brought before the employees, sabotage was characterised under two categories: gross negligence and bringing the company’s name into disrepute.

“In terms of the charges that we proffered on these employees, we characterised sabotage in terms of two very broad areas. The first one was gross negligence…the second one was bringing the company’s name into disrepute, alternatively injuring a person’s honour or dignity. In terms of the articulation of these two charges, for us taken together; basically characterised sabotage.”

Thekiso says that they were aware of the connotations that would come about within the public as a result of the use of the word “sabotage.” He also says that, based on the investigations, they are still convinced that sabotage occurred.

But Broadcasting Electronic, Media and Allied Workers’ Union (Bemawu) Spokesperson Hannes du Buisson disagrees.

“If you are talking about sabotage, then you are talking about something where there is an intention, it is something that has been planned; yet, you charge the employee for gross negligence. With sabotage, it means there was intent; with negligence, it means it was negligent. The public was lied to, this thing was blown out of proportion for their own reasons and there wasn’t a hint of evidence in the hearings that there was a concerted effort from people to sabotage or derail or to ensure that the right clip was played.”

Du Buisson says the wrong people were charged.

“The fact of this matter is that the wrong people have been charged. Once there is a person like the President in the studio, it is the Chief Executive of the SABC’s duty to oversee that particular broadcast. She was nowhere to be found. There were no two clips; it was one clip, in fact, a live recording. In other words, the President was sitting in the Cape Town studio and in Johannesburg, via a line feed, that recording was done.”

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