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Tune into the blame game after SABC expected to lose R1bn this year

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Shapshak is editor-in-chief of Stuff.co.za and executive director of Scrolla.Africa

Having wasted six months before being appointed, the broadcaster’s new board is blaming management for this expected loss – instead of the real culprit: South Africa’s non-practising president.

The SABC is on track to lose R1-billion this year, its new board chair, Khathu Ramukumba, reportedly told staffers, blaming the broadcaster’s management.

“The chairperson told management that their mandate is to turn around the SABC’s fortune. He told them that this board will not fail because of their recklessness,” a source told City Press

“He was telling them that the new board was taking over a sinking ship. It is bad considering that the SABC was doing well to the point that it recorded a loss of R201-million in the 2021/2022 fiscal year.”

Most reporters avoid quoting unnamed sources from other newspapers for obvious reasons. But nothing this honest person told City Press is a secret. It’s common cause that the SABC’s finances are broken. 

Any rational person can also tell that not appointing this new board, however, is not the principal reason the national broadcaster is in dire financial straits. Again. 

We’ve all seen this movie before. The ANC can’t resist tampering: interfering in editorial independence; mangling its role from a public broadcaster into a state broadcaster and mismanaging its finances, culminating in the appointment of the buffoonish Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who truly cratered its revenue.

In the SABC’s own 2021 annual report, Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke clearly warned that “a material uncertainty exists that may cast significant doubt on the public [entity’s] ability to continue as a going concern”.

What did President Cyril Ramaphosa do about it? What does he always do in the face of a crisis, or even when it comes to making a decision? Nothing. For six months.

After the previous board left in October 2022, he sat on the recommendations for a new 12-person board, effectively for six months, arguably – implausibly – because he needed “so-called reserve pool names”.

After four months of this dithering, NGO Media Monitoring Africa instituted legal action in February asking the courts to compel Ramaphosa to appoint the new board. He only did it in April. 

The lawsuit pointed out that the delay had already forced the SABC to default on its financial obligations under the Public Finance Management Act.

They point out that without a board, which is its accounting authority, the SABC’s management could not get its plans and strategies approved.

So, why did Ramaphosa fiddle while this particular Rome was burning through its revenue? 

Most observers put it down to the presence on that new list of board members of former SABC head of news, Phathiswa Magopeni. She refused to interview the president before the last elections after the interview was hastily arranged at another broadcaster’s facilities. The spat turned very ugly, with the board and Magopeni lodging grievances against each other – which ultimately resulted in Magopeni leaving under a cloud.

It’s worth remembering that Mbalula, now the ANC’s secretary-general, was then the governing party’s head of elections (and allegedly had a day job as transport minister), blamed the broadcaster for his party’s woeful showing.

Could it be that the president allowed another state-owned entity to fall into financial disrepair because of a silly attempt to keep a former journalist, who has a known penchant for independence, off the SABC board before a crucial election?

How else do you explain Ramaphosa’s lethargy about the board appointment and the farcical fixation on the “reserve pool names”?

The real reason the SABC’s finances are in the toilet – again – is that the president of the country didn’t do his job for six months and appoint a new board. 

Guess who will ultimately pay that price? DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • William Kelly says:

    Yup. The SABC will be given funding. Of course it will. Which will come with strings attached. Let us see whay happens to Magopeni.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Another DUD SOE. Thanks, Cyril!

    • Henry Coppens says:

      The whole problem about failing SOEs is that the managers down to the employees are paid far too much for the little they do. No one in the civl service should receive more than R1 000 000 p.a from DG or equvalent downwards. It is far easier to spend other people’s money so they should be paid significantly less than what the private sector does whose task is much more difficult – to make money. Now it is the other way round. To add to this there is cadre loyalty to the ANC. No wonder they all need bail outs.

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