Cash-strapped SABC 'freezes' jobs but 'salaries will be paid'

The SABC is hoping a R3.2bn government guarantee will entice commercial banks to provide the loans it needs to stay afloat.
The SABC is hoping a R3.2bn government guarantee will entice commercial banks to provide the loans it needs to stay afloat.
Image: BackpagePix

The department of communications (DOC) has placed a moratorium on new appointments at the SABC, as the state broadcaster struggles to pay its debtors.

This was revealed by the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union (Bemawu), one of the biggest unions within the state broadcaster. The union said the moratorium prevented the SABC board from filling any critical posts.

Bemawu spokesperson Hannes du Buisson accused the department of communications of controlling the SABC from outside. "They issued a moratorium preventing the board from making any appointments. If they can do that, why do we have a board in the first place?" he said.

"This department should be working very hard to ensure that the SABC stays afloat by signing the government guarantee. It must allow the board to run the SABC." 

Department spokesperson Nthabeleng Mokitimi-Dlamini confirmed that the moratorium on new appointments applied to all entities within the department.

"This is done in consideration of the departmental reconfiguration process," said Mokitimi-Dlamini.

She said an application for a bank guarantee for the SABC was still being considered.

SABC spokesperson Vuyo Mthembu would not confirm nor deny that there was a moratorium in place, nor whether it had affected operations.

Mthembu did confirm, however, that all SABC staff had been paid, adding that those due to be paid on Friday would receive their money. 

The moratorium comes as the broadcaster is faced with an unenviable choice: either cough up to service its eight-figure municipality account or settle its salary bill.

The broadcaster is desperately hoping that a R3.2bn government guarantee will entice commercial banks to provide the loans it needs to stay afloat.

It also comes as the broadcaster had to deal with a fire at its Radio Park building in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, on Tuesday.

Five employees were taken to hospital for smoke inhalation. The fire started at the canteen, near the Metro FM and 5FM studios.

Mthembu said the fire started due to an electrical fault in one of the canteens. "The canteen has now been closed, but the building is safe for use," she said.

Thabiso Mhlomvu from the South African Arts and Culture Youth Forum was waiting in the lobby ahead of a scheduled interview with the SABC when he saw women rushing out of the canteen.

Thabo Loate, who runs the canteen, said the fire started at an electrical board near to where they prepare food.

When SowetanLIVE visited the scene, staff had been evacuated as a precautionary measure and were waiting to be addressed by management. Security had blocked the entrance and were not allowing anyone to enter the building.

The same building had to be evacuated in May, when a four-day clean-up operation was required after a diesel spillage. The SABC said at the time that a power outage had resulted in its internal systems switching from City Power to a back-up generator.

Two weeks ago, SABC board chair Bongumusa Makhathini voiced his frustration as to how the SABC was unable to maintain its buildings due to financial constraints. "We have also not maintained any of our infrastructure and a communication blackout is imminent," he said.

The broadcaster also owes Sentech - a state-owned business that provides broadcasting signal distribution - about R317m, and the MultiChoice division SuperSport R208m.

Du Buisson voiced his concern for the safety of Bemawu members. "The SABC and government do not take the lives of our members seriously. These buildings haven’t been maintained in years," he said.

Communication Workers' Union (CWU) general secretary Aubrey Tshabalala described all SABC offices as "death traps".

"We will never be shocked to find our members have died in those offices. The Durban offices are even worse. They are not in a condition for members to work in, but nothing is being done," he said.

Du Buisson said Bemawu was contemplating legal action against the ministers of finance and communication for failing to provide the cash-strapped SABC with financial assistance.

"We are consulting our legal team with an intention to bring the applications to compel the minister, the president and the Treasury to fund - at least on an urgent basis - the SABC to ensure that buildings are maintained properly," he said.

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