SABC executives advised to get 'protection for everywhere they go' due to threats

SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini.
SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini.

The lives of SABC executives who are trying to turn the troubled broadcaster around have been threatened, parliament was told on Tuesday.

SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini told MPs that a security assessment conducted by the police's crime intelligence unit found that the lives of almost all key executives at the forefront of the clean-up and renewal at the corporation were at risk.

“In fact, for almost all of them it was recommended that they must have close protection everywhere they go,” he said.

Makhathini said that after a failed assassination attempt on the corporation's chief audit executive Thami Zikode in June, the SABC approached the police to do the assessment. 

Makhathini led an SABC team to parliament to brief the communications portfolio committee about the broadcaster's turnaround strategy. The briefing was also to update the committee on the status of implementation of recommendations made by the public protector in 2014, the auditor-general, the SABC's own internal forensic report and by parliament's ad hoc committee, which investigated the broadcaster in 2016.

He revealed that while they have been implementing these recommendations and officials were being called to account for their roles in the wrongdoing at the broadcaster, they had been met with resistance and a fightback.

The ad hoc committee and the public protector found irregularities and a number of questionable deals at the SABC.

The broadcaster's own internal forensics unit has so far produced 180 reports. Its head, Zikode, was shot at by assailants while leaving work in June. Makhathini said this was due to the work he was doing. “As we drive this renewal, some people will fight back. That's why they tried to assassinate Mr Zikode, for instance,” he said.

“That's why most of us are under threat. Our lives are at risk because of the clean-up we are driving at the SABC," continued Makhathini.

"We need this committee to understand that when you see negative headlines, people are fighting back and in them fighting, they are attacking and tarnishing the reputation of the same executives we appointed and the board that you appointed and trusted with the renewal and rehabilitation.”

Makhathini sought to assure MPs that there was no amount of push-back that would stop them from doing the work to clean up the SABC. He was also confident that they were doing everything according to their policies and following proper processes in a responsible manner.

“But you cannot expect somebody who has benefited unfairly to be happy when we are doing the clean-up. It's impossible,” he said.

The SABC has been able to save over R1bn and cut its losses by 33% while meeting its mandate, he said.

Meanwhile, the SABC claims to have met all but one of the preconditions set by the National Treasury for its request for funding to be considered. The outstanding precondition required the SABC to identify core and non-core assets for sale including their estimated values and timelines for their disposal.

Makhathini said this precondition had been partially met, by identifying non-core assets like property and submitting a comprehensive strategy for how they will deal with the property portfolio.

“There are those that need to be developed and those that need to be sold. We have to take an informed position and we got experts to assist us on how we deal with the property portfolio,” he said.

The board has requested more time to deal with core assets – TV channels and radio stations - as these are at the heart of the SABC's mandate.

“It is not possible and it will be reckless and irresponsible for the board to wake up tomorrow and say, 'We are going to sell radio stations X, Y and Z,' without doing an analysis to understand that if you get rid of radio X, how is it going to affect your ability to meet your mandate? It may not be performing well financially, but it's helping us to achieve and fulfil our mandate,” he said.

Makhathini said the SABC has previously entered into deals without people understanding the value of their assets.

“To expect us to just irresponsibly and recklessly provide a list or start engaging and selling things without understanding how it's going to impact on the mandate of the SABC will be irresponsible. As a result, we will not do that,” he said.

He described the broadcaster as SA's custodian of cultural heritage, with more than 30-million South Africans depending on it for information, education and entertainment.

“It may not be an easy exercise just to get rid of certain things, because we have to make sure that [all] official languages are covered. The variety of news is core to what the SABC is about and what it is expected to do," he said.