The SABC office in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
The SABC office in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The SABC has fired 26 staff at its TV licence department after a go-slow, placing in jeopardy the collection of fees.

Mmoni Seapolelo, who speaks on behalf of the SABC, said on Monday the employees were sacked for misconduct.

Only a few staff are said to remain at the department, as the SABC continues to struggle to collect licence fees and to address its financial crisis.

The public broadcaster is heavily reliant on advertising and revenue from licence fees to stay afloat.

The dismissed employees are said to have participated in what they thought was a legal go-slow. This was after they had participated in an unprotected strike, which violated the provisions of the Labour Relations Act and SABC policies.

"Despite numerous attempts by management to dissuade them [the employees] from continuing with this unlawful action, they continued with the action.

"Consequently they were subjected to an internal disciplinary process, which was in compliance with the requirements of procedural and substantive fairness.

"The SABC management followed all the required prescripts in arriving at the pronouncement, based on the submissions presented before the aforesaid disciplinary process. It is also important that we do not engage in any further detail in the public domain," said Seapolelo.

There are fears that the dismissals could hurt the SABC’s efforts to boost its revenue from licence fees.

The financially hamstrung public broadcaster recorded a loss of R977m after tax in 2016-17. However, it projects that it could return to profitability in the 2019-20 financial year.

The subdued performance was mainly attributed to declining advertising revenue across all platforms, coupled with deteriorating TV licence fee collection. The SABC receives 85% of its revenue from advertising, sponsorships and other commercial partnerships; 3% from the government; and 12% from TV licence fees.

In a recent reply to a question from the DA in Parliament, Communications Minister Nomvula Mokonyane said that the SABC was owed just more than R25bn in unpaid licence fees by April 2017 and that the broadcaster had written off R4.5bn due to "invalid" accounts in the 2016-17 financial year.

She revealed that less than a third of people with TV licences were paying their annual fees.

The SABC had just over 9-million licence holders as of April 2017, but only 3-million had paid the fees in full.

The SABC has failed to raise funding from institutions while it awaits the outcome of its appeal to the Treasury for a R3bn guarantee. The broadcaster, however, insists its cash flow position has improved after setting out to pursue aggressive cost containment.