SABC television studios in Auckland Park. Picture: KEVIN SUTHERLAND
SABC television studios in Auckland Park. Picture: KEVIN SUTHERLAND

The SABC has dismissed reports that its CEO Madoda Mxakwe has resigned.

However, the broadcaster did not deny speculation that at least three board members had stepped down after clashing with communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams over planned retrenchments at the cash-strapped corporation.

“The SABC has noted media reports speculating that three members of the SABC board have resigned. The relevant and correct authority to comment on SABC board resignations is the presidency,” said SABC spokesperson Neo Momodu.

“The SABC can, however, confirm that its group CEO Madoda Mxakwe has not resigned and therefore speculations on his resignation are false,” she said.

It is understood that board members Khanyisile Kweyama and John Mattison have tendered their resignations to President Cyril Ramaphosa, and more members are set to follow suit.

Board members are unhappy with the government's interference and believe that their best efforts to turnaround the broadcaster will fall flat under the current circumstances. Kweyama and Mattison could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Should more nonexecutive directors of the SABC resign, it will leave the board without a quorum, which could lead to its dissolution.

The board already has four vacancies following the resignation of Rachel Kalidass, who quit earlier in 2018 after clashing with her colleagues over the appointment of the CEO.

Febe Potgieter-Gqubule resigned to take up a post with the ANC. Victor Rambau also tendered his resignation earlier in 2018, while Nomvuyiso Batyi, who was nominated by the portfolio committee on communications, withdrew her application.

The board is meant to have 12 members. It needs nine members, including the three executives — CEO, CFO and COO — for a quorum.

Previous boards have collapsed due to political interference. In a strongly worded letter to the board at the weekend, Ndabeni-Abrahams accused it of not acting in the best interest of the public broadcaster as they pressed on with retrenchments.

Like her predecessor, Nomvula Mokonyane, Ndabeni-Abrahams, who was recently appointed to the portfolio, has made it clear that she is opposed to the retrenchments and has suggested that President Cyril Ramaphosa should intervene. 

The SABC board, on the other hand, maintains it has little choice but to let go of more than 2,000 workers in order to remain sustainable.

In her letter addressed to SABC board chair Bongumusa Makhathini, Ndabeni-Abrahams stated that parliament also opposed the retrenchments, with the portfolio committee on communications requesting the board to consider other alternatives.

“As a shareholder, and further taking into account the discussions at parliament … we pleaded with the board to suspend the section 189 notice so as to allow us an opportunity to familiarise [ourselves] with the turnaround strategy, the bail-out application, and furthermore in consideration of the impending meeting between myself and the minister of finance to discuss the SABC’s financial position,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

She said the SABC board had “flatly declined this request” stating that the retrenchment exercise would continue while the minister approaches the presidency and National Treasury for a cash injection.

Ndabeni-Abrahams said the board had stated that it would review the pace and quantum of the effect of the section 189 should funding be found.

“The board further made it clear that irrespective of the success of the government guarantee or bail-out, they will still proceed with retrenchments. As the shareholder representative we are left with no option but to desist from all engagements with the SABC board including National Treasury and the turnaround task team as we realised that the board was no longer acting in the interests of the company, the shareholder, and parliament.

“We will report this impasse to the president, parliament and all relevant stakeholders,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

The board has been on an aggressive drive to turn around the broadcaster after years of decline under former COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

Executives told MPs recently that part of the reason the wage bill had escalated over the years was the irregular salary increases awarded to numerous employees by previous management.

The broadcaster spends more than R3bn a year on the salaries of slightly more than 3,000 permanent employees. The planned job cuts are likely to affect close to 1,000 permanent employees and 1,200 freelancers.

William Bird, the director of Media Monitoring Africa, said Ndabeni-Abrahams was illegally interfering in SABC board affairs.

“It is profoundly unfortunate that she has opted, while still so new in her position, to not only cut relations with the SABC board but to also act illegally by issuing a directive to the board to suspend the section 189 process. Whatever views on retrenchments, it is unacceptable for her to interfere so blatantly,” said Bird.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za