Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

The SABC remains in dire financial straits, a situation that could compromise news coverage ahead of the elections in May.

The broadcaster, remains the only source of news and commentary for millions of South Africans, requested R6.8bn from the government to stay afloat, but its bid for funding has largely been unsuccessful.

While the government said in March that work is being done to help the SABC raise R3.2bn in interim funding from commercial banks, this has not been enough to stabilise the broadcaster’s cash flow crisis.

“The SABC’s financial situation remains dire,” SABC spokesperson Vuyo Mthembu said last week. “However, we continue to focus on priorities of the organisation, with limited resources to cover the upcoming elections. The SABC remains fully committed to fulfilling its public service mandate.”

Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa formally appointed eight nonexecutive directors to fill vacancies on the board of the public broadcaster, with immediate effect.

The reconstituted SABC board will have its work cut out. In addition to addressing the cash crisis, it will have to deal with the matter of COO Chris Maroleng.

Maroleng is said to be facing charges of gross negligence and breach of fiduciary duty after allegedly approving a monthly acting allowance of R15,000 for an employee, despite the human resources department not signing off on the agreement.

The new board members include erstwhile national consumer commissioner Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi, who will serve as deputy chair of the board; SA National Editors’ Forum founder member Mary Papayya; and controversial academic and psychologist Sathasivan Cooper.

The other new board members are Jasmina Patel, Marcia Socikwa, Bernedette Muthien, David Maimela and Motshedi Benjamin Lekalakala. Bongumusa Makhathini will continue serving as chair of the board.

“Viewed collectively, the board of the SABC is composed of people who possess qualifications, skills, experience and expertise across a broad spectrum of relevant fields including, but not limited to, governance and business practice, law, broadcasting policy and regulation, journalism, and communications,” the presidency said on Friday.

The DA, however, expressed its reservations about the inclusion of Cooper. On Friday, communications spokesperson Phumzile van Damme, who had previously raised concern about the academic, said: “The DA remains steadfast in our strong objections to the inclusion of Prof Sathasivan Cooper.”

Referring to an investigation of governance failures when Cooper was vice-chancellor of the then University of Durban-Westville, she said: “The report to the education minister portraying him as ‘manipulative’ and prone to ‘surrounding himself with acolytes’ is still outstanding. There are serious allegations hanging over his head and we implore the rest of the board to not be intimidated by him and remain steadfast in its goals.”

Van Damme said the DA wished “the board well in its task”, despite the ANC not having considered any candidates proposed by opposition parties. “The SABC is facing serious financial difficulties and it will take skill, grit and tough decisions to turn it around.”

The public broadcaster sank deeper into crisis late in 2018 when four directors resigned, leaving the board without the quorum required to make decisions. Four other directors had resigned earlier that year. The 12-member board requires nine members, including  the CEO, CFO, and COO, to form a quorum.

The resignation of the four directors came as the SABC was planning to retrench about 2,200 permanent and freelance staff, nearly 40% of its staff complement, in an attempt to salvage its finances. They quit after receiving a scathing letter from communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, in which she accused the nonexecutive directors of not acting in the best interest of the public broadcaster by pressing on with retrenchments.

The SABC has since halted the process pending a skills audit.  However, it continues to struggle to pay its creditors and warned in March that it may not be able to pay some salaries unless it secures a R6.8bn government guarantee.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za