Minister of communications & digital technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. Picture: GCIS
Minister of communications & digital technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. Picture: GCIS

The SABC board misinterpreted an alternative job cuts proposal at the public broadcaster from communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, the ministry said.  

In a letter seen by Business Day and reported on Wednesday, board chair Bongumusa Makhathini said the communications and technologies department could absorb workers in support functions such marketing, IT and human resources if the SABC is unable to find space for them.

However, the letter misinterpreted an earlier correspondence from Ndabeni-Abrahams laying out alternatives to job cuts, department spokesperson Mish Molakeng said. 

 “The ministry of communications and digital technologies has never made an offer to absorb staff members retrenched from the SABC,” Molakeng said.

“The ministry proposed to the SABC board that it should look into developing a mitigation plan aimed at minimising the impact of retrenchments on affected employees.”

Tensions have been simmering between SABC board members, some of whom have staked their reputations on putting the state-owned company on a solid financial footing, and Ndabeni-Abrahams, who has a history of thwarting turnaround plans that could lead to politically sensitive retrenchments at the corporation.

The SABC is choking under a hefty wage bill that eats up more than 40% of its annual revenue, forcing it to hold out a begging bowl for cash injections from the Treasury, which itself has set aggressive targets to cut government spending amid a historic budget deficit and ballooning debt.

Treasury has asked the SABC, which employs about 3,000 people earning an average of R800,00 a year, to cut the salary bill as part of a R3.2bn conditional bailout allocated in 2019. The board has said it wants to reduce the R3bn wage bill by at least R700m. 

Molakeng said Ndabeni-Abrahams’ proposal would urge the board to allocate money to reskill and train affected employees.

The ministry also advised the SABC to look into the activation of dormant digital television channels, where some staff members could be redeployed, thus retrained to produce content for digital channels, he said.

“The ministry continues to support the SABC to find viable solutions both to ensure financial sustainability of the entity through the implementation of the turnaround strategy, while equally ensuring prospects are available for SABC employees who may be retrenched,” he said.

Makhathini did not  respond to requests for comment on Thursday evening.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za

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