The SABC's Auckland Park headquarters. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
The SABC's Auckland Park headquarters. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

The SABC sunk into a deeper crisis on Thursday following the resignation of a fourth director, which has left the broadcaster’s board without the quorum required to make decisions.

The resignations leave the board on the brink of collapse at a time when it is trying to rescue the SABC from financial collapse. The broadcaster, which has been unable to pay all its creditors, warned in November that it would not be able to pay some salaries by February, unless a R3bn guarantee was secured from the government.

The resignation of the four directors — veteran journalists Mathatha Tsedu and John Matisonn, business leader Khanyisile Kweyama and attorney Krish Naidoo — comes as the SABC is planning to cut about 2,200 permanent and freelance staff, nearly 40% of its total staff, in an attempt to salvage its finances.

Their resignations came in the wake of a scathing letter by communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams to the board in which she accused the nonexecutive directors of not acting in the best interest of the public broadcaster as they pressed on with retrenchments.

She said she would therefore "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".

In his resignation on Thursday, Tsedu cited a lack of support for the board in its drive to turn around the loss-making broadcaster as one of the reasons for his departure.

The SABC, which remains the only source of news and commentary for millions of South Africans, reported a total comprehensive loss — which includes the actuarial losses on its pension fund and post-employment medical aid commitments — of R1.19bn in 2018 and R603m in 2017.

Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko confirmed that President Cyril Ramaphosa had received and accepted the resignations of the four board members. She said the president was worried about the developments at the SABC and had engaged with Ndabeni-Abrahams. The talks included the government guarantee of R3bn for the broadcaster, which could avert retrenchments.

Diko said the presidency did not have a specific view on the planned job cuts, "but obviously the president does not want to see jobs being lost anywhere".

Previous SABC boards have collapsed due to political interference. Current board members are said to also be unhappy with the government’s interference at the public broadcaster, and believe that their best efforts to turn around the organisation will fall flat under the current circumstances.

The board already has four vacancies following the resignations earlier in 2018 of Rachel Kalidass, Febe Potgieter-Gqubule and Victor Rambau. Nomvuyiso Batyi was nominated by the portfolio committee on communications but withdrew her application.

The board is meant to have 12 members and needs nine, including the CEO, CFO and COO, to form a quorum.

It is also understood that some members who served on the previous interim board were irked by a Special Investigating Unit (SIU) probe into its awarding of a security tender.

The five interim board members, Kweyama, Tsedu, Potgieter-Gqubule, Matisonn and Naidoo said in a statement that they had provided the relevant information to the SIU.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za