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

On Tuesday, parliament’s portfolio committee on communications resolved to put the shortlisting process of candidates for the eight vacancies at the board of the SABC on hold.

Following a heated debate during a committee meeting, Hlengiwe Mkhize, who chairs the portfolio committee said, given the history of challenges at the board of the troubled public broadcaster, it would be best to first conduct exit interviews with those who resigned from the current board before filling the vacancies.

Hlengiwe Mkhize. Picture: SOWETAN
Hlengiwe Mkhize. Picture: SOWETAN

Mkhize said exit interviews will be conducted from March 5.

EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi had suggested earlier that it wouldn’t be in the best interests of the committee for the SABC to rush the appointment process of new board members. He said the committee should conduct exit interviews with the board members who resigned to get a first-hand account of the challenges they faced, before replacing them.

However, DA MP Phumzile Van Damme said the vacancies should be filled urgently, and the exit interviews conducted at a later date. ANC MP Mziwamadoda Kalako argued that the committee should conduct exit interviews “so as to have a clearer understanding of the depth of the challenges [board members] faced”. 

Four resignations

The SABC, which is in dire financial straits, sank into a deeper crisis late in 2018 when four directors resigned, leaving the board without the quorum required to make decisions. The board is meant to have 12 members.

The resignation of the four directors — veteran journalists Mathatha Tsedu and John Matisonn; business leader Khanyisile Kweyama; and attorney Krish Naidoo late in 2018 — 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.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams accused the nonexecutive directors of not acting in the best interest of the public broadcaster as they pressed on with retrenchments. The board already had 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 but withdrew.

The SABC has since halted the retrenchments pending a skills audit. However, it continues to struggle to pay its creditors and warned in November 2018 that it would not be able to pay some salaries unless it secured a government guarantee.

The SABC spends more than R3bn a year on the salaries for its 3,000 permanent employees. It expects a net loss of R805m in the 2018/2019 financial year, if cost-cutting measures are not implemented.

Last week, before delivering his budget speech, finance minister Tito Mboweni revealed that the SABC had requested R6.8bn from the government. Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane is still engaged in talks with SABC executives, said Mboweni. The broadcaster had previously requested a R3bn government guarantee to stay afloat.

Parliament still hopes to finalise the shortlisting process for the vacant board positions before the end of March.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za