SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini has told the state capture commission of inquiry about continued struggles faced by the public broadcaster, adding the resignation of four board members had had a “harmful impact” on the organisation.
Appearing before inquiry chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo on Monday, Makhathini said the SABC had a five-month gap when there was no functioning board, adding certain things could not be done without a board making decisions.
Last year, Krish Naidoo, deputy chairperson Khanyisile Kweyama, DA nominee John Mattison and Mathatha Tsedu tendered their resignations.
This after a strained meeting between the board, Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams and her deputy, Pinky Kekana, News24 previously reported.
The SABC then embarked on a process to cut jobs by attempting to retrench 980 staff members and more than 1 200 freelancers in an effort to stem the financial crisis it found itself in.
However, Makhathini told Justice Zondo, the retrenchments had not gone ahead.
“The stopping of the retrenchments was done by the current minister. We had a meeting with her and in it she basically said retrenchments should not continue. What she said at the time was that she needed more time to familiarise herself with the portfolio.”
But Makhathini said several months later, the SABC had still not received any funding.
He told Justice Zondo about the dire situation at the public broadcaster, saying what had resulted in the commission doing the work that it was doing was still a reality for them.
“We are still living under those circumstances where you worry about your own safety for just trying to do what is right,” he said.
“And what is the most frustrating things, at times, they will cover some of these things as ‘transformation’.
“They will label you as somebody who is against transformation, when they’re hiding corruption under transformation or they will label you as someone who is ‘gender insensitive’, just because they want to cover certain things, using gender and transformation.”
Makhathi said what had happened in 2014, was still happening today, referring to what the Public Protector had found about the purging of competent, experienced people and replacing them with ones who were not properly qualified.
He added: “We are like 24 months down the line [and] our financial situation has worsened.”
Makhathini said the public broadcaster had failed to pay people who supplied it with content, adding it now owed R2bn.
“The reason why we have been able to keep the SABC going … for almost two years without any funding is because of the turnaround strategy that has been put together. It is because of the calibre of executive that we have been able to attract.
“It is because of the commitment of some of our clients who continue to invest with the SABC and run ads on our platform. It is also about our employees who, in spite of the danger they face when they go to our buildings that are falling apart, continue to come to work and deliver on their mandate.”