Reports about the SABC and its planned restructuring to make the public broadcaster more sustainable financially have been prominent in the media in recent times. The latest news is that the Labour Court in Johannesburg has dismissed the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers Union’s application to force the SABC to retract the 400 retrenchment letters that it issued as part of said restructuring process.
All parties now have until the end of December to look at other options, after which restructuring and retrenchments will presumably proceed.
In olden days we all thought, somewhat naively it would seem, that you had to be some business/tech/inventor-type genius, or sport or movie star, or bestselling writer, to become a millionaire. Then Lotto/Powerball excitingly came along for us ordinary South Africans as a potential avenue to reach that coveted financial status.
However, there is seemingly a third way to rise to these impressive financial heights in South Africa – become an executive at the SABC. Which does seem somewhat surprising as the SABC ran at a net loss of R511 million over the 2019/20 financial year.
Yet it paid its senior execs R41.732 million in total during the same period, with individual salaries ranging from well over R5 million to well over R2 million, making that an average annual salary of R3.9 million. (Which is more than President Ramaphosa earns – the Independent Commission for Remuneration of Public Office bearers wants to push his salary up to only R3.08m this year!)
And, as said, since the SABC is flat broke to put it bluntly, this means that the South-African taxpayer is going to have to step into this particular financial breach to the tune of billions. This will certainly be the case if Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, in conjunction with some political parties and labour unions, carry the day.
Here are some further thought-provoking SABC salary figures:
- 27 senior managers annually earn R2.1m a year
- 374 middle managers earn R1.2m a year
- Close on 489 junior managers almost make it to the millionaire class themselves – they earn a hefty R998 000 per annum
- The lowest average salary at the SABC (paid to well over 400 employees) stands at well over R450,000 per annum
Looking at these figures explains why the SABC’s annual wage bill stands at an eye-watering R1.024 billion, with individual salaries akin to sums you’d normally see on the Powerball results history.
With millions of South Africans depending on the SABC for information, entertainment and general enrichment of their daily lives, particularly as regards all the services in the 11 vernacular languages, the SABC is a valuable resource. It is, in fact, a given that the SABC performs a crucial role in South Africa and that as such it should be preserved.
It is unfortunately also a fact that many South Africans view the SABC with a distinct measure of distrust. There seems to be a fairly general consensus that the SABC has failed in its mission as an independent public broadcaster that should put public interest first. By banning certain commentators from the airwaves, it has been flying in the face of freedom of expression.
However, past ills/mismanagements/incompetence/short-sightedness set aside, it does genuinely seem that the SABC is sincere in its attempts at becoming the impartial public broadcaster it is mandated to be. This means that the framework within which it works has to be drastically amended. In brief, this should include at least some of the following:
- Parliament needs to lead the way in policy and regulatory reforms that will enable the SABC to do its job.
- The ANC as the governing party needs to adopt a hands-off policy and allow the SADC to function without political interference, which is rightly perceived as compromising everybody’s agenda.
- Proactive steps must be taken by the powers-that-be to put the SABC and the South African society on the road to a democratic society, as envisaged in our Constitution.
- The outdated Broadcasting Act of 1999 should be drastically amended to reflect the changing landscape in communications and the media in South Africa, taking cognisance of new digital platforms and how audiences access TV programmes.
- ICASA has been far too passive. It needs to make its voice heard more clearly to promote freedom of expression and to promote and protect the independence of the SABC as regards editorial and programming content.
- In practical terms, this means ‘slimming’ down the SABC right from its top-heavy management structure down to the hundreds of workers whose productivity must surely be questionable if so many of them are ‘needed’.
Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, and the unions, must stop stalling the necessary process required to allow the SABC to start heading in the right direction. They must face the harsh reality that the SABC will not be ‘fixed’ without drastic measures which will, unfortunately, include retrenchments.
In this particularly challenging time on the job market, one feels deeply for the people affected. But there is simply no point in prolonging the agony, as it were, by insisting that the hard-pressed SABC Board comes up with an impossible, never-to-be-achieved ‘turn-around’ plan.
If the only alternative is more R1 billion bailouts, wrung from equally suffering South African taxpayers, the choice is clear. The SABC has to start paying its own way, rather than competing with Powerball in creating a few hundred more South African millionaires. It is not good enough that while some of us can afford to enjoy cake, many of us battle to buy bread.