The Commission made some important findings, including that the SABC was “crippled by pain, anger and fear; by frustration, anxiety and apathy; by inattentiveness, detachment and helplessness”. Further, the Commission found that the SABC was suffering from the abuse of authority, which led to staff members feeling intimidated and deflected the SABC “from its mandate and its Editorial Policies”. The SABC Report also acknowledged that the maladministration began years ago and dated back as far as 2012. In addition, it found that the broadcaster’s executives had long been taking instructions “from people with no authority in the newsroom”. The SABC Report named a number of high-profile individuals who had been involved in such interference – including former Minister of Communications, Faith Muthambi, who had previously been accused of editorial interference by both Parliament and the Judiciary.
In response to these findings, the Commission made a number of recommendations. Among them was that the Group Executive of News and Current Affairs be designated as Chair of the Editorial Policies and Ethics Committee of the Group Executive. This individual would be required to chair the Committee that would include all the Group Executives of information. Another recommendation was that all newsroom staff should attend at least one workshop a year on the editorial policies, editorial ethics, and the most recent rulings of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA), Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and other related bodies.
A significant portion of the Report spoke to the environment created at the broadcaster by former Chief Operations Officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng. During his tenure at the SABC, Motsoeneng gave instructions to the Human Resources department to initiate disciplinary hearings against employees, and dismiss, promote or appoint others. The Report recommended that many of these promotions and dismissals be reviewed. Motsoeneng was also identified as having interfered with the editorial decisions – going as far as to refer to his alleged connection to the President at the time, Jacob Zuma – and threatening the job security of his subordinates to ensure they followed through.
The Report joins the growing pile of reports that have been compiled on the maladministration at the public broadcaster. Former public protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, issued a report titled When Governance and Ethics Fail in February 2014. In 2017, a parliamentary ad hoc committee published a report on the fitness of the SABC Board. In addition, numerous internal audits, forensic reports and Special Investigating Unit reports have been compiled. These reports investigated maladministration, abuse of power, descent into financial instability, the breakdown of effective governance and damage to the reputation of the SABC.
The SABC has since indicated that it is in the process of taking action against those implicated in the Report. As many as 186 of the cases that were investigated by the SABC’s forensic unit are from the past fiscal year. Some of these cases were unresolved or abandoned.
Currently, the SABC is heavily in debt and is awaiting a R3.2 billion bailout from National Treasury. This has led to uncertainty for both the employees and service providers of the broadcaster. It also affects the ability of the SABC to carry out its constitutional mandate. In addition, former employees of the SABC have been important witnesses before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. Their testimonies have shed light on the true depth of the malfeasance at the SABC. More importantly, their testimonies show that the damage caused by maladministration at one State-owned enterprise is not limited only to that SOE – but can have far-reaching consequences for the nation at large.
On 17 September, Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Communications was once again briefed on the SABC’s turnaround strategy. Of primary concern was the SABC’s application to the National Treasury for the R3.2 billion it needs to stay afloat. The Board’s Chairperson said that the broadcaster has met all 11 preconditions set by National Treasury before funds could be released. However, there seems to be a stalling over the precondition that requires the SABC to sell off non-core assets due to the process of identifying these so called “non-core” assets. Both the Portfolio Committee and National Treasury have yet to determine whether the SABC has indeed met the preconditions for the bailout. This means there is no set date for the release of the much-needed bailout and the broadcaster will continue to operate under uncertainty.
It is worrying that the beleaguered broadcaster continues to find itself in such an unstable position, despite the numerous investigations and recommendations that could have rectified the problems. In spite of the revolving door through which Board Members and executives have passed in recent attempts to stabilise the organisation, the SABC still cannot assure the National Treasury that it is capable of the turnaround necessary for the release of the financial guarantee it so desperately needs. The revelations at the State Capture Commission certainly do not paint an encouraging picture for the SABC, which may very well have to exist from hand to mouth for much longer anticipated.
By Ms Rebecca Sibanda: Legal Officer, Centre for Constitutional Rights
23 September 2019