The Portfolio Committee on Communications held a virtual meeting to hear the views of internal stakeholders at the SABC on the situation at the broadcasting corporation, particularly in relation to their opposition to the section 189 process, i.e. the process of retrenchment according to the Labour Relations Act. Two unions and the Editorial Forum presented their views.
The Communication Workers Union asserted that retrenchment of staff at the SABC was premature as the skills audit had not yet been completed and the Union was concerned that management would retrench people who were needed to keep the SABC functional. It was critical that the turnaround strategy looked into five priorities as pillars of the turnaround strategy: digital migration; online revenue stream; public broadcaster funding model; unfunded broadcasting mandate; and stringent regulations relating to the broadcaster. The Union stated that SABC management had not considered those five pillars. The Union was also concerned about the lack of a funding strategy, pointing out that management had not made any revenue from those times when the President had spoken on Covid-19, despite the huge audiences. It also expressed concern about the serious allegations of sabotage made by the SABC when staff members played the wrong clip of the President of the Republic speaking.
The Broadcasting Electronic Media and Allied Workers Union was not against right-sizing but there had to be a fair process and a real need for right-sizing. Only towards the end of the decision-making, had the SABC management engaged with unions. The Union recalled that after a previous retrenchment process, management had to re-employ staff at a premium rate because the SABC did not have the skills to remain functional. The Union felt particularly aggrieved that the bail-out funding had been expended mainly on litigation and the employment of external legal services. It had found that the Skills Audit questionnaire did not capture the skills of employees correctly and was therefore fatally flawed.
The Editorial Forum (EF) represented editorial staff across all regions of the SABC working for television, radio and digital platforms. The Editorial Forum was a structure that had been formed following the Communications Ad Hoc Committee’s hearings in 2017, in response to the many years of governance failures by the SABC management and its successive boards. The Forum demanded the immediate stop to the section 189 process and proper consultation with staff in a fair and transparent manner, after the proper auditing of the skills base of SABC employees. The Forum also had concerns about the allegations of sabotage and demanded the review of the SABC Editorial Policy and the institutionalisation of the News Staff Editorial Forum.
Members commented extensively on the presentations, with some Members looking for ways to create a balance between saving jobs and saving the broadcasting corporation whilst other Members were adamant that no jobs would be lost.
Members asked who was carrying out the skills audit. Was it a consultant? Which company was doing it? Regarding the claim of sabotage, Members wanted to know if staff had been defamed and whether the matter of sabotage was sub judice or not. Had the SABC been taken to court or not? Had the matter been concluded internally? In the light of the funding issues, Members asked if the union knew what the cost of the unfunded mandate was versus the revenue raised by the TV licences. Had anyone engaged with Netflix or Showmax which were directly in competition with SABC? How would that competition affect the SABC going forward?
Members had noted that almost all the references to CWU on the internet included a reference to Hlaudi Motsoeneng. What measures had the union taken against the previous management?
Members asked the unions to explain the difference was between a commercial broadcaster and a public broadcaster. What was the distinction? Did the absorption of the parliamentary news team under the general news manager mean the SABC was losing its public nature? Did the unions understand the conditions of the bail-out from National Treasury? The wage bill had to be reduced, so what did the unions think should happen?
Regarding the filling of six vacancies on the Council of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, the Committee agreed to support the appointment of candidates No 1 – 5 as named by the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies from the shortlist presented to her. However, the Committee was of the view that the final candidate nominated would not result in the overall criteria of the Board being met, as per section 5(3)(B)(ii) of the ICASA Act.
The Chairperson welcomed Members and fellow South Africans. He requested that the Secretary ensure that the meeting was quorate. The first item was related to the Committee and had been carried over from the meeting the previous day. He requested Members to focus on the matters on hand and on the rules of the meeting to ensure a smooth meeting.
Ms P van Damme (DA) asked permission to speak about the rules of engagement in virtual meetings. The Committee had been more than generous in tolerating the engagement of Members. She understood that virtual meeting were very difficult and Members had tried their very best to improve collegiality, but the previous day’s meeting had been very disappointing. Of late, the Chairperson was turning a blind eye to the rudeness and name-calling of some Members of the Committee. The previous day she had been called a child and been told go back to Swaziland. He had let that go. Her party was going to be very insistent that meetings were conducted according to the rules.
Ms van Damme added that there was no rule that stated that cameras should be off because some Members did not want to see other Members’ faces when they spoke. In Parliament, one did not leave the chamber when another person spoke. That person would no longer be indulged. She requested the Chairperson to conduct the meetings according to the rules of Parliament. The Chairperson generally conducted himself well and had not sided with political parties but lately that had not been the case. She reminded him to observe the rules and asked him to ensure that everyone on the Committee adhered to the rules of Parliament.
The Chairperson explained that the rules were set in order to facilitate the conduct of a meeting but, even in Parliament, people entered the debate when they should not. He explained that whoever was speaking should be the one shown on the screen. However, given connectivity problems, some Members requested to speak without visuals, which was fine as long as one knew who was speaking. That was necessary to be fair to Members.
He asserted that he had never been partisan to anyone or any party and had tried to the best of his ability to focus on matters of the Committee. Where an order was raised, he allowed Members to indicate if he had not noted a particular issue and he would make remarks in that regard. He wanted Ms van Damme to participate on the basis that he would treat her fairly. He always made a summary at the end of a meeting so that Members had a common understanding of what had been agreed upon following discussions in the meeting. That ensured that everyone had the same perception of the meeting but it was different from making a ruling. He regarded the summary as a way of being fair so that everyone was able to state what had been decided at a meeting. Once he had made a ruling, a matter was closed. Testing whether there was agreement on what had been decided in the meeting was different from agreeing with a Member.
Regarding the previous day, the Chairperson reminded Ms van Damme that if she felt that there were problems, she should make a complaint so that the matter would be followed up. He had not hidden the fact that he had had connection problems during the meeting the previous day. He did not know if the point had been raised during the meeting, but he would consult with the management Committee and Committee staff. He agreed that the meeting should be conducted in line with the rules of Parliament.
The Chairperson added that he did not believe that switching off cameras meant that some Members did not want to see others. Instead, he had asked Members to keep cameras off when they were not speaking as some people might do things during the meeting that were not conducive to the meeting and might be captured on camera. For example, photos had been taken of Members who were not dressed suitably for the meeting because they believed that they could not be seen. It was not his intention to collapse the Committee by being unfair to anyone in the meeting. He even went back to people who were disconnected because he valued the contribution of all Members. As far as he was concerned, all Members engaged in decisions taken by the Committee. If Ms van Damme believed that there was reason for a formal complaint, that should be lodged so that it could be addressed, but he had noted the points that Ms van Damme had raised.
The Chairperson requested the Committee Secretary to present the ICASA report to the Committee. He noted that Members had received the document previously and the business of the day was the formal adoption of the report.
Report on the Appointment of ICASA Councillors
The Secretary read out the Report of the Portfolio Committee on Communications on the consideration of the communication received from the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies on the filling of six vacancies on the Council of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), dated July 14, 2020.
The Committee supported the appointment of candidates No 1 – 5 but the appointment of the final candidate would not meet the requirement of the Act for the overall criteria of the Board.
The Chairperson put the matter to the Committee.
The adoption of the Report on the Appointment of ICASA Councillors was proposed by Mr L Malala (ANC) and seconded by Mr C Mackenzie (DA). There were no objections. The adoption of the report was unanimously approved by the Committee and would be sent to the National Assembly.
Presentations on the SABC
The Chairperson informed Members that, as requested, the Communications Workers Union would present to the Committee on the situation at the SABC. In addition, the Broadcasting Electronic Media and Allied Workers Union and the Editorial Forum would be presenting their experiences at the SABC.
Presentation by the Communications Workers Union (CWU)
Mr Aubrey Tshabalala, Secretary-General, CWU, noted that, according to the media, the strategic plan of the SABC targeted 600 workers to lose their jobs. Nevertheless, the CWU remained committed to engage with all role players. The Union had met with the SABC Executive Management and the Board Chairperson on 11 June 2020 to discuss the turnaround strategy. At that meeting, management had stated that the skills audit had not been completed and therefore there could be no discussion on human resources. However, on the following Sunday, the media had talked about retrenchment and so CWU believed that management had not engaged with the Union in good faith. He asserted that retrenchment was premature as the skills audit had not been completed and he was concerned that management would retrench people who were needed to keep the SABC functional.
Mr Tshabalala stated that it was critical that the turnaround strategy looked into five priorities as pillars of the turnaround strategy: digital migration; online revenue stream; public broadcaster funding model; unfunded (broadcasting) mandate; stringent regulations on the broadcaster. Management had not considered the five pillars of the turnaround strategy. He pointed out that management had not made any money despite the huge audiences when the President spoke on Covid-19 because management had not sold any advertising for those times.
Mr Tshabalala noted that page 45 of the SABC Turnaround Strategy showed that the SABC had fewer employees than in 2019 but the salary bill had increased to R4 billion, so the salary bill had increased but the number of workers had decreased. There had been no cost cutting. The Union was calling for section 189 (of the Labour Relations Act, i.e. retrenchment) to be abandoned.
The SABC had made serious allegations about staff members sabotaging the State when a wrong clip of the President of the Republic had been played on air. To date, the management of SABC had failed to report back on the matter to the public and Parliament. Instead, management had indicated in their last appearance at the Portfolio Committee that the matter was sub judice. However, the truth was that internal disciplinary hearings had already been conducted: (1) the senior person, the Executive Producer, was found not guilty; (2) the Bulletin Editor received a final written warning; (3) the Producer was dismissed. That demonstrated inconsistency and a poor worker had been used as a sacrificed lamb.
CWU was calling for the SABC to abandon its premature call to retrench workers and to engage with the unions in good faith.
Broadcasting Electronic Media and Allied Workers Union (Bemawu)
Mr Hannes du Buisson, President, Bemawu, stated that in 1997, the SABC had retrenched 1 200 workers and they were re-employed at a premium rate because the SABC was then desperate for the skills of those particular workers. The Union was not against right-sizing but there had to be a fair process and a real need for right-sizing. Only towards the end of the decision-making, had the SABC management engaged with unions. When the SABC had appeared before Parliament, management had stated that they could not answer certain questions. He had the answers to those questions and felt duty-bound to present the answers to Parliament.
Bemawu felt particularly aggrieved that the bail-out funding had been expended mainly on litigation and the employment of external legal services. Mr du Buisson showed how the process of the SABC skills audit differed from the explanations provided in the 2019 Annual Report. He began playing a recording of an employee who had asked the Skills Audit Consultant about the inappropriate questions in the skills survey.
Mr Mackenzie interjected on a point of order stating that he was concerned that the presenter was not allowed to publicly play a recording if the people in the interview were not aware of being recorded.
Dr M Ndlozi (EFF) stated that the recording was not of a private conversation so there were no issues of privacy. Also, it was a survey and one was always asked before such a conversation began if one agreed to be recorded. He was, however, open to correction.
Mr Mackenzie suggested that the presenter inform the Committee as to whether permission had been given for the recording.
Mr du Buisson replied that his understanding was that if one person had consented to the recording of the conversation, it was perfectly legal to record such a conversation. He decided, however, not to continue with the recording. He explained that the Union had found that the Skills Audit questionnaire did not capture the skills of employees correctly. It was therefore fatally flawed. The SABC had proposed that redundant employees apply for jobs, but without a valid skills audit. As in the previous round of redundancies, the SABC was making the wrong people redundant.
The Union was also concerned because the bail-out money had been spent on litigation. External lawyers were being employed to chair simple disciplinary hearings. That was a management function and the SABC was giving powers to non-employees which was against the delegations.
Around 100 employees were being fired because they had been irregularly employed but the managers who had employed them irregularly were not being fired.
In respect of the sabotage incident, Mr du Buisson quoted an employee in the division at the time who stated that the charge sheets had not referred to sabotage but to negligence and dereliction of duty. He affirmed that there had been no hidden political agenda in the flighting of the incorrect speech.
Presentation by the Editorial Forum
Ms Zolisa Sigabi stated that she was on the platform with co-Forum members Megan Lubke, Busisiwe Ntuli and Setlogola Thoko. The Editorial Forum (EF) represented editorial staff across all regions of the SABC working for television, radio and digital platforms. The Editorial Forum was a structure that had been formed following the Communications Ad Hoc Committee’s hearings in 2017, in response to the many years of governance failures by the SABC management and its successive boards.
Ms Sigabi was there to present the views of editorial staff regarding their deep concern about the looming retrenchments. As news staff, they were particularly concerned about the potential impact of the retrenchments on the Newsroom’s ability to deliver on its public mandate. The Newsroom was currently limping from crisis to crisis, due to the serious lack of both financial and human resources.
The SABC had announced that it sought to retrench 600 permanent employees and 1200 freelancers, but they did not know how the Corporation had arrived at those figures.
The SABC news staff called for:
-the immediate stop to the Section 189 process;
-proper consultation with staff in a fair, transparent manner;
-the proper auditing of the skills base of SABC employees;
-the immediate retraction of the word 'sabotage' from the public domain;
-the review of the SABC editorial policy and the institutionalisation of the News Staff Editorial Forum;
-an immediate task team be established to investigate the appropriate business model for the public broadcaster.
Presentation by the Independent Producers Organisation
Mr Rehad Desai, of the Independent Producers Organisation (IPO), stated that his organisation represented the independent producers who did work for the SABC. The IPO had concerns around the retrenchment process, the role of the Minister and the role of the Portfolio Committee.
Dr Ndlozi rose on a point of order. He requested a copy of the presentation as he had not received a copy prior to the meeting.
Mr Desai explained that he had not sent a presentation as it had been a last minute decision that his organisation would be permitted to present.
The Chairperson requested the Committee Secretary to clarify the situation. Why were some presentations not in writing and why were there presenters that the Committee had not requested? `
The Committee Secretary explained that the first three presenters had written requesting to present to the Committee but he had received a call at 15:00 that afternoon requesting that the IPO be permitted to present. Because the aim of the Committee was to engage with all internal stakeholders in the SABC, the management committee agreed to afford the IPO a ten-minute slot but he requested that a presentation be sent. He had received an email shortly before the meeting but it did not contain a presentation, merely the points that Mr Desai had begun to present. He confirmed that the IPO had not been sent an invitation to present but had requested the opportunity.
The Chairperson asked Dr Ndlozi to make the call as to whether or not the Committee entertained the IPO as he had raised the matter.
Dr Ndlozi was not sure of the status of the IPO. The Committee wanted to hear from stakeholders inside the SABC. He was not happy to receive the presentation as it had not been presented prior to the meeting and it had not even been discussed by the Committee the previous evening. He did not know the status of the IPO and as there was just over an hour to entertain the presentations already given, he was concerned about time. He repeated that he had not been able to process the presentation before the meeting and so he was not comfortable with the Committee taking that direction. That presentation could be entertained at some other stage when the Committee had been convinced of the value of entertaining industrial players. On the other hand, it was unprofessional and he did not like being treated like that.
Mr Desai suggested that he could present in only three minutes.
The Chairperson explained that only internal stakeholders had been invited to present that day. He stated that he would call the IPO on another occasion as he had had requests from other role players to present He had been led to believe that the IPO was an internal stakeholder, which was why he had mentioned in his opening remarks that the IPO would be presenting. But he was ruling that the IPO would not present. He apologised to Members for the confusion.
Mr Desai explained that the members of IPO produced the majority of the programmes on the SABC and was deeply involved in the internal affairs of the SABC.
Ms N Khubheka (ANC) stated that the Chairperson had ruled and that the IPO could come when the other industry players were called to present. The other three presenters had sent their presentations and Members had engaged with the presentations before the meeting and so they could engage in a robust discussion. He could be invited for another meeting.
The Chairperson stated that he had ruled and that the IPO would not be presenting.
Mr Desai added that he was very concerned about the 2 September 2020 date for the next Portfolio Committee as the matters were extremely urgent and could not be delayed that long.
Members became agitated by Mr Desai’s continued speaking and the Chairperson requested the IT technician to switch Mr Desai off.
Ms Z Majozi (IFP) asked that, in future, the administration should only allow those presentations that had been agreed upon by the Members and not allow others to come into their meetings because the Members did not want their meetings to be interrupted by people.
The Chairperson noted that he would deal with the matter with the administration staff but stated that the IPO had indicated that it was an internal player. He called for comments from Members.
Ms Khubheka said that it was a great day to be able to listen to the three presenters. She noted that the Committee still had to listen to the SABC. She was happy that the unions had raised the same frustrations as the Committee had seen but the unions had also come with some solutions for trying to address the challenges. The Committee had heard about the real challenges. The Committee was not wrong when it had told the SABC to go back and find the real challenges and consider how they were dealing with the challenges. The Committee had not made a mistake when it had asked the Deputy Minister to go and check on the situation.
The Committee had raised the issue of the skills audit, the sabotage and the editorial policy. The Committee had not made a mistake the previous day. It was there to support and build the SABC but it could not allow the abuse of power. The issue of advertising was a serious challenge. The unions also provided information about how the bail-out had been used. It was clear that there were hiccups in the SABC. The SABC could not come with an operating model when the Corporation had not consulted with the workers.
Ms Van Damme thanked the three presenters. She was deeply sorry that the SABC employees had to go through such a process, in the middle of a global pandemic, in winter, where they fear losing their jobs. She offered her sympathy.
She was not going to play politics. She was not going to say to stop the process. The Minister did not legally have the right to dictate to the SABC and instruct iy to stop the process. She had said the previous day that the Committee needed to hear both sides. There had to be a process to find a middle ground. On the one side was the SABC that had projected a loss of R1.9 billion. They had a request from National Treasury to cut the wage bill and the Committee did not want the SABC to ask for another bail-out. On the other side were the unions and she was happy to hear Mr du Buisson say that the unions wanted to see a process that was fair, reasonable and was a last resort. She was pleased that the unions understood the need for an organisation to cut staff from time to time and she agreed that the skills audit was an essential process in doing so. There had been a report from the Communications Ad Hoc Committee and there was a requirement from National Treasury that the SABC should reduce the salary bill, but one needed to know which positions to cut.
The previous day she had wanted to ask the SABC whether the Skills Audit had been completed. Previously, the management had said that Phase 2 had not been done. She had wanted to know if the SABC still considered the skills audit essential. She asked who was carrying out the skills audit. Was it a consultant? Which company was doing it?
Regarding the claim of sabotage, Ms Van Damme stated that she had wanted to know if staff had been defamed. If there were processes still to be completed, they needed to complete those but the facts had to be put out there. She wanted the SABC to tell the Committee the truth. The interest of the Committee was to ensure that processes were legitimate.
Ms Van Damme told the unions that she did not want to give them false hope that the retrenchments would be stopped because they could not be stopped unless Government came on board and bail the SABC out and it was wrong to give false assurances because the government could not provide the money. She wanted to see the process of audi alteram partem, i.e. she had heard from the unions and now she wanted to hear from the SABC.
Mr Mackenzie appreciated the information provided by CWU, especially about the unfunded mandate. He understood that the licence fee was generated from the use of television sets. Did the union know what the cost of the unfunded mandate was versus the revenue raised by the TV licences? The Minister was going to provide 250 000 TV sets to people before the end of the year and that would generate additional R60 million in licence fees.
He had sympathy for those who were undergoing the process and stood to lose their jobs through a process that was not fair. He could not comment because that was a management issue but he saw the human element behind it all. They were not talking about numbers but people and their families.
Mr Mackenzie explained that Google was his friend and he always googled anyone who was to appear before the Committee. In almost all the references to CWU, Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s name had popped up and that was what was sitting at the back of his mind. It concerned him. He thought of the SABC 8 who had lost their jobs, and some of them had died as a result of that. He thought of the day that people had been fired and on the same day there had been a gala dinner for Hlaudi Motsoeneng. That concerned him greatly.
Mr Mackenzie was very impressed when he had watched the news the previous night and a former leader of a political party had spoken about children going back to school. It showed that it was not only government spokespersons who could appear on the news. He assumed that was part of the new editorial thinking.
He asked about the competition from Netflix and Showmax. Netflix had set up an agency and a production office in SA and it was employing people and producing films in SA. Had anyone engaged with Netflix? Showmax was directly in competition with the SABC and was showing the same local content. The ANC government was very strong on competition in the telecommunications industry and now the SABC was facing real competition. How would that affect the SABC going forward?
Dr Ndlozi welcomed the presentations. He emphasised to the management of the Committee that one of the fundamental problems that the Committee had to be very careful of when dealing with the survival of the SABC was the involvement of the broader industry players. eNCA would want to give input because it was involved in the field. The IPO sold content to the SABC and to MultiChoice, etc. and the Committee had to draw the line and should not entertain the IPO as the organisation had a conflict of interest as its members were selling content to the SABC and other media. They were not employed by SABC.
Dr Ndlozi observed that the journalists of the SABC had done a remarkable job in restoring the integrity of the newsroom. Those who understood the matters knew what those people had to do. Once the Committee had balanced the scales after many restructurings, the editorial staff had restored the newsrooms. The Committee had just been told that the editorial staff had been performing well but under conditions of understaffing, etc. SABC itself was on record as having acknowledged Channel 404 as the leading news channel in the country and now the staff who had produced the content that had given the SABC the best numbers in the last 12 months were facing retrenchment.
Dr Ndlozi informed Mr Mackenzie that the SABC did not have any competition. The dramas drew the largest numbers of viewers although it was different when it came to free-to-air shows of the pay-to-view organisations, such as Mojo Love. The SABC had given audiences to Multi-Choice because of corrupt regulations that had allowed Multi-Choice to grow on the back of the SABC. Without the support of the SABC, the audiences of Multi-Choice would not be so large. Multi-Choice survived because of the audience numbers created by the SABC by building up the audience base.
He asked CWU & BEMAWU what the difference was between a commercial broadcaster and a public broadcaster. What was being eroded? What was the distinction between a public and a commercial broadcaster? They had not made that clear. When the Committee did its oversight, it needed to be informed by the unions of those features that made the SABC consistently a public broadcaster as opposed to a commercial broadcaster.
Dr Ndlozi agreed on the skills audit. He was happy that the unions agreed that if anyone had been given a job based on false qualifications, those people should go. That was why the Ad Hoc Committee had called for a skills audit. The skills audit was not intended to reduce the numbers.
He did not agree with austerity in any way. To restart the economy, people had to be put into jobs.
He asked the Editorial Forum whether the matter of sabotage was sub judice or not. Had the SABC been taken to court or not? Was it concluded internally? Did they have the documentation on the matter? The SABC said that it had been taken to court and that was why the matter was sub judice. He required two pieces of information. Was it true that the matter had not been concluded internally? If it had, could the Forum provide documentation to show that? Had the SABC been taken to court? If not, it could not be sub judice and then the Committee had been lied to.
Dr Ndlozi asked Megan Lubke, whom he had met before, if the new editorial structure could be teased out. It was a brilliant solution. Giving the final say to the Head of News was a problem but he noted that upward referral was voluntary. Hlaudi Motsoeneng had changed that and had created an upward referral. Hlaudi had not created the notion of upward referral. It was common in many countries around the world, but it was voluntary. When there were issues in the newsroom, editorial staff could take it up with the CEO. The editor-in-chief was a ceremonial position. The true democratic process was an editorial forum. One would have to capture the entire forum to capture the news. At the moment, one had to capture only one person - the Head of News. People were saying that the SABC was becoming an “eNCA lite”. Could the Forum confirm that? Was that what they mean by the commercialisation of the SABC?
He was shocked that the parliamentary news team was now subordinate to the general news team. That was an insult to the legislative body and the news team that covered the legislature. Was that what they meant by losing its public nature?
Ms Majozi noted that the people in CWU had been in the SABC quite a long time and they had referred to past strategies. The CWU had come to present on the SABC turnaround strategy but had its own turnaround strategy. As the unions had presented, they had presented the finances but they had not told the Committee what it was that they see and expect in terms of the digital migration.
Ms Majozi was concerned that the presentations seemed to be contradictory. The presenters talked about not being included in the matter of retrenchments but Mr Tshabalala talked about the meeting that he was in and that the discussions were sent to the Sunday Times, but then he said that the union was not in the meetings. When people presented to the Committee, they were expected to present the reality. The Union was there when the former CEO, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, did a lot of things but she had not seen a complaint by the Union about Hlaudi. Some of the litigation on which the bail-out funds were supposedly spent, might have been started by the previous management. What measures had the union taken against the previous management?
Ms Majozi noted the presentations highlighted that people who were employed without the proper qualifications were not responsible for that happening. She warned that the law would take its course and eventually those people would be jailed. However, that had happened under the former management and that was what the current board and management were attempting to deal with. There was no consensus about the current board and management dealing with those challenges. What were the conditions of the bail-out from National Treasury? Did the unions know what the conditions were? The wage bill had to be reduced so what did the unions think should happen?
The unions should have given the full picture of those who had been employed without the full qualifications, if any. What were they saying about the Public Protector’s remedial actions?
She added that there was no consensus about the skills audit. One said that it was not done, another said that it was not well done. The EFF said that the board thought the audit was irrelevant. Could the unions agree on the situation? Had the board done the skills audit or not? If the unions were not included, how had they achieved all the things that they had, such as the turnaround of the SABC news? How had the Editorial Forum succeeded if it was not recognised as a structure? She wanted answers on that.
Ms Majozi said she would have preferred a meeting in Parliament with the SABC in attendance because she did not buy what had been presented to the Committee by the three presenters or by the SABC. They contradicted each other and the SABC was not there to defend itself. Had the Unions come to the previous Parliament to present on the previous management and board of SABC?
Mr T Gumbu (ANC) asked how many new staff members had been employed in the past eight months. He did not understand why the unions said that those people were to be moved simultaneously. He did not understand the statement. Was there any other non-core business expenditure, apart from the litigation, made from the bail-out money?
Mr W Madisha (COPE) stated that the SABC belonged to SA. Presently almost 15 million people, mostly black SAs, were not employed and now the SABC wanted to retrench 600 people. Each black person in the country had to feed not less than 10 people so that meant that 6000 people would go hungry. That was part of the major problem facing the country. He had told the SABC that but the board and management had just gone on. In his view, all the unions agreed. Was any space given to the unions to discuss the resolution, i.e. the retrenchment?
The Committee had spoken to the SABC in the past but he had read reports that, although the Committee had instructed the SABC not to continue with staff retrenchments, the SABC was continuing and hence there were hundreds of CCMA applications. And now there were court cases and, although the SABC employed legal personnel, the SABC had spent money on outside lawyers who were not employed by SABC. That was basically wrong. The Committee had gone to Parliament to request Parliament to give more than R3.2 billion to the SABC so that it could deal with the momentous challenges it had but the SABC did not care about ensuring that the people who were employed there were looked after. The SABC had disregarded what the Committee had said. That was a major problem. Now was the time for the Committee to show the management at SABC that they could not just do as they wanted to as they themselves were employees there. SABC belonged to the people of SA. He had agreed that the SABC should get more than R6.2 billion as a bail-out but he was now saying to the Committee and the people of SA that the Committee could not allow that kind of thing to continue at the SABC.
Mr Madisha asked if the unions had engaged with the HR development staff of the SABC to address the problems. Had the unions ever interacted with HR? Was any space given to the unions in all the outstanding areas that had led to the S189? Had there been any interaction? Had there been any involvement? The skills audit did not mean that people had to be kicked out but that people should be given re-training and re-skilling. What the Committee was seeing was extremely wrong because people who had been there for many years were being told to go away because they were lacking particular skills. Had the Unions sat down with management and discussed skills training? Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who only had a Matric certificate, had been elevated to the position of Chief Operating Officer. People who were highly educated and had university qualifications had simply been put aside. Had the unions discussed skills development with management? Had they sat down with management to determine the route to be followed and the skills required?
Mr Madisha told Committee Members that the retrenchment was nonsense that it should not be allowed. The Committee reported to Parliament and not to government. Parliament was the owner of the SABC as it belonged to the people of SA and all those people could not be kicked out. He wanted the SABC to come and account. The SABC had been given instructions but it went on and did as it wished. The Committee could not allow what was going on.
Ms P Faku (ANC) said that the unions had clarified many things. She concurred with Dr Ndlozi and Mr Madisha on the points that they had raised. The Committee had asked for the Turnaround Strategy and although the SABC had struggled to bring it to the Committee, it had finally been presented to Members. She did not understand why management was talking about retrenchment and they should explain. The SABC had to respond to the litigation issues. Why were external people being paid to chair internal disciplinary hearings? It was claimed that the money came from the bail-out money. The Committee had been consistent. Mr Madisha was correct that the SABC belonged to SA. The Committee had to play its role, do oversight and get to the bottom of things at the SABC. She thanked the unions for coming forward. She would have many questions for the SABC. She appreciated the effort of the stakeholders. 600 people could not lose their jobs. The government had said that jobs had to be saved. She needed the SABC to respond to her concerns.
Mr L Molala (ANC) clarified that the Committee was engaging in consultation. It was not a court of inquiry. People were giving different stories and they had to be clear about whether or not they had been consulted. Most people would have seen the SABC media presentation of the Portfolio Committee meeting of the previous day. He had to raise the issue formally. The SABC had declared that the Portfolio Committee was interfering. The SABC belonged to the people of SA and so there was nothing wrong in what the Committee was doing. The Members were simply asking questions so that they received answers. He wanted to make it clear that the Deputy Minister had not “instructed” the SABC; she had “advised” the SABC.
Mr Molala was worried because there did not seem to be an HR unit in the SABC because it was the job of HR to know which people were qualified for the job for which they were employed and what it had done for people who were not qualified or succeeding at their jobs. How did HR put employees in a job for which they did not qualify? Was the HR unit functional? What did the lawyers at SABC do if the legal work was being outsourced?
He stated that the unions and the Forum had referred to the contest between the public mandate and the commercial arm of the SABC but they had not been clear about what they meant. When the Committee appropriated funds for the SABC, it was not just for the public mandate but also for the commercial mandate that was so secretive. When unions spoke to Parliament, they had to be honest and tell the truth. The Committee’s job was not only to criticise the SABC but also the unions if they were not providing adequate information. The information had to be reliable because if the Committee used information and it was not accurate, the Committee would be seen as biased. During the pandemic, the Committee could not be discussing whether people should have bread on the table. The Committee was there to represent everyone who had voted the Members into office.
The Chairperson saw that the meeting had extended beyond 21:00. The Secretary informed him that the broadcast would continue for a few minutes more.
The Chairperson hoped that there was time for quick answers but he agreed with Mr Molala that the answers had to be reliable. He required all responses in writing, even where questions were answered in the meeting. Each presenter was given five minutes to respond and then he would sum up.
Response by CWU
Mr Tshabalala said that he would answer a few questions in the five minutes and he would provide those and additional responses in writing. A service provider was doing the skills audit. On the recording that Bemawu had begun to play, one could hear the consultant who was doing the skills audit say that he would speak to management about the questions. He had heard the point about the SABC being unable to avoid retrenchment but the bigger issue of the SABC was that it was not making revenue and unless the revenue was not addressed, the percentage of the expenditure that went to the salary bill would continue to rise. Cutting the numbers would result in the same problem arising in the following year. The SABC had to address the issue of its revenue.
Mr Tshabalala stated that when he had joined the Portfolio Committee meeting, he had understood that the discussion would be about the SABC but now the question that CWU had to answer to was about the linking of Hlaudi Motsoeneng to CWU on the internet. He explained to Mr Mackenzie that the CWU was not responsible for the sensationalism of journalists but if he listened to the clips, he would hear that CWU had criticised Motsoeneng. The union had agreed with him only on the issue of local content which was then 90%/10%. He added that Mr Mackenzie’s facts were incorrect. There was no gala dinner for Motsoeneng but a celebration of the anniversary of the CWU had taken place on 9 May 2016 and Hlaudi Motsoeneng had been invited. The dismissal of workers was only on 17 July 2016. On the clips, the CWU criticised Motsoeneng. That matter had to be resolved or the union could not engage in good faith.
Ms Majozi attempted to interject. The Chairperson requested Ms Majozi not to interrupt and address the speaker while he was responding to questions.
Mr Tshabalala said that to talk about number of workers to be retrenched, one had to do the skills audit. The union had argued that in line with the digital content and in line with industrial revolution, re-skilling was important. The union had emphasised a human capital element in its presentation. CWU had explained that on 11 June 2020, the Union had had a meeting with management and the Board Chairperson where they had been told that they could not discuss HR but four days later they had heard about the retrenchment. That meant that there had been a meeting behind closed doors where the human capital element had been discussed and the union had not been invited to that meeting. That was the way it had happened. He did not lie in Parliament. He was telling the truth.
On the issue of the previous management, he stated that the former COO had addressed Parliament and declared that the SABC was making a profit and so the union had agreed on salary increases and on the insourcing of workers into the SABC. When the issues of corruption had arisen, there had been an investigation and the union had been punished because it had supported Motsoeneng’s plan as the union had believed that would create jobs.
Regarding the OTTs (over-the-top direct streaming), no one stood before SABC – be it Showmax or any other. Those organisations were making a profit but not contributing to the country. They did not invest in infrastructure nor did they employ local talent. No one could challenge the SABC on local content, with all its flaws.
Mr Tshabalala said that he would have to give the full answer to commercial versus public broadcaster in writing but, in simple terms, government funded the public broadcaster and there were also the issues of TV licences where everyone was forced to pay a fee; a private broadcaster did whatever it wanted to do to raise funds but a public broadcaster had a mandate. Over 80% of SABC’s revenue came from advertisers and they could dictate what went on air. Commercial advertisers withdrew their funding for the SABC’s mandated work. The union fully agreed that SABC belonged to the people and was concerned about decisions taken to sell buildings and other infrastructure that belonged to the SABC. The union agreed with non-interference in management and editorial decisions.
People asked where the unions were when SABC had outsourced jobs but he had to inform the Committee that management’s response to the union at the time was that unions did not co-manage the Corporation. It was a painful exercise.
The President of CWU, Clyde Mervin, asked to make an addition on two issues.
The Chairperson stated that the CWU could provide additional answers in writing. He did not want to close the union out but the time was passing and CWU had the opportunity to respond in writing.
Response by Bemawu
Mr du Buisson responded to suggestions that the unions were not aligned. He apologised if that was the impression that had been created as the presenters were all in alignment, as were their organisations, but if there were specific points where Members felt they differed, he would respond to that. The union had never said that there were people who were not qualified when employed. The people referred to had been working for a number of years in their positions and if there were problems with their qualifications, the SABC had to follow the processes according to Labour Law. He stressed that there had been no complaints against those employees but there were processes to be followed as suggested by the courts and the Labour Relations Act if they needed to upgrade their qualifications. If people had lied about their qualifications, that was something different. If the SABC could prove that they had lied, it should go ahead and fire them. The SABC could also file a complaint with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). The problem was that the SABC was not following legal processes for labour issues.
Mr du Buisson stressed that it was not the unions that had said the skills audit was irrelevant; it was relevant. The SABC had told the Portfolio Committee that the skills audit was not important. Concerning the engagement of the union with the HR Department, he could confirm such engagement and would provide letters in support of that engagement. He would also forward letters written on behalf of members. The union had been told by HR to know its place and not to attempt to co-manage the processes.
Regarding the question of sabotage, he stated that there were two issues: the one issue was about the sabotage of the president’s speech had been dealt with and was not sub judice. The hearings had taken place and a person had been suspended. However, there was a different issue which was a defamation issue against the SABC about statements made by the SABC. He promised to respond to the other questions in writing.
Response by the Editorial Forum
Busisiwe Ntuli, a member of the Editorial Forum, addressed the sub judice issue. She said that, as editorial workers, members of the Forum were frequently told that things were sub judice when someone did not want to talk about a matter but that was not legally the case. In the case of Midi Television versus the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for the Western Cape in 2007, the court had dealt with the matter of sub judice and had found that even if a matter was in court and one was dealing with the matter outside of court, there was no prejudice. The SABC could not, therefore escape from responding to the Portfolio Committee by using the excuse of sub judice. In the matter of sabotage, and there was no sabotage and the people involved had been charged for different reasons. In the disciplinary hearing, there had been no charge of sabotage. The person who was taking the SABC to court for defamation was in her team and could expand on the matter.
Ms Ntuli stated that she was one of the SABC 8 following her experience of fighting the illegal instructions of Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Afterwards, the SABC 8 had had an opportunity to travel to Germany. Everyone knew how Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, had influenced information in Germany. There was a similarity in the history of South Africa and Germany because South Africa also had a very long history of censorship. In Germany, news reporters and editors had broken away from their past by creating an Editors’ Forum and in the executive of that structure were editors and journalists. The Editorial Forum was based on that structure. It was a very workable structure because in the SABC, managers would instruct people to change something or alter a script. People were scared to raise concerns as their job could be on the line. In such cases, where it was reported to the Forum, the structure could meet and respond very quickly.
She added that the Forum had participated in the review process of the SABC. The editor-in-chief should be the General Executive (GE) of News as the CEO had no journalistic training, whereas the GE understood the issues and the nuances around the issues. Now, since the GE was editor-in-chief, the Forum was even more important. In the past, if there had been problems with the GE (not that they had ever had problems with the GE), the matter could be taken to the CEO. Because the GE was the editor-in-chief, and bearing in mind that a democratic institution could not be built around a particular person as a good person could be followed by one that did not have the same qualities, the Forum became an important structure that could protect the newsroom from editorial interference. The Forum was disappointed that, despite engagements, and understanding the history of the SABC, the Forum had not been included in the new editorial sub-committee of the board. The sub-committee of the board could not interfere in workers’ issues but the Forum also knew that the sub-committee of the board had, in the past, been the one that had interfered in the newsroom. The Forum called for the SABC to review its editorial policy and recognise the Forum was an institution to serve the public without fear or favour.
Setlogola Thoko, a member of the Editorial Forum, responded to the question about the structure. The structure was important because it would inform the cost issues, the skills required, the programming required and whether additional or fewer people were required. However, there was no structure and instead there was a section 189 which had been introduced by the CEO via the media. The slides had not been legible during that presentation. The Forum had requested management to explain what had informed a structure. Once they all had the same understanding about digitalisation, they could progress. New skills would be required for digitalisation and issues of automation might have to come into place.
The SABC had to have a funding structure that prevented a need to ask for bail-outs. Some workers had later been involved in the discussions but they came out even more confused as they had not understood the structure, what informed it, what the roles were and what skills sets would be required. There was no discussion of re-skilling. Employees needed to know the structure, the platform and the technological issues, or there could be no going forward. The only thing that the SABC seemed to be interested in was retrenching staff. The problem was that the Corporation might find itself not only without skills but also without a sustainable funding model.
He concluded that the Forum did not know the issues or the structure and there was no funding model.
Summing up by the Chairperson
The Chairperson stated that the purpose of the meeting had been to hear the stakeholders and that had happened, but Members knew that the SABC needed to come back and respond. He asked for the responses to questions by the stakeholders in writing. He noted that the Members would also require a written copy of the communication with the SABC board chairperson, Bongumusa Makhathini, on July 17 2020 by the Deputy Minister of Communications, Pinky Kekana, about the restructuring process. The next meeting would be scheduled so that the Committee could get responses from the SABC. He said that the Committee needed to encourage the SABC and the stakeholders to continue the discussions to ensure that the SABC was sustainable. He encouraged the SABC and the workers to continue with their engagements in an attempt to arrive at solutions.
Members would agree that it was irrelevant at that point to talk of retrenchment until after the engagements and Members could see what came out of further talks. The Chairperson was happy that the presentations had shown that it was not about an entitlement for workers to be at the SABC but for processes to be followed correctly. The Committee supported the government’s position which was that as much as possible had to be done to save jobs but also to save the entities themselves. The role of the shareholders had to assist with regulations and to engage with Sentech, ICASA and others. A point raised many times was on the commercial side of the SABC. The Corporation might have difficulties in putting its commercial strategies out there because the regulations placed many restrictions on the broadcaster while commercial enterprises did not have those restrictions. The Committee had to get responses from the SABC on that matter. The Committee could correspond with the Speaker on how that part of the matter should be handled as the Committee had to have all facts and there had to be complete transparency to make proper decisions. The internal stakeholders, the shareholder and the SABC should continue to engage. It was not about the current board or the executive but about the Committee helping the institution to continue to exist as a national broadcaster.
Ms Majozi said that she had heard the Chairperson say that the SABC would respond to the unions but the Committee needed to have everyone in the same room as the SABC would present its own point of view. She wanted to have all of the unions and the SABC in the same room as the SABC was going to have a different perspective on the issues.
The Chairperson stated that the Committee was involved in consultations. There would be no interference in the operations of the SABC. The SABC board and the management had been requested to log in to the meeting so that they could hear the issues being raised. The responses to be received from the unions and the SABC would guide the next meeting. The agenda was not just about retrenchment but about whether there would be a sustainable entity. The presenters were not just in opposition as they had some proposals to address the matter. The Committee did not have to make a call at that stage.
The Chairperson explained that the people who had been invited to present were those who were internal stakeholders. The IPO had presented itself as such but that fact had not been checked and the Committee staff would have to address that. However, there had been no intention to undermine the decisions of the Committee. It was with the intention of carrying out the wishes of the Committee to hear all sides of the story that the IPO had been invited. The IPO had appeared to be similar to the Editorial Forum, which was not a union. In future, he would carefully check those who came before the Committee. He wanted to clear up that issue so that Members did not write in and complain. In the process of trying to be fair, errors were made and he would deal with the support staff issue on another platform.
The Chairperson had a sense that the Committee Members were closer than ever in agreeing on how to manage the process. He appreciated it when people brought issues to his attention. The Committee would be briefed on when the SABC would appear but the engagements amongst stakeholders had to continue.
The Chairperson thanked the Members for their participation and the Committee staff for their work.
The meeting was adjourned.
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