Minister's 'meddling' in SABC may be unlawful - civil group

The Save Our SABC Coalition warned newly appointed Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams on SAfm that she may have acted unlawfully by "meddling" in the affairs of the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

This comes after the minister wrote a letter to the SABC board saying that she could no longer support the public service broadcaster’s plans to effect retrenchments in terms of Section 189 of the Labour Relations Act.

At the same time, the SABC is seeking financial assistance in the form of a government guarantee and a bailout.

Last month, the SABC board told Parliament that it needed a R3bn bailout, as it would not be able to pay salaries after March if nothing changed.

Ndabeni-Abrahams’ letter, as well as visits she is said to have made to unions and staff, indicate that she is on the side of workers and wants to ensure jobs are protected before agreeing to an olive branch for the public service broadcaster’s coffers.

Save Our SABC Coalition national coordinator Duduetsang Makuse told Fin24 that a North Gauteng High Court ruling in Pretoria last year reaffirmed the independence of the SABC board from ministerial influence.

"We were calling all stakeholders to take a moment and back up. There has been a breakdown of sorts between the broadcaster, the minister, Parliament and unions. The minister should abide by the court ruling of 2017 and not be involved in the SABC board's affairs," said Makuse.

Makuse said Ndabeni-Abrahams’ oversight must be exercised through Parliament. She added that the minister’s apparent decision to speak directly to the SABC unions and staff while excluding management from the conversation was potentially divisive and meddlesome.

"The letter, from where we are standing, is a communication among them. At the heart of it all is the retrenchments and they have reached a stalemate. If the minister feels that the board is about to do something that might negatively affect the SABC, she has an avenue to address it through Parliament," Makuse said.

She said all stakeholders should use avenues to see how a guarantee can be secured while these matters are addressed.

This means the board needs to withdraw the retrenchment notice it handed to unions in October and the minister needs to come back to the table so that the institution can be recapitalised, Makuse argued.