Ndabeni-Abrahams not doing a 'Stella' job at SABC, say MPs during debate

Minister of communications, telecommunications & postal services Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. File photo.
Minister of communications, telecommunications & postal services Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. File photo.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times

The blame game and political point scoring over the jobs crisis at the SABC continued in the National Assembly on Tuesday when MPs debated the temporarily suspended retrenchments at the public broadcaster.

In a debate sponsored by IFP MP Zandile Majozi, the DA's Phumzile van Damme claimed the ANC was not genuine about saving jobs at the SABC. She argued the party was only using the issue to weaken the current SABC board so that it could be replaced with a pliable one ahead of next year's local government elections.

Van Damme also argued that the ANC kept quiet when other media companies retrenched hundreds of workers as their profits plummeted during the national lockdown.

“It is not the valiant government it is presenting itself to be, doing its very best to stop unemployment in our country Where were you, ANC, in the past few months when 2.6 million people lost their jobs?” asked Van Damme. “Where were you for the for the wave of retrenchments at media houses across the country? Where were you for Primedia staff? Were you there for the staff at KFM, Cape Talk, and EWN? Where were you for MultiChoice staff? Where were you for Telkom staff? Where were you for staff at iconic magazines Bona, Rooi Rose, Farmer’s Weekly, and many others? Benikuphi [where have you been?]," said the feisty DA MP.

Majozi said serious reforms were required to stop the looming jobs bloodbath at the SABC, where more than 400 employees could be out of work next year after the retrenchment process was halted until the end of December.

Majozi said the SABC management structure was “top heavy.”

“Senior and middle management constitute 30% of the staff but their salaries make up 44% of the cost of compensation. At the SABC 173 people earn more than R1m a year,” said Majozi.

Another IFP MP, Mkhuleko Hlengwa, who is also the chairperson of parliament's standing committee on public accounts, said communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, who is the political head of the SABC, should step down from her position as she has failed to resolve the crisis plaguing Auckland Park.

“She's not fit for purpose and, therefore, she must do the honourable thing and resign. She's not doing a Stella job,” charged Hlengwa.

Vuyani Pambo of the EFF said broadcasting policies and regulations needed to be reviewed to force pay-TV provider MultiChoice to pay the SABC for carrying its channels on its bouquets, which it now does for free.

But Pambo also pointed his guns at the ANC communications minister, saying they have neglected structural problem of the SABC for years.

“The SABC as an entity is neglected. It's not under the care of a member of cabinet. A deputy minister is not a member of cabinet,” said Pambo in reference to Ndabeni-Abrahams delegating the political management of the SABC to her deputy, Pinky Kekana.

“Even with the current minister, nothing is working ... Thus the problems of the SABC are not resolvable under the lack of leadership of minister Ndabeni-Abrahams. Under the leadership of the ANC, the SABC will not find any joy. In fact, if anything, for the next six months we'll still be talking retrenchments. The biggest problem here is the ANC.”

For her part, the under-fire communications minister sought to turn the tables on MPs.

Ndabeni-Abrahams said they had failed to conduct proper oversight on the running of the SABC.

“It is, however, the market conditions that have undergone unprecedented evolution which placed the SABC in the current precarious position,” she said.

“The SABC [was] also embroiled in state capture ... All of us here should take the blame because it happened under our watch,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams as opposition MPs jeered her. “Our oversight measures were not adequately stringent, but a large proportion of the problems are market related that require us to remodel the SABC as  public broadcaster in a multichannel and digital environment and rebuild the public broadcaster we want,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

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