SABC at war with Communications Minister

A hostile relationship has developed between the SABC and Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams over the state broadcaster’s turnaround plan, according to a report in the City Press.

Sources at the SABC told the City Press that Ndabeni-Abrahams questioned the viability of the SABC’s strategy to turn around its struggling business, stating that the broadcaster’s strategy does not meet the ministry’s funding requirements.

“Treasury said this turnaround strategy that was presented by SABC does not meet our funding requirements and as the ministry we had serious concerns ourselves and we said we have to contact external support, which is why we contacted GTAC,” the minister said to the parliamentary portfolio committee.

Ndabeni-Abrahams said the SABC needed help to develop a turnaround strategy which would not result in the company coming back in the next three or five years and asking for another bailout from government.

DA committee member Phumzile van Damme told the City Press that the minister was allowing her personal feelings to affect her oversight of the SABC turnaround strategy, with another source stating that Ndabeni-Abrahams regularly bad-mouthed the SABC.

“Apparently the minister regularly trashes [the SABC board and executive] in her department and to other organisations,” the source told the City Press.

SABC acting COO Craig van Rooyen countered the minister’s statements in a broadcast on SABC TV, stating that the turnaround strategy is approved by the SABC board and does not require Treasury’s approval.

Day Zero fears

The SABC’s financial situation is dire, and without a bailout from government, the state broadcaster may be forced off air.

Last month, SABC CFO Yolandi van Biljon warned that a total broadcasting blackout – or “Day Zero” – was a dangerous possibility if major debtors stopped supporting the state broadcaster.

At the end of May, the broadcaster was forced to choose between paying salaries or municipal bills, opting to settle the former and incurring a R13.5-million debt to the City of Johannesburg.

Things have reportedly turned around recently for the SABC, however, with van Biljon stating last week that there is currently no anticipation of Day Zero at the public broadcaster for the next three months.

This stability was achieved by cutting costs and improving the balance sheet of the company, although van Biljon warned that the broadcaster was not out of the woods yet.

The SABC has reiterated on multiple occasions that it urgently needs a loan guarantee from government to make its business sustainable, with Day Zero remaining a real possibility in the near future until the broadcaster’s financial stresses are alleviated.

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SABC at war with Communications Minister