SABC fails to pay R745-million bill for sending out its TV signal

The South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC’s) dire financial situation means it can’t afford to pay the R745 million it owes state-owned signal distributor Sentech.

This is according to Uyanda Siyotula, coordinator of the Support Public Broadcasting Coalition, who, in an interview with 702, said the SABC’s losses already sit at almost R500 million for the current financial year.

It reported a loss of R1.13 billion for the 2022/23 financial year.

“It’s quite a big concern. The SABC is losing money. In the previous financial year, it lost about R1 billion. Now, it has already lost almost R500 million,” said Siyotula.

“It’s definitely not going to afford to pay the R745 million that is owed to Sentech.”

Sentech charges the public broadcaster transmission and signal fees, and non-payment has resulted in the accumulation of a R745 million debt.

On Tuesday, 7 November 2023, Deputy Communications Minister Philly Mapulane told parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Communications and Digital Technologies that the SABC’s financial situation threatens the sustainability of Sentech.

“The [SABC’s] sustainability is already impacting heavily on the sustainability of the other entity in the department, which is Sentech, and it has the ability to collapse,” said Mapulane.

“If you consider the revenue of Sentech is hovering around R1.4 billion. So R745 million is more than half of the entire budget of Sentech.”

Siyotula said the situation requires broad, government-mediated discussions between the SABC and Sentech.

“This is an issue that needs government intervention and broad discussions between the two organisations, and government needs to be involved,” she said.

Mapulane also disclosed that the SABC expected R1.5 billion from Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s medium-term budget policy statement, which it didn’t receive.

Mohlopi Philemon “Philly” Mapulane, South Africa’s deputy minister of communications and digital technologies

“We submitted a motivation to Treasury for R1.5 billion, as you know, when the minister was tabling the medium-term budget policy statement,” said Mapulane.

“That allocation was not accepted, so we didn’t get what we requested from Treasury because of the dire economic situation.”

Members of parliament suggested that the department engage the National Treasury to help resolve the “serious crisis” at the SABC.

“We are engaging with them, hoping in the next budget the National Treasury will respond positively,” said Mapulane.

R1 billion loss last year and almost R500 million down this year

During his presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Communications and Digital Technologies, the minister said current figures indicate that the SABC has already posted a loss of R464 for the first six months of the current financial year.

“Already, there is information we received that there is a net loss of about R464 million year-to-date. While the corporate plan is projecting a surplus in terms of revenue, information at our disposal indicates there is a net loss of just below R500 million,” said Mapulane.

This follows the public broadcaster reporting a R1.13 billion loss for the 2022/23 financial year.

The loss is almost R1 billion more than the public broadcaster reported in the previous financial year and appears to be the worst in its history.

“After seven years of consistently improving net losses, the year under review unfortunately saw a significant regression,” the SABC stated.

“This is as a result of revenue that was 7.9% less than 2021/22 financial year and 27% less than budget.”

The poor financial performance for the year resulted in the SABC’s cash reserves dropping by R709 million after it increased its cash reserves by R300 million during the 2021/22 financial year.

The public broadcaster said several factors had contributed to the R1.13 billion loss, including the impact of load-shedding and the analogue switch-off in certain provinces, as well as an increasing TV licence evasion rate.

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SABC fails to pay R745-million bill for sending out its TV signal