The Southern African Federation Against Copyright Theft (SAFACT) is being shut down after companies that were members of the organisation withdrew their funding.
SAFACT was a non-profit company which existed with the support of companies such as Ster-Kinekor, MultiChoice, Disney Africa, and United International Pictures.
Its goal was to fight piracy and help enforce intellectual property rights in South Africa.
Staff were given notices stating the organisation’s intention to retrench on 12 October. The notice, which MyBroadband has seen, informed staff that all of SAFACT’s members have withdrawn their funding and membership, or have indicated their intention to do so.
“The SAFACT board of directors do not believe that there is any compelling reasons that an organisation such as SAFACT should still be in existence,” it stated.
“It is not anticipated by the directors of SAFACT that any new members will want to fund SAFACT. SAFACT has effectively become dormant as it cannot operate without any funding.”
Staff were warned that the retrenchment would happen on 23 October, and informed that they will receive one week’s severance pay for each year of service.
However, the final retrenchment letters handed to staff said they would be paid “if and when” funds became available. They were also told to vacate the SAFACT offices by 17:00 the same day they received the letters.
Several former SAFACT employees, who wished to remain anonymous, have told MyBroadband they have also not been paid for the month of October.
It has also been stated that the months leading to the closure of SAFACT were plagued with scandal.
Documents seen by MyBroadband state that a senior executive resigned after he was told to attend a disciplinary hearing with regards to claims of sexual harassment.
According to the document, two female employees brought grievances against the executive and a disciplinary hearing was scheduled to be held in September.
However, in a letter addressed to the staff of SAFACT, the executive declined to participate in the disciplinary proceedings and resigned with immediate effect.
“In terms of employment law SAFACT cannot act against an individual who resigns with immediate effect and which is no longer its employee, and this therefore brings the proceedings to an end,” a lawyer’s letter on the matter stated.
Sources inside the organisation also told MyBroadband that directors became concerned over a large sum of money which was unaccounted for.
None of the SAFACT directors or member companies MyBroadband spoke to were willing to confirm or deny that money had gone missing, however.
The missing money was one in a series of accusations of mismanagement and administrative failures at SAFACT from staff.
This included allegations of not following proper procedure when seizing counterfeit goods, to smaller issues such as not keeping the company’s CIPC record properly updated.
SAFACT’s listing with CIPC still lists several people as registered directors who have not been at the company for years.
Among them is radio journalist Yusuf Abramjee, who confirmed to MyBroadband that he left SAFACT years ago.
MyBroadband was able to establish that the current chair of SAFACT is Peter Dignan, MD for United International Pictures in South Africa.
It is understood that SAFACT members were informed of the grievances against the senior executive before they decided to pull their funding.
Dignan stated that “the closure of SAFACT is a result of the majority of the membership deciding to withdraw their support for SAFACT and consider their options for alternative arrangements for the protection of their IP”.
“I have no further comment to make on this matter,” Dignan said.
Former SAFACT director Carl Setzkorn did not respond to requests for comment on the closure.
MultiChoice also confirmed that it withdrew its funding. “MultiChoice were long-time supporters of SAFACT but we’ve since decided to conduct our piracy investigations internally,” a spokesperson told MyBroadband.
The senior executive who resigned following the harassment claims declined to comment when contacted by MyBroadband.