Thursday, August 29, 2019

'On any given day there might be 3 out of 39 lifts working in our buildings in Auckland Park,' the SABC tells parliament.

The technically insolvent South African public broadcaster's precarious situation in terms of its backlog on the maintenance of its physical infrastructure has become so bad that on any given day only 3 out of its 39 lifts at its Auckland Park headquarters is in working order.

So says Yolande van Biljon, the SABC's chief financial officer (CFO), who on Wednesday in parliament painted a dire picture through examples of the SABC's dilapidated and deteriorating infrastructure.

The SABC that owes R1.8 billion to creditors and that is technically insolvent, struggles to pay its staff from month to month and has long since stopped doing capital expenditure on things like maintenance.

As an example of the SABC's delayed spending on capital expenditure which includes things like maintenance, Yolande van Biljon told parliament's committee on public enterprise and communication on Wednesday how terrible the situation with just the elevators inside the SABC is.

"We have to replace all the lifts in Auckland Park. That's R160 million. The lifts are 15 years past lifespan. We keep them together by making ad hoc investments and repairs and maintenance".

"On any given day there might be 3 out of 39 working in our buildings in Auckland Park," said Yolande van Biljon.

In June 2019 a fire in the cafeteria in the SABC's Radio Park building prompted the evacuation of staff with 15 people who were taken to hospital for smoke inhalation.

The same Radio Park building was evacuated in May 2019 during a diesel spill that saw thousands of litres of diesel flood the building and down the elevator shaft when a power outage caused the building to switch to its back-up power generator located on the 15th floor. "A failure of the equipment led to the diesel tank overflowing," the SABC said.

SABC executives, as well as former and current SABC board members have been warning for months that the SABC has stopped and failed to do maintenance due to the broadcaster's precarious financial position with the SABC hovering on the edge of collapse and warning that the SABC's "Day Zero" and a black-on-air situation could happen any day.

In November 2018, the former SABC board member Mathatha Tsedu told and warned parliament and the minister of communications that the SABC is turning into a potential death trap.

"We haven't maintained our buildings for a very long time. Last week a huge chunk fell from the reception of the Radio Park building. The people responsible for the maintenance of our buildings have been warning that there are cracks there - something is going to happen. But we don't have the money. We're only dealing with what is broadcast critical," he said.

"If there is a crack up there and it doesn't stop us from going on air, we will not fix it until that rock falls down. And one day, it is going to fall on someone."

In September 2014 SABC management were furious when staffers put up a self-made notification - an image that was shared and send to TVwithThinus at the time, inside one of the lifts "announcing" that "we are pleased to inform you that Schindler's Lifts are due to be repaired and serviced by the year 2029".

""As a token of our appreciation for your loyalty, you are being encouraged to use the stairs provided for emergency evacuations to proceed to your various work stations".

"Those of you unable to ascend to the top, do not have any ambition in any case and are encouraged to resign," the fake notification told SABC staff.

"We appreciate your patience and know many of you will reach retirement age by the time the lifts are fixed. Together we can climb mountains".

In the internal news letter to staff at the time, a copy of which TV with Thinus obtained, the SABC addressed the lift humour, called it an "act of sabotage" and threatened whoever responsible for the note with disciplinary action.

"We are currently experiencing an abnormal amount of lift outages at this time and as First Citizen you are requested to be patient. The situation is getting a necessary intervention," the SABC told staffers.

"There are 39 lifts and 4 escalators in use on the Auckland Park premises.  Most of these lifts and escalators were installed as far back as 1972 making them over forty years old. Due to their age parts are extremely difficult to obtain and in some instances they have to be re-manufactured."

"This causes long outage periods and affects the reliability on these lifts and escalators. This is the main cause of our First Citizens having to wait for lifts".

In February 2015 scared SABC staff said that "lifts in the SABC are in a deplorable situation" and that "several of the lifts at the SABC are no longer in working order. SABC personnel often have to wait up to 10 minutes for an available lift. Others climb steps to get where they have to be".