Thursday, November 19, 2020

SABC COO claims SABC News newsroom has been ‘unlawfully captured’, says use of eNCA during blackout was just a joke while shocked staffers are speaking out about chillingly cold retrenchment letters telling them they're terminated.

by Thinus Ferreira

The SABC's top management is furious over the broadcast on SABC News of senior reporter Chriselda Lewis who took executives to task during a heated staff meeting inside the SABC's Auckland Park newsroom with Ian Plaatjes, SABC COO, who shockingly told parliament on Wednesday night that SABC news staff have "unlawfully captured" the public broadcaster's newsroom.

Meanwhile SABC staff are speaking out about the "chillingly cold" retrenchment letters they've received, telling them they're terminated.

The SABC is once again embroiled in palace intrigue and internal upheaval after the SABC's senior management went ahead with issuing section 189 letters as part of a retrenchment process to get rid of 400 workers at the financially struggling broadcaster.

The SABC board will now convene for an urgent and special meeting on Thursday to discuss the fractured retrenchment at the beleaguered public broadcaster.

On Tuesday SABC staff threatened a blackout of the broadcaster's SABC News (DStv 404) channel within 48 hours, after which Ian Plaatjes in a private meeting told Phathishwa Magopeni as the SABC News boss, that the SABC should consider using the channel feed of the rival commercial TV news channel eNCA (DStv 403).

With tensions and anxiety high over the retrenchment process, Ian Plaatjes told parliament on Wednesday night that he was just making a joke. "It was in jest. And in fact, the meeting that I had with the SABC News boss was to ensure that we do develop a robust plan to prevent a blackout situation".

"The fact that we've been threatened that within 48 hours we would have a blackout - we are talking about SABC News (DStv 404) that the news people have threatened with a blackout - which is why I had the meeting with Phathiswa Magopeni."

"The incident we saw yesterday [Tuesday] is that the SABC News team unlawfully captured the news platform and we certainly need to have mitigating actions to prevent that," Ian Plaatjes told parliament's portfolio committee on communications."

Mary Papayya, SABC board member asked "Who must be held accountable for what the South African public saw - the SABC making the news headlines when it should be the other way round - keeping the people informed with news and current affairs?", referring to the emotional Chrisela Lewis moment where the veteran journalist spoke truth to power that got airplay on not just the SABC but multiple other channels like eNCA and Newzroom Afrika.

Speaking about the dire situation of the SABC, board member Michael Markovitz said "We are the ones who effectively arrived on the scene of a car crash and are being blamed for the car crash. And I think that's unfair. We've all put up our hands to be public servants and to try and solve these problems".

"The SABC made a loss of R500 million. We are projected to make another loss of R1.2 billion. At what point does a director who's carrying personal liability not put up their hand and say 'If we don't take the tough decisions, are we going to be declared delinquent down the line?"

Chilling cold SABC retrenchment letters
Meanwhile bewildered SABC staff are wondering what exactly is going on or what the future holds for them with retrenchment letters that have been handed out and SABC top management that told staff in an internal memo on Wednesday that the section 189 process is continuing.

Besides the TV division, SABC radio staff were told they're out of jobs by the end of the year. 

At Umhlobo Wenene FM serving the Eastern Cape, 12 out of 14 staff received letters. The exact same scenario happened at the SABC's other 11 radio stations like Channel Africa, the SABC's pan-African radio station where everyone except 4 workers received letters.

At the SABC's RSG Afrikaans radio station where two of the 16 positions are vacant, everybody got retrenchment letters except for 2: RSG station manager Magdaleen Kruger and the secretary.

Magdaleen Kruger on radio said that there's been no consultation between the SABC's top management and the broadcaster's radio stations. "Nobody sat and talked and asked 'Are these the positions that could go and are these the new jobs that are needed?' There are jobs that are not required but which are in the new organogram".

"We are trying as SABC radio stations to get a discussion with the SABC's head of radio and the SABC's top management so that we can talk to them about the problems that we have because they're placing us in a difficult position."

"At RSG the 5 permanent presenters - Martelize Brink, Johan Rademan, Fritz Klaaste, Jacqui January and Haidee Muller - all got letters, chilling, cold letters just saying your service is herewith terminated from 1 December," said Magdaleen Kruger.

"As we sit here, if the situation remains, after 1 January 2021 I don't know what we'll do to keep RSG on air." 

She explained that all of the SABC radio stations were called together, "something was thrown on the screen of this is how the new structure would look, no feedback, you can write to us. But that was the last. There was no discussion, no interaction radio station per radio station."

"Every SABC radio station is different. We're 11 radio stations with 11 cultures and 11 languages. It now looks as if they took a one-fits-all that heavily leans on the commercial station mold. So, the radio stations who gave feedback like RSG did twice, have been ignored. It's as if it was just a motion they went through."

"So that's our big problem: It doesn't help that we go into a new SABC structure and the new structure isn't really workable. It needs a bit of tweaking. We're trying to get management to listen to our radio stations so that we can show them the problem points and the challenges - can't we find solutions?"