The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) temporarily halted its retrenchment process and withdrew letters of dismissal already issued on Tuesday, November 17 following an emergency meeting between management and staff.

The public broadcaster plans to restructure its newsroom and 400 redundant jobs will be culled as a result. The new structure will have 170 new vacancies that retrenched staff can apply for, according to EWN.

Staff members went on a go-slow on Tuesday afternoon and some presenters refused to go on air until their concerns over the Section 189 notices issued were addressed, while others demanded that management resigns.

A video clip from the emergency meeting, which was broadcast on SABC TV, began circulating on social media.

It showed broadcast journalist Chriselda Lewis and other disgruntled staffers addressing Phatiswa Magopeni, the group executive for news and current affairs at the SABC’s Auckland Park newsroom.

Lewis passionately appealed against the retrenchments and restructuring and asked executives to give workers ‘something that makes sense’.

In the wake of the meeting, Magopeni announced that she would stop issuing Section 189 letters, according to EWN.

“As a person who accounts to you and as a person who expects you to do your job as per delivering on the public mandate, I will go and negotiate it afterward, but at this point for the work of the public service to continue, I will talk to HR [and] whoever is senior, but from a responsibility to the newsroom, I cannot continue with these letters,” said Magopeni.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) has secured the rights to embark on a strike and has warned that the SABC could face a ‘blackout’ this week if the retrenchment plans are not completely scrapped, according to IOL.

Cosatu has also pledged its support for the SABC employees and called on the government to intervene and find alternative ways to resuscitate the broadcaster.

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pam said: “Fixing the problems of the current crisis should not be done at the expense of workers through the intensification of exploitation, retrenchments, and the privatisation of public enterprises.

“The real cause of this crisis is the pandemic of corruption and wasteful expenditure that is yet to be properly addressed at the SABC.”

The SABC group executive for human resources, Mojaki Mosia, told IOL that the restructuring process was unavoidable as it was one of the primary ways the SABC aims to reduce costs.

“There are three major cost drivers,” said Mosia. “The first is the salary bill and the second one is the signal distribution, and the third one is content.”

“If we appreciate what the business is all about, it is about content investment. If we do not invest in content, we will not be in the position to attract audiences.”

The SABC currently spends about 43% of its total costs on staff salaries and 22% on content, according to SABC Chief Operating Officer, Ian Plaatjies, in an interview with the Daily Maverick.

“In most television production houses, those figures would be the other way around,” said Plaatjies.

On Tuesday, the SABC announced that it made a net loss of R511-million in the last financial year.

Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, met with the SABC board and ‘implored’ them to save jobs after the events that unfolded on Tuesday, according to News24.

“I would like to call on the employees of the public broadcaster to exercise restraint and patience during this period of intervention by the Department and Parliament,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

The public broadcaster will provide an account of the retrenchment process before a Parliamentary oversight committee on Wednesday, November 18.

Picture: Wikimedia Commons

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