DOCUMENTS

This is not a small workplace dispute – Zwelinzima Vavi

Former COSATU secretary general says what is happening at SABC is a test of strength that will impact on our democracy if unchallenged

Just When You Thought It Could Not Get Worse At the SABC

20 July 2016

Over the last two days we have witnessed the kicking out of the SABC of some of its most illustrious and dedicated journalists and media workers.Busisiwe Ntuli, Luciano Calata, Foeta Krige, Suna Venter, Krivani Pillay and Jacques Steenkamp have all been summarily dismissed. Vuyo Mvoko's contract with the corporation has ended and is not being renewed.

Last week, the very same people were awarded the prestigious Nat Nakase award for fearless journalism. This week they have been fired for being just that, and for approaching the Constitutional Court to intervene on their behalf against their arbitrary and senseless dismissals.

What is at stake here is not some small or insignificant workplace dispute. This is a test of strength that if allowed to go unchallenged will most definitely impact on the future of our democracy.

Hlaudi Motsoeneng is a self-confessed President Jacob Zuma acolyte. He owes his position as the now de-facto head of the SABC to those, like him, who will do all that they can to be in the good books of No 1. If President Jacob Zuma is the deity, the God of Patronage, then Hlaudi is his worshipping Emperor.

As talented and committed media workers desperately look elsewhere for employment, the reign of Emperor becomes more and more repressive, and delusionary! Who else could make a statement that all the staff in the SABC are wonderfully happy, when it is clear that the opposite is true? Who else could say that he is protecting the integrity of the Public Broadcaster when in fact he is placing it at the service of a faction within the ruling party? Who else could be so self-delusionary to believe that he and his limp Board are above the legitimate regulatory body, ICASA, and then twist and turn in order to avoid being accountable to any public institution? Who else would tell us personally that he will respect the rights of Union members, and then lock them in when they have secured the right to take protected strike action? This is not the workings of a person committed to quality public broadcasting but someone who responds only to his master’s voice.

And what of those who are supposed to ensure that the Public Broadcaster remains non-partisan, truthful, and is able to provide a full picture of events to the South African people?

The Minister responsible for the SABC is Miss Faith Muthambi, who was appointed in May 2014. Not only has she given Emperor Hlaudi a free reign to do all that he can to quell dissent, and to domesticate the Public Broadcaster, she has also personally messed up on a range of measures that could have helped to improve the lives of our people. She has derailed the transition to a digital service, bungled the decision of her own party on the TV decoder issue, played up to the big money in television and telecommunications, and shown herself to be incapable of delivering on any of the manifesto promises. But she has one thing in common with Hlaudi…..they are both at the mercy of No 1’s patronage. For now they are among the favoured! But deep down they know that when they are no longer fit for purpose, when they can no longer protect No 1, they will be dispensed with quicker than an analogue receiver!

It is however, shameful that a Cabinet Minister can be so unwilling to protect a vital public asset like the SABC and in the process belittle not just ICASA, not just the Public Protector, High Court who ruled on Emperor Hlaudi’s extraordinary and highly irregular rise to power, but who is also prepared to sideline the very party she has pledged allegiance to by refusing to attend even her own party’s watchdog committee.

The inability of the most senior ANC official, Secretary General Gwede Mantashe, to insist on discipline and adherence to ANC communications and broadcasting policy has shown how powerless those who thought they were powerful have become.  Mr Mantashe along with Jackson Mthembu who chairs the ANC Communication Sub Committee, are left twiddling their thumbs while Faith Mthambi, the Ever Faithful and Emperor Hlaudi do as they please to please he who must be pleased!

But sooner or later as with all delusional Emperors, Hlaudi will be declared naked and without substance, so will all those who have fallen into the trap of believing that they will be rewarded by a few scraps off the Emperors table. Here we are thinking of not just the obvious culprits, those who feasted alongside the Emperor and showered him with praise in the hope that they get a few scraps more, but also those who believe that they will materially benefit from the Emperors  policy on local content, as if we don’t accept that intervention.  All we can say is, do the arithmetic. If you think that more airplay is going to make you a millionaire, think again. Don’t take our word for it. Ask about what this will mean to you in terms of rands and cents before you throw your lot in with the Empire!

The real tragedy of this unfolding farce is that the millions of our people who rely upon the SABC for their news and entertainment are being denied the vital information they need, not only to understand the complexities of the world we live in, but also to be able to make an informed and reasoned decision about the direction of our country.  A Public Broadcaster that is subservient to the whims of such an Emperor and fuelled by the political edicts of the powerful is not a Public Broadcaster at all! Instead it is a conveyor belt to dish up a good story to tell, to try and actually mislead our people, and to use every trick in the book to refute the evidence of mass poverty, unemployment and the gross inequalities that our people actually experience.

In the run-up to the local government elections, an independent and open public broadcaster has a vital role to play in our democracy. It is up to all of us to make sure what is happening at the SABC is not just roundly condemned, but is stopped, and reversed before it is too late.

Several organisations of civil society have played a sterling role in alerting us all to the degeneration of the Public Broadcaster in Emperor Hlaudi’s hands. We in the trade union movement, have made common cause with civil society, with media workers at the fore, and are now preparing a campaign that will mobilise the one power that even No 1 cannot resist, the power of the people, and that will once and for all take the SABC out of the hands of the sycophants, and place it back under democratic control. We are on the move next week. Watch this space! Don’t mourn or moan…mobilise!

Issued by Zwelinzima Vavi, Convenor, Committee to Form a New Trade Union Federation, 20 July 2016