SABC: Hope Zinde's suspension of concern - COSATU

Federation says this is just the latest in a series of crises to have afflicted the public broadcaster

COSATU condemns mismanagement and privatisation of SABC

The Congress of South African Trade Unions is concerned over the suspension of Hope Zinde from the SABC board, especially if reports are true that this is because she:

Briefed an ANC Communications workshop in her capacity as a member

Opposed the SABC selling its family silver (its archives) to Multichoice

Refused to support the permanent appointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng as the SABC's chief operating officer.

Her suspension is just the latest in a series of crises which have afflicted the SABC, especially its board, over many years. The board's chairwoman Ellen Tshabalala resigned following a scandal over her fake qualifications and Professor Bongani Khumalo left in January after Communications Minister Faith Muthambi sent letters to him and some other members of the board asking them to justify why they should not be suspended.

This latest meeting had been called to deal with allegations against three board members accused of "fraudulent conduct, raising matters of the board externally without a mandate and non-disclosure of conflict of interest".

A symptom of the crisis was that before the meeting started, board members' cellphones, laptops and tablets were confiscated, to which board member Vuso Mavuso objected and left the meeting in protest.

And the meeting could not deal with the matters against other board members, Rachel Kalidas and Ronnie Lubisi, as more members left the meeting before this was discussed, leaving it inquorate, indicating that further controversies could follow.

These events reinforce the concerns expressed in a joint statement by COSATU and the SACP on 13 October 2014 that the SABC was "clearly on a downward slide that will only feed private capital accumulation and narrow interests, as opposed to a developmental public broadcasting that serves the people".

The issues must now be taken up by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications, to which Hope Zinde is to appeal, to decide whether the board had followed due process or had been within its right to act against her.

COSATU notes that ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa has supported her. "Hope Zinde" he said, "is a member of the ANC. She attends meetings of the organisation in her own right and participates. She was invited to participate [in the ANC workshop] given her experience in the ICT sector.

As COSATU said in a letter to the then board chairperson, Zandile Tshabalala, on 24 June 2014, "the SABC has been, and still is, plagued by seemingly intractable governance crises and financial problems at the level of the board and management... The situation has been made even worse by poor financial management, and constant allegations of corruption at staff, management and even board levels, and outrageous waste of resources.

"COSATU repeats its call for Government urgently to implement ANC policy on the SABC, as set out by its Mangaung Conference resolution, which said: ‘The government must, in line with the resolutions of the 52nd conference, increase its funding of the SABC. This must be implemented progressively over a reasonable period.'

"Government funding however cannot be an unconditional blank cheque, but ring-fenced and targeted towards public programmes on education, health, poverty eradication, rural development, crime prevention and other societal priorities, which are miniscule compared to entertainment-based programming.

"COSATU expects the SABC and government to adopt this approach. Our demand for more and much better coverage of labour issues, relative to business issues, will be an acid test of the broadcaster's willingness to take these demands seriously."

COSATU continues to support the demand, by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) and Broadcast, Electronic Media and Allied Workers Union (BEMAWU), that the Minister of Communications "urgently order a proper investigation and decisive action into allegations made by the Public Protector in her report titled ‘When governance and ethics fail' which has implicated members of the board, executives of the SABC and senior management in, inter alia, maladministration and abuse of power.

COSATU also reiterates its opposition to the deal, reportedly worth R500 million, with Multichoice, which has enabled SABC to broadcast its 24-hour news channel on DSTV. This appears to be in contravention of the SABC's public service mandate and a partial privatisation of the public broadcaster, as the contract also gives Multichoice rights to share exclusive SABC archived footage of events of national importance.

This is so scandalous that we demand resignation of all those involved in this decision, and if they refuse the Cabinet must intervene to reverse the decision.

Meanwhile government and parliament must act swiftly to resolve the leadership battles and the absence of any consistent leadership at the top of this crucially important public institution. 

Statement issued by Patrick Craven, COSATU national spokesperson, March 17 2015

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