Who’ll get axed at SABC now?

The Herald (South Africa) - - Opinion & Analysis - VUYO MVOKO

I still re­mem­ber, back in 2002, how my first day started so or­di­nar­ily – shown my of­fice, in­tro­duced to my team, greeted with broad smiles at my first meet­ings, sign­ing lots of forms, hav­ing ac­cess cards made.

Then, as I was pre­par­ing to set­tle down to com­pile my di­ary for the next day, my first real day of work, my boss’s PA walks in, invit­ing me over to his of­fice.

Then boom – all the man who had pur­sued me for more than eight months wanted to tell me was that he had just been fired, with im­me­di­ate ef­fect.

A well-re­spected jour­nal­ist, head of news Bar­ney Mthom­bothi couldn’t step aside and al­low Peter Mat­lare, ac­com­plished as Mat­lare was as a group CEO, to usurp his pow­ers as edi­tor-in-chief and thereby com­pro­mise the in­de­pen­dence of the news­room.

Four years later I was the one who didn’t see eye to eye with Mthom­bothi’s suc­ces­sor.

A party hack and pro­pa­gan­dist, jour­nal­ism was the last thing on his mind.

I felt I had no op­tion but to quit – only to re­turn four years later when he had left.

Last year, I left again. This time, kicked out. The pre­vi­ous evening I had hosted pub­lic pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela and ac­tivist Sisonke Msi­mang, dis­cussing some mun­dane topic that had noth­ing to do with the SABC’s COO or the pres­i­dent of the coun­try, both of whom had rather un­flat­ter­ing pub­lic pro­tec­tor find­ings against them.

Af­ter in­form­ing my au­di­ences, via a tweet, that there would be no show that evening, I re­ceived a let­ter telling me to go home, in that “don’t call us, we’ll call you” fash­ion.

Un­em­ployed, I then had to go through court cases, par­lia­men­tary hear­ings, death threats and plots to pub­licly hu­mil­i­ate me. Thank­fully, I sur­vived. Un­til a few days ago, I thought I had been to hell and back at the SABC.

I didn’t know how ru­inous life has been, and con­tin­ues to be, for some of my ex-col­leagues.

It’s made me ap­pre­ci­ate just how lucky I have been, even dur­ing the times I was think­ing I was re­ally get­ting a raw deal at the SABC.

Imag­ine be­ing sex­u­ally as­saulted by “ar­ro­gant” per­pe­tra­tors, in the pres­ence of your col­leagues, and your hu­man re­sources depart­ment sim­ply con­ducts an in­for­mal in­quiry that doesn’t reach any con­clu­sion, as the in­ter­nal in­quiry into sex­ual ha­rass­ment at the pub­lic broad­caster has just re­vealed.

“Hu­man re­sources and most se­nior man­agers demon­strated a se­ri­ous lack of knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of hu­man rights statutes, gen­der re­la­tions, and is­sues of power re­la­tions be­tween men and women,” the in­quiry found.

But can those vi­o­lated em­ploy­ees be ex­pected to be happy and pro­duc­tive?

Won’t they be the first ca­su­al­ties when the same hu­man re­sources depart­ment leads the re­trench­ment process?

Won’t they be the sac­ri­fi­cial lambs when the SABC soon gets rid of close to a thou­sand em­ploy­ees and 1,200 con­tract work­ers, all un­der the guise of cut­ting costs and sav­ing the cash-strapped oper­a­tion?

Why should the hu­man re­sources di­vi­sion be trusted to do the right thing now?

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, while SABC hu­man re­sources of­fi­cials and se­nior man­agers col­luded to cover up cases of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, unions, for their part, did noth­ing to help. Am I sur­prised?

No. Not when the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Work­ers Union last year bizarrely dumped work­ers and went to stand along­side then COO Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng.

Mind you, Cosatu unions were part of the SABC board when Mot­soe­neng amassed in­cred­i­ble power, ap­pointed a horde of lack­eys to en­force his de­ci­sions and en­trench him­self, and ran the place into the ground. Will those ap­point­ments be un­done first, and monies re­cov­ered from wrong­do­ers, be­fore the axe falls on in­no­cent work­ers lower down?

But it’s not only or­gan­ised labour that needs to ex­am­ine its role in the SABC’s woes.

The gov­ern­ing party, too, needs to ex­am­ine how it al­lowed suc­ces­sive ad­min­is­tra­tions to in­ap­pro­pri­ately in­ter­fere in its run­ning, ap­point­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate peo­ple who messed up but still left with golden hand­shakes.

This while other broad­cast­ers were left to help them­selves from the SABC’s au­di­ences.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter Nomvula Mokonyane’s ap­peal for jobs to be saved is a cor­rect one, but in the ab­sence of a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach it sounds like noth­ing more than a con­ve­nient noise ahead of an elec­tion.

At stake are tens of mil­lions of view­ers/lis­ten­ers, thou­sands of em­ploy­ees, 18 ra­dio sta­tions, five tele­vi­sion channels. So more short cuts.

Pay care­ful at­ten­tion.

It’s the right thing to do.

It’s not only or­gan­ised labour that needs to ex­am­ine its role in the SABC’s woes


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