Keep­ing SABC afloat so it sails into the fu­ture

Some editorial poli­cies had to be re­versed

The Sunday Independent - - NEWS -

KHANYISILE Kweyama be­lieves in in­tegrity and hon­esty and has made it a pri­or­ity to in­stil these val­ues in her chil­dren, so the floun­der­ing pub­lic broad­caster could well be on its way to a turn­around of its for­tunes soon.

“I’ve seen how dis­hon­esty messes up a coun­try and messes up in­sti­tu­tions. Al­ways re­spect the next person. If you re­spect peo­ple, you get re­spect back,” she told The Sun­day In­de­pen­dent this week.

There is also an air of hu­mil­ity about her. “Al­ways care for the next person and don’t be self­ish. You must be able to sleep at night know­ing what­ever ac­tion you took dur­ing the day doesn’t risk some­one else’s life,” said the 53-year-old.

Board chair­per­son Kweyama and her team which in­cludes ac­claimed for­mer ed­i­tor Mathatha Tsedu, have been widely cred­ited for clean­ing up the mess at the broad­caster. She has pre­vi­ously been CEO of Busi­ness Unity SA and ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of An­glo Amer­i­can SA, the first woman to hold such a po­si­tion in that com­pany.

So, who is Kweyama? “That won­der­ful town called At­teridgeville, that’s where I grew up. My roots are there, my mother still lives there,” she says nos­tal­gi­cally.

She went to pri­mary school there then her par­ents sent her to board­ing school in KwaZulu-Nata.En­rolling at Fort Hare Univer­sity proved to be a turn­ing point in her life, es­pe­cially as it was dur­ing the tu­mul­tuous strug­gle for democ­racy. “We (stu­dents) got kicked out dur­ing the ri­ots so I left the coun­try and went into ex­ile and did a lot of in­ter­est­ing things out there,” she said.

She stud­ied in the US and got mar­ried at 19, fall­ing preg­nant in her sec­ond year at univer­sity af­ter “liv­ing a shel­tered life in a girls’ board­ing school”.

Kweyama comes from a big fam­ily and had six sib­lings, but two of her sis­ters have since died. She has two daugh­ters.

Go­ing back to the SABC, she is pleased Par­lia­ment has en­dorsed the in­terim board. It’s now up to Pres­i­dent Jacob Zuma to ap­prove it. “It’s good for con­ti­nu­ity that all the mem­bers of the in­terim board have also been rec­om­mended for the per­ma­nent board. “The SABC is quite a daunt­ing an­i­mal and in the past six months that we’ve been here, it hasn’t been easy on many lev­els,” she said. “We’ve been try­ing to do in six months what oth­ers would do in a cou­ple of years, so there has been an el­e­ment of ex­haus­tion and a lot of work.”She is baf­fled at the ex­tent of the mis­man­age­ment that brought the SABC to the brink of col­lapse. “Some­times you feel frus­trated and won­der how this could’ve hap­pened over the years.

“Over­all it’s good to be part of fix­ing an in­sti­tu­tion that is so cru­cial to the pub­lic.

“Deal­ing with staff morale has been key as well be­cause peo­ple were re­ally de­mor­alised and some were de­pressed. We had a few deaths and even though you can’t say some­one has com­mit­ted sui­cide, the over­all ef­fect on peo­ple has not been good.”

The SABC has re­cently changed some editorial poli­cies and Kweyama re­it­er­ated that it was im­por­tant to re­verse some poli­cies. The board made tough de­ci­sions dur­ing the editorial pol­icy re­view and had to con­sult widely.

“It’s not your per­sonal home... it’s an in­sti­tu­tion that is gov­erned by prin­ci­ples and poli­cies that has struc­tures. It is a board that has a share­holder, that has staff and ev­ery­thing has to go through a process to make sure it is the right de­ci­sion for the SABC.

“So we had to em­bark on set­ting aside pre­vi­ous di­rec­tives and in some in­stances we had to do pro­cesses.”

Kweyama de­scribed the board, whose mem­bers in­clude Febe Pot­gi­eter-Gqubule, Kr­ish Naidoo, and John Mat­ti­son, as a ro­bust team com­mit­ted to trans­form­ing the broad­cast­ing in­dus­try.

The SABC should never be used as a mouth­piece for po­lit­i­cal par­ties or other or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing the rul­ing party, the ANC, she said .

“The pub­lic broad­caster is for the pub­lic...There are peo­ple out there who are not both­ered about po­lit­i­cal par­ties and just want en­ter­tain­ment on their screens so SABC does more than just talk pol­i­tics.”

Kweyama em­pha­sises the value of bal­anced con­tent.

“You give peo­ple what they want... there are key events in South Africa that are of pub­lic interest, like the up­com­ing ANC elec­tion, so peo­ple will fol­low that.

“But our other man­date is to en­ter­tain also, and that’s why we have Gen­er­a­tions and Skeem Saam, Mu­vhango, Uzalo.

“So we serve var­i­ous au­di­ences. We are as di­verse as South Africa is.

“We’ve now been ap­pointed to the per­ma­nent board for five years, so that’s good to fix, to sta­bilise and start get­ting into be­ing the broad­caster of choice, be­ing a good qual­ity broad­caster, mak­ing the money that you need to de­velop more con­tent, get­ting into the digital age and just be­ing rel­e­vant.”

The board has set a tar­get of two years to fix the SABC. Progress has been made in the ap­point­ments for key po­si­tions at the broad­caster and the board are look­ing to pro­vide more di­verse pro­gram­ming and hav­ing more chan­nels.

“And also tech­nol­ogy, be­ing able to ac­cess con­tent not only when sit­ting in a lounge but wherever you are.”

So what chal­lenges has the board iden­ti­fied and how do they plan to fix them?

“Big­ger re­la­tions with print media, online con­tent and all those things be­cause that’s what young peo­ple are do­ing now.

“Also, how do we at­tract more rev­enue be­cause we can prove we have the au­di­ences and give them to ad­ver­tis­ers who would then want to stay with us. There’s a lot of ex­cit­ing stuff we can do.”

@Le­segoMak­gatho

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