Keeping SABC afloat so it sails into the future
Some editorial policies had to be reversed
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.”