What on earth is happening at the SABC?
President Cyril Ramaphosa has failed to appoint the board of the public broadcaster for nearly six months. It is not only reprehensible but another of the worst examples of our dithering president’s, well, dithering.
In the most extraordinary of events, NGO Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) launched legal action on 24 February 2023 to compel Ramaphosa to appoint the new board. They point out at length how the lack of a board, as the accounting authority, is making it impossible to keep it profitable.
In an affidavit as part of the summons, former board member Michael Markovitz, now the head of Gordon Institute of Business School (Gibs) media leadership think tank, repeated the SABC’s own warnings it was in danger of not being a going concern.
He quotes from the broadcaster’s own 2021 annual report about revenue concerns, including a stark comment by Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke that “a material uncertainty exists that may cast significant doubt on the public (entity’s) ability to continue as a going concern”.
Markovitz, who is hugely respected in the broadcast and media industries, doesn’t pull his punches. With his “direct knowledge” of the financial situation in October 2022 and considering the “reasonably predictable impact of having no board since then”, he writes that the SABC “could be perilously close to insolvency and having severe cash flow challenges”.
The MMA action was launched 47 days ago and the financial year-end (in case anyone in government is reading this) was the end of last month — 31 March 2023. Section 52 of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) specifies that “the accounting authority for a public entity listed in Schedule 2 [which includes the SABC] must submit to the accounting officer for a department… and to the relevant treasury, at least one month, … before the start of its financial year”. That ship has already sailed.
Therefore, writes Markovitz, “in the absence of a board of directors to approve the Corporate Plan, the SABC is now in continued non-compliance with the PFMA, the relevant Treasury regulations and the shareholder compact”.
This non-compliance “is no fault of the organisation but rather due to Parliament and the president not fulfilling their obligations in terms of section 13 of the Broadcasting Act”.
This is yet another own goal by South Africa’s non-practising president. When leadership and decisive decision are needed, Ramaphosa seems to just go AWOL.
Last week, he finally woke from his slumber to pointlessly address a minor concern about the “so-called reserve pool names” as he wrote to Parliament’s Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula asking for more information.
This kerfuffle poignantly sums up Ramaphosa’s misplaced priorities and lack of haste. Although only the necessary 12 names were sent to the president, the communications portfolio chair thinks it should be 15 names. Now Ramaphosa – who was sent the names on 6 December – has wasted more than four months to reply about a minor detail.
There’s no getting away from the fact that Ramaphosa’s “sloth” – as Justice Malala called it – is the cause of yet another breakdown in governance. As a result, the beleaguered SABC is even more unlikely to escape the latest ANC-created drama.
- This article first appeared in the Financial Mail.