SABC scores own goal by depriving millions of soccer viewers

The SABC has a long history of being “His Master’s Voice” and has been exposed to the whims of governments since its inception. Apart from brief periods, first under FW de Klerk and the heady free days of Mandela – I was working there in the Mandela years – it has been subjected to the whims of dictatorial editors and managers for most of its existence. Hlaudi Motsoeneng probably takes the cake for the worst of the excesses and the result is a broadcaster that used to be in a fairly good financial position which has been so decimated that it can’t afford to  pay its contractors, owes billions in music royalties and now the last straw; it’s depriving its 22 million soccer fans, who can’t afford DSTV of the pleasure of watching their favourite sport. Ed Herbst details the rot that set in at the SABC and points the finger at the ANC’s cadre deployment. Apart from exposing what is happening at the South African National Editors Forum inquiry, it is high time for a total transformation of our national broadcaster, so it can ensure that any future government can keep its sticky, little paws out of the SABC. We need to ensure that it can become the strong, independent, national broadcasters that the BBC is today and our country’s keen football fans are not deprived of broadcasts of their soccer. – Linda van Tilburg

The SABC and the National Democratic Revolution

By Ed Herbst*

Over the course of the past year, she (Suna Venter) received various threatening SMS messages. Her flat was broken into on numerous occasions, the brake cables on her car were cut and her car tyres were slashed. She was shot at and abducted – tied to a tree in Melville Koppies while the grass around her was set alight. On a separate occasion earlier this year, she was shot in the face with an unknown weapon and received surgery to remove the metal pellets from her face. During the past year, she was assaulted on three separate occasions. – Foete Krige The SABC8 Page 272

The Commission finds that the SABC suffered from the capricious use of authority and power to terrorise staff and to deflect the Corporation from its mandate and its Editorial Policies. – Report of Commission of Inquiry into Interference in the Decision-making in the Newsroom of the South African Broadcasting Corporation Joe Thloloe and Stephen Tawana 25/2/2019

Gareth van Onselen – then Director of Communications with the Democratic Alliance but now Head of Politics and Governance at the Institute of Race Relations – described the ANC’s approach to the concept of a public broadcaster in a paper, “His Master’s Voice – The SABC as Propaganda Arm of the ANC” published in June 2006:

ANC spokesperson Joel Netshitenzhe, writing in the ANC publication Umrabulo in 1997, defined transformation as ‘extending the power of the ‘National Liberation Movement’ over all levers of power: the army, the police, the bureaucracy, intelligence structures, the judiciary, parastatal, and agencies such as regulatory bodies, the public broadcaster, the central bank and so on.

The ANC offered a progress report on its goal of controlling the SABC in its 1999 document ‘Accelerating Change: Assessing the Balance of Forces in 1999’ It states: ‘The transformation of the SABC did take much longer than we thought and more needs to be done at middle management level. With regards to the print media, the ownership structures remain a problem.’

The ANC has never deviated from its goal of achieving a ‘National Democratic Revolution’ which seeks the hegemonic control of the state, its resources and the population as manifest in Cuba and North Korea and Venezuela.

Three newspaper articles on the weekend of 10/11 August this year illustrated the malign and destructive impact that the ANC has had on the SABC over the past two decades in its pursuit of this goal.

Veteran journalist Ed Herbst

On Saturday August 10, Die Burger revealed that the SABC was refusing to pay the customary royalties on the music broadcast on its programmes and the South African Music Performing Rights Association (Sampra) was seeking arbitration in this regard.

Since 2008 Sampra, a non-profit organisation, has been collecting so-called needletime royalties on behalf of 5,356 record companies and about 18,000 musicians.

Sampra said in terms of the amended Copyright Act 98 of 1978 and the amended Performers Protection Act 11 of 1967 its members were entitled to such royalties, which the SABC is not paying. 

Sampra executive Tiyani Maluleke said the organisation’s members produce more than 90% of the music broadcast in South Africa. Broadcasters require a Sampra licence for legally broadcasting music, which has to be renewed annually.

In March this year, Die Burger reported that in response to a parliamentary question by the DA, broadcast minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said the SABC owed musicians royalties of approximately R248m – R104.2m of which was owed to Sampra.

No more local music

With a legal interdict, Sampra could do what the Premier Soccer League (PSL) has done – prevent the SABC from broadcasting what its members provide – but can you imagine the impact that that would have? No more local music on SABC radio and television programmes?

Which brings me to the Sunday Times front page lead on 11 August:

SABC’s total soccer blackout – radio barred from even giving scores as rights row rages.

The majority of South African voters are soccer fans and more than 22 million people rely exclusively on the SABC’s four television channels and eighteen radio stations broadcasting in eleven official languages for their news.

To now be denied soccer broadcasts because of two decades of ANC malfeasance and incompetence must be infuriating.

On 15 August local soccer fans were dealt a further blow by the glorious National Democratic Revolution.

They learned that, after two decades of wanton looting by the ANC’s illegally-deployed cadres, the state broadcaster had also failed to retain the broadcast rights for the English Premier League.

I am surprised that opposition parties are not exploiting these soccer-related setbacks for local fans because I believe this blackout of soccer news by the state broadcaster will massively increase the ANC’s number of apathetic stay-away voters.

That brings me to the third SABC-related headline on 11 August, this time in City Press:

How the ANC, ministers and Hlaudi terrorised SABC staff for their own dubious agendas

The end of the SABC’s Prague Spring, when people like Zwelakhe Sisulu and Barney Mthombothi and Allister Sparks and Max du Preez were leading a period of hope and renewal, came two decades ago when the ANC in parliament decided that the public broadcaster’s coverage of then President Thabo Mbeki was not slavish enough.

Snuki Zikalala was made head of news and Mbeki acolytes Christine Qunta and Thami Mazwai were appointed to the SABC board.

When reviewing the book by Wynand Harmse about the SABC from its inception in 1936 until he retired in 1995, I emailed him about its financial status at the time and here’s his reply:

SABC’s Annual Report for 1994 reflects the following: (as at end of book year 30 Sept 1994):

  • Cash resources/investments – R228m.
  • Loans R77m.
  • Debtors exceeded Creditors.
  • The Loan-burden represented 10% of fixed/capital assets. Thus a ratio of 90% own funding (in-house) and 10% foreign.
  • Operational surplus of R100m. (rounded off)
  • No State funding except for External Radio, which is in line with financing of such services elsewhere in world.

Twenty four years later its debt is 27 times greater than the money it has on call, its losses last year exceeded half a billion rand and while the rest of the world’s broadcasters migrated from analogue to digital television in 2015 we are nowhere near achieving that. All part of the ANC’s ‘Good story to tell’

Now the NDR-motivated state broadcaster, twice looted into bankruptcy by the ANC’s deployed cadres, is not paying royalties on the music its stations play and cannot even broadcast the latest soccer scores on radio or television.

Viva the ANC, Viva!

All of which goes to prove the inevitable and ineluctable veracity of Mulholland’s Law.

What the SABC, adminsistered by ANC acolytes, did to Suna Venter was not without precedent.

Enormously-destructive

During the enormously-destructive Dali Mpofu era at the SABC, concerns were raised with him about the abuses and looting by two of the people then working at the SABC, Matilda Gaboo and his Elephant Consortium crony, Mafika Sihlali. He did nothing besides halting the forensic audit into Gaboo and using taxpayers’ money in going to court to try and recover from the Sunday Times a leaked report which was already in the public domain.

When internal auditors started uncovering evidence of Sihlali’s corruption, he threatened them (they were women) with physical violence and one, Elsje Oosthuizen, had her house fire-bombed. So concerned was the SABC about the threats against Oosthuizen that she was given four bodyguards. She subsequently resigned from the SABC as a result of this intimidation.

Despite this, board member Christine Qunta – a vociferous supporter of then President Thabo Mbeki’s policies – described the allegations against Sihlali as “so much fluff”.

The repeated attempts to murder Suna Venter, the only white woman among the SABC8, was a bridge too far, however – even for the ANC. More importantly, the chilling detail in Foeta Krige’s book on the SABC8 left it nowhere to hide and made denial impossible. Grudgingly, it made a submission to Thloloe/Tawana commission, seeking exculpation but, as the Marikana families have found, providing no redress of consequence.

It is relevant to note that, prior to 1994, when people like Wynand Claasen were at the helm of the SABC, no reporters experienced anything remotely equivalent to what people like Suna Venter and Elsje Oosthuizen endured.

New Dawn

The ‘New Dawn’ era for South Africa – whatever its disappointments – started on 18 December 2017 at Nasrec and, in its spirit, the SABC’s then Acting Group Chief Executive, Ms Nomsa Philiso, announced  a commission of inquiry into editorial interference five months later.

Forced by increasing public revulsion, the ANC made a reluctant and belated submission to the Joe Thloloe/Stephen Tawana commission which had this to say about its self-serving contribution:

It is a huge concession by the ANC, that there could have been people at the SABC using the organisation’s name to intimidate others. It is hard to believe that the ANC woke up to the crisis at the SABC only after Jimi resigned, after the SABC 8 saga, and “after widespread condemnation of policy decisions at the public broadcaster”. Was it convenient for the party to turn a blind eye to the mounting crisis at the corporation?

For two decades the ANC  has callously ignored the mounting evidence of vicious staff abuse, a depraved level of looting and pervasive news manipulation at the SABC.

News manipulation

I have, from personal experience, written extensively about the politically-motivated news manipulation in the Sea Point news office of the SABC – see here and here and here – and contributed to two submissions to the SABC in this regard by the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers Union (Bemawu) for which I was a shop steward.

One went to Peter Matlare and the other to Dali Mpofu.

Both were ignored.

A once-valuable but now derelict SABC property in Sea Point – Rocklands Villas – provides us with a tangible symbol of ANC’s corrupt control of the SABC in Cape Town. So too does the testimony in parliament of Lukhanyo Calata.

In the SABC context it is, in retrospect, painful to recall what we endured during the tenure of unspeakable communication portfolio ministers like Dina Pule and Faith Muthambi and the incumbent apparently holds the people’s constitutionally-guaranteed right to know in similar contempt.

Now the ANC says it will give the SABC the three billion rands plus it needs to continue functioning provided it puts an end to the factors which led to its first and second bankruptcies.

What a crock.

The real reason the current government has not provided  the SABC with the sort of financial assistance that it has given to other dysfunctional, ANC-crippled SOEs is that, after two decades of ‘It’s our turn to eat’ snouting by its ear-breathing cadres, there is no longer a glimmer, nor even a glint of gravy at the bottom of the trough.

Its penniless pre-occupation now is surviving the onslaught by the Zuptoid faction, keeping the lights on and avoiding an IMF bailout.

For media people the SABC commission of inquiry has proved as cathartic as the commissions of inquiry instituted by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

We look forward to the Sanef inquiry on media ethics and credibility which will deliver its findings next year and to the publication in October of the book by former Sekunjalo Independent Media editors Alide Dasnois and Chris Whitfield which will give us further insights into the abuses that occurred at that company after Iqbal Survé gained control.

  • Ed Herbst is a veteran journalist who these days writes in his own capacity.