SABC’s acting chief operating officer calls it quits

The SABC building in Aukland Park.
The SABC building in Aukland Park.

The man tasked with crafting and implementing the SABC’s turnaround plan has resigned from the embattled and ailing public broadcaster.

Acting SABC COO Craig van Rooyen had been in the job for just over three months and will leave the cash-strapped corporation, which requested R3.2bn from the government to stay afloat, on September 9. 

The SABC’s projected figures show factual insolvency. Forecasts indicate that the public broadcaster will end the 2018-19 financial year with a net loss of R568m against a budgeted loss of R288m. The SABC had a net loss of R622m for the 2017-18 financial year.

In July, Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane told parliament that the SABC would have to comply with conditions laid down by the Treasury before it could access the R3.2bn bailout.

The conditions related “to getting the SABC in order so that it can sustain itself financially”, he said, adding that the guarantee was refused mainly because the SABC failed to meet its obligations and the business plan it presented was not strong enough.

Van Rooyen cited personal and family reasons for his departure. 

“Having been involved in crafting the SABC’s turnaround plan, I am confident that the SABC will overcome its challenges in the short term and become successful in the long term,” he said.

The current leadership team led by CEO Madoda Xakwe and CFO Yolande van Biljon has demonstrated a serious commitment to improving the SABC’s sustainability, he said.

SABC board chair Bongumusa Makhathini said Van Rooyen played a meaningful role in developing the broadcaster’s digital strategy. This, he said, included preparing the SABC for digital migration and to become a multiplatform, multichannel player.

He commended Van Rooyen for modelling the way for future COOs by demonstrating ethical leadership, technical expertise, and business acumen, adding: “The board is very sad to see him go, but wishes him well in his future endeavours.”

The SABC board is expected to interview COO candidates this week to ensure leadership stability.

The public broadcaster has been dogged by financial and operational challenges and recently implemented a blackout of Premier Soccer League matches as SuperSport has valued the rights at R280m for 144 matches a year.

The SABC was also dogged by editorial interference from 2012 to 2017, according to a report of an independent inquiry established in 2018 and led by veteran journalist Joe Thloloe.

According to the report released last week, while there is no evidence of a direct line between decisions at ANC headquarters, Luthuli House, and decisions in the newsroom, “the spectre of the ANC hovered over the newsroom”.

It stated that SABC executives took instructions from people with no authority in the newsroom, for example, then SABC board chair Ellen Tshabalala and Faith Muthambi, who was communications minister at the time.