Who’ll get axed at SABC now?
I still remember, back in 2002, how my first day started so ordinarily – shown my office, introduced to my team, greeted with broad smiles at my first meetings, signing lots of forms, having access cards made.
Then, as I was preparing to settle down to compile my diary for the next day, my first real day of work, my boss’s PA walks in, inviting me over to his office.
Then boom – all the man who had pursued me for more than eight months wanted to tell me was that he had just been fired, with immediate effect.
A well-respected journalist, head of news Barney Mthombothi couldn’t step aside and allow Peter Matlare, accomplished as Matlare was as a group CEO, to usurp his powers as editor-in-chief and thereby compromise the independence of the newsroom.
Four years later I was the one who didn’t see eye to eye with Mthombothi’s successor.
A party hack and propagandist, journalism was the last thing on his mind.
I felt I had no option but to quit – only to return four years later when he had left.
Last year, I left again.
This time, kicked out.
The previous evening I had hosted public protector Thuli Madonsela and activist Sisonke Msimang, discussing some mundane topic that had nothing to do with the SABC’s COO or the president of the country, both of whom had rather unflattering public protector findings against them.
After informing my audiences, via a tweet, that there would be no show that evening, I received a letter telling me to go home, in that “don’t call us, we’ll call you” fashion.
Unemployed, I then had to go through court cases, parliamentary hearings, death threats and plots to publicly humiliate me.
Thankfully, I survived.
Until a few days ago, I thought I had been to hell and back at the SABC.
I didn’t know how ruinous life has been, and continues to be, for some of my ex-colleagues.
It’s made me appreciate just how lucky I have been, even during the times I was thinking I was really getting a raw deal at the SABC.
Imagine being sexually assaulted by “arrogant” perpetrators, in the presence of your colleagues, and your human resources department simply conducts an informal inquiry that doesn’t reach any conclusion, as the internal inquiry into sexual harassment at the public broadcaster has just revealed.
“Human resources and most senior managers demonstrated a serious lack of knowledge and understanding of human rights statutes, gender relations, and issues of power relations between men and women,” the inquiry found.
But can those violated employees be expected to be happy and productive?
Won’t they be the first casualties when the same human resources department leads the retrenchment process?
Won’t they be the sacrificial lambs when the SABC soon gets rid of close to a thousand employees and 1,200 contract workers, all under the guise of cutting costs and saving the cash-strapped operation?
Why should the human resources division be trusted to do the right thing now?
According to the report, while SABC human resources officials and senior managers colluded to cover up cases of sexual harassment, unions, for their part, did nothing to help.
Am I surprised?
No. Not when the Communication Workers Union last year bizarrely dumped workers and went to stand alongside then COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
Mind you, Cosatu unions were part of the SABC board when Motsoeneng amassed incredible power, appointed a horde of lackeys to enforce his decisions and entrench himself, and ran the place into the ground.
Will those appointments be undone first, and monies recovered from wrongdoers, before the axe falls on innocent workers lower down?
But it’s not only organised labour that needs to examine its role in the SABC’s woes.
The governing party, too, needs to examine how it allowed successive administrations to inappropriately interfere in its running, appointing inappropriate people who messed up but still left with golden handshakes.
This while other broadcasters were left to help themselves from the SABC’s audiences.
Communications minister Nomvula Mokonyane’s appeal for jobs to be saved is a correct one, but in the absence of a comprehensive approach it sounds like nothing more than a convenient noise ahead of an election.
At stake are tens of millions of viewers/listeners, thousands of employees, 18 radio stations, five television channels. So more short cuts.
Pay careful attention.
It’s the right thing to do.