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article imageS. Africa's cash-strapped public broadcaster eyes massive layoffs

By Susan NJANJI (AFP)     Oct 30, 2018 in World

South Africa's cash-strapped public broadcaster SABC is considering laying off nearly 1,000 people, or about one third of its full-time staff, in a bid to turn around its "dire" finances, according to a document seen on Tuesday.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation sent a memo to workers informing them of its intention to cut jobs at all levels and in all departments in a bid to save around $30 million a year.

In the note seen by AFP, SABC said the broadcaster is in "dire financial straits" and was unable to borrow from either the government or banks.

As a result of corruption and maladministration scandals, parliament has dissolved SABC's board several times in recent years.

The company's financial distress deepened during the tenure of its former chief operating officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, an ally of ex-president Jacob Zuma who falsely claimed to have finished high school.

The SABC, which is the primary news source for millions of people, was accused of banning footage of violent protests, blocking opposition campaign adverts and avoiding criticism of the government during Zuma's reign.

The memo warned that unless "drastic measures are taken" the broadcaster would not be financially viable.

While it said SABC intends to correct "many instances of unlawful and irregular promotions and increases afforded to employees", its main focus was on belt-tightening.

The SABC said it was "overstaffed", currently employing more than 3,370 staff as well as 2,400 freelancers.

"Should retrenchments be necessary, it is envisaged that 981 employees may possibly be retrenched as a result of the restructuring," it said, adding that notices to terminate contracts would be issued starting in February.

The corporation said it hoped to save around 440 million rand ($30 million) a year if it proceeds with the plan.

SABC posted losses of 622 million rand ($45 million) in the financial year ending March 2018 after a record loss of nearly one billion rand the year before.

- 'Not well thought out' -

The country's auditor-general Kimi Makwetu last month said the broadcaster, which has in recent years relied on government loans for its survival, was commercially insolvent.

The SABC was formed 77 years ago. Headquartered in Johannesburg, it has three free-to-air television channels and 18 stations broadcasting in all the country's 11 official languages.

News of the planned redundancies came as South Africa's unemployment rate grew to 27.5 percent in the third quarter of this year, up from 26.7 percent in the first quarter, according to official statistics.

Unions have vowed to fight the planned lay-offs in the courts and with industrial action.

"It is concerning that such a big number of people have been targeted. This is not a well thought through process," said Hannes du Buisson, president of the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union (BEMAWU).

"It is because of political interference with the SABC editorial content by deploying African National Congress (supporters) inside the SABC that has caused the SABC to collapse," Du Buisson told AFP, adding that viewers had abandoned the broadcaster over its diminished impartiality.

"A lot of viewers are no longer interested in the SABC and that is being followed by advertisers."

The main opposition Democratic Alliance urged an independent staff and salaries audit, describing the management rescue plan as "haphazard and illogical".

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