Eight employees of Gupta-owned news channel, ANN7, were allegedly escorted from the broadcaster’s channel for refusing to listen to ANCYL president, Collen Maine, who was to address them. Three SABC staffers suffered the same fate when they queried a decision to not cover a picket outside the public broadcaster’s offices. Now they’re taking their case to the Constitutional Court. What’s happened to employee rights at the broadcasters?
“The records show that the majority of these cases were handled without following proper procedure as all 14 suspensions and terminations were successfully challenged in court. Numerous disputes were settled out of court at enormous unnecessary cost to the Corporation.” Thuli Madonsela, When Governance and Ethics Fail, February 2014
Imagine what would happen if the CEO of Volkswagen South Africa were to call all the workers together on the factory floor in Uitenhage and inform them that, unilaterally, he had decided that from then on every employee on the assembly line would, without training and any extra monetary benefit, have to double up and do an extra task.
I’ll tell you what would happen. Unions would once again rampage through industrial areas like Booysen, another dog or two would die a terrible death and flames would continue to be our avatar and our leitmotif.
Fortunately nothing like this happened when, in the late 1990s, one of the Mbeki faction’s embedded journalists, Snuki Zikalala, set off on his bi-media folly which, back then, resulted in wasteful expenditure of more than R27 million. Bi-media forced every radio reporter to do TV news stories and vice versa even though they had never worked in the different discipline before and had received no training.
Zikalala, who had been a labour reporter and presumably knew a thing or two about employee rights and labour law, simply imposed this on us as a diktat.
Here’s how Jane Duncan, a formidable media freedom warrior, described bi-media at the time: “The point is that stripped of all its techno-babble, bi-media is simply another way of putting profits before people. Management drives journalists to become multi-skilled to increase their productivity and save staff costs: essentially, they are being made to do more with less. Not only do they have to chase deadlines for both media, they also develop ‘roving job descriptions’, moving between programmes and different parts of the news production chain at the behest of management.
“Small wonder that bi-media has been criticised in other countries for encouraging a ‘dumbing down’ of news and the de-skilling of journalists. Increasing workloads forces them to cut corners, and lessens the amount of thinking time necessary to take innovative angles on stories. The result? A creeping marginalisation of adventurous and critical (but expensive and time-consuming) investigative reporting.”
Despite the fact that there are huge differences in the two mediums, the one dependent on sound and the other on pictures, SABC reporters were simply expected to understand and provide for both channels. As a result, particularly under deadline pressure, the workload became impossible and the tensions unbearable.
It was nightmarish, believe me, as a television news reporter at the time, to be contacted in the middle of a television interview outside court, and to be told that radio news would be crossing to me live in a minute’s time in Afrikaans, my second language. It doubled our work load and quadrupled the stress.
‘Zero Sum Zikalala’
When Zikalala sent his minions down to Cape Town to inform us of this fait accompli, I pointed out that bi-media had not worked elsewhere in world and I repeatedly asked what our financial recompense would be given that our work load would radically increase because we were now having to double up as both radio and television news reporters. I was promised that we would be paid extra for bi-media – but, predictably and in contravention of the letter and spirit of our labour legislation, we never received a cent.
Zikalala, known more for spending money than making it, implemented bi-media despite advice to the contrary, and it turned into an extraordinary act of self-immolation for the SABC’s news department
According to a letter in the SABC’s in-house magazine, Interkom, this exercise in futility and manifestation of our deployed cadre’s non-existent broadcasting and business acumen cost the Corporation in excess of R27 million.
It led to a massive exodus of staff and within a few years e.tv, which did not cost South Africans a cent, had more than doubled the audience of the state broadcaster for its flagship 7pm news bulletin.
Predictably, Zikalala then left the SABC with a R2m golden handshake and was re-deployed as an ANC cadre as spokesperson for the Department of Labour. Once ensconced in his new sinecure, Zero-Sum regularly castigated management in the private sector for their alleged mistreatment of workers!
Violation of constitutional right
I was reminded of this, in the context of employee rights, when I read about the deliberate and unnecessary public humiliation of Foeta Krige, executive producer of the Afrikaans SABC radio station RSG and news actuality programmes like Monitor and Spektrum. Krige, who had had a 26-year career at the SABC, was indefinitely suspended, escorted off the state broadcaster’s Auckland Park premises, forced to surrender his employee card and, in a clear violation of his constitutional right of freedom of association, informed that he was not allowed to have any contact whatsoever with any of his SABC colleagues. The latest Hlaudi Motsoeneng /Jimi Matthews purge has been condemned by Sanef, the SACP and R2K
Krige has an impeccable 35-year journalistic CV, starting as a crime reporter on Die Transvaler in 1981 and subsequently working for Die Suidwester in Windhoek, as an accredited parliamentary correspondent for Perskor and ending his newspaper career as news editor for Vaderland before joining the SABC in 1990.
So what grievous breach of his employee contract led to Krige’s despicable treatment?
On 20 June, the day R2K organised pickets outside the SABC buildings in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth in protest against the Hlaudi Motsoeneng/Jimi Matthews ban on any television coverage of service delivery protest violence, all SABC news staff were informed that there was to be no mention of the picket on any of the state broadcaster’s channels.
Krige, economics editor Thandeka Gqubule and senior journalist Suna Venter had the temerity to question this in terms of the SABC’s code of editorial conduct which, inter alia, states:
- We shall report, contextualise, and present news honestly by striving to disclose all essential facts and by not suppressing relevant, available facts, or distorting by wrong or improper emphasis.
- We shall evaluate information solely on merit, and shall not allow advertising, commercial, political or personal considerations to influence our editorial decisions.
- We shall seek balance through the presentation as far as possible of relevant viewpoints on matters of importance.
- We shall prevail on news merit and judgement in reaching editorial decisions.
- We shall be free from obligation to any interest group and shall be committed to the public’s right to know the truth.
- We shall foster open dialogue with our viewers and listeners, as we are accountable to the public for our reports.
I personally witnessed, over a period of years, the shameful way in which staff were treated when Jeffrey Twala, a confidante of ANC politicians like Ngconde Balfour and Mcebisi Skwatsha, effectively destroyed what had previously been the happiest and most successful radio and television news team in the country, the SABC’s Sea Point news office.
I asked for early retirement from the SABC’s Cape Town news office in 2005 even though that left me unemployed because of the appallingly abusive way in which staff in that news office were being treated. I was also concerned about the pervasive corruption and wasteful expenditure which saw the SABC bankrupted a few years later and the hourly way in which the corporation routinely flouted its own code of conduct relating to ethical news gathering and dissemination. This involved using us, for years on end, as political pawns to attack and undermine the Democratic Alliance while covering up the pervasive ANC corruption in the province.
Two major reports were submitted to the SABC about these abuses, the first in 2002 and the second in 2006, both by Bemawu, the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union, the biggest specialised union in this field. At the time that I asked for early retirement from the SABC I had been the Bemawu newsroom shop steward in Sea Point for almost a decade and I had witnessed the most unspeakable abuse of my colleagues – completely ignored by management – one of whom came close to suicide on Chapman’s Peak as a result.
The 2002 report was submitted to the then chief executive, Peter Matlare when Jimi Matthews was head of television news and Pippa Green was head of the radio news division. They cannot have been unaware of these abuses but did nothing. The 2002 Bemawu report brought no relief to staff. In fact the abuses escalated leading to a substantial exodus of some of our most talented newsroom personnel.
The second in 2006 was submitted to the late Zwelakhe Sisulu and advocate Gilbert Marcus. They had been invited by the then CEO, Dali Mpofu, to set up a commission of inquiry into what became known as the Snuki Zikalala blacklisting scandal.
Several former Sea Point staff members submitted statements as part of this 2006 Bemawu presentation. One of them, a woman who chooses to remain anonymous, received, in response, a letter dated 14 September, 2006 from Eric Mabuza the attorney collating input for the commission:
1 – I have been asked by Mr Sisulu and Mr Marcus (“the Commissioners”) to respond to your confidential submission.
2 – The Commissioners have noted the circumstances under which you departed from the SABC and the allegations particularly directed against Mr Twala and others. The Commission notes with concern the serious matters raised by you but draws attention to their terms of reference which, in essence, requires an investigation into the alleged existence of a system or practice of excluding certain analysts or commentators for unjustifiable reasons. Although the terms of reference cover other related issues, this is the core concern of the Commission. The matters raised by you are essentially issues of employment law for which there are remedies under the Labour Relations Act and related legislation.
3 – Although the Commission’s terms of reference do not cover the matters raised by you, the Commissioners are of the view that your submission should be placed before the new CEO of the SABC, Advocate Mpofu. This will, of course, only be permissible with your consent and I await your response in this regard.
Permission was given but Mpofu did not respond and the abuses continued unabated.
In a definitive essay on how the ANC suborned the SABC and brought about the situation which saw the deliberate public denigration and debasement of employees of integrity like Foeta Krige, Politicsweb’s James Myburgh wrote:
“Looking back over the SABC over the past 10 years what is most noticeable is the jarring contradiction between the legislative and constitutional requirements for the public broadcaster and the lived reality. The former requires inter-alia that public broadcasting be fair and promote a diversity of views, and that it maintain “a high standard of accuracy, fairness and impartiality in news and programmes that deal with matters of public interest.” These have proved to be (to borrow the words of James Madison) mere ‘parchment barriers’ against the encroaching spirit of ANC power.
“Although the ANC leadership conceded these fine words and phrases to their opponents in the negotiations, they were able to get their hands on two crucial levers of control – the ability to appoint (and promote) their preferred candidates, and remove those who displeased them.”
Removing those who displease them has become an obsession with the mandarins who control the broadcasters. They have done so either by outright purge or by making the working environment of those that displease them so unpleasant that they leave voluntarily. In many of the dismissals, the CCMA found for the employee and a settlement was reached. This simply replicated earlier purges by Snuki Zikalala at the SABC in Johannesburg, Hlaudi Motsoeneng at the SABC in Bloemfontein and Johannesburg and Jeffrey Twala at the SABC in Cape Town – ANC acolytes, one and all.
When ANC acolytes “transform” a media institution, more often than not at the cost of the citizen, the concept of fair treatment of employees as labour law demands is hubristically ignored.
Here is a precise legal definition of what I am talking about and you can find it in a treatise aptly titled, When Governance and Ethics Fail:
“(e) Regarding Mr Motsoeneng’s alleged purging of senior staff members of the SABC resulting in unnecessary financial losses in CCMA, court and other settlements, which amounts to financial mismanagement, I find that: 1) The allegation that Mr Motsoeneng purged senior staff members leading to the avoidable loss of millions of Rand towards salaries in respect of unnecessary and settlements for irregular terminations of contracts is justified in the circumstances. SABC human resources records of the circumstances of termination and Mr Motsoeneng’s own account show that he was involved in most of these terminations of abuse of power and systemic governance failure involving irregular termination of employment of several senior employees of the SABC and that the SABC lost millions of Rand due to procedural and substantive injustices confirmed in findings of the CCMA and the courts. Some of these matters were settled out of court with the SABC still paying enormous amounts in settlements.”
The deliberately degrading treatment of Foeta Krige was also experienced by ANN7 reporter Asanda Magaqa so it came as no surprise, as I finished this article, to read that eight more employees had been escorted off the company premises for publicly disagreeing with Collen Maine – AKA ‘Oros’ who is, according to newspaper reports, highly regarded by the Gupta family.
Last year Cosatu named ANN7 as the worst employer in the country.
Image: R2K’s Asha Moodley picketing outside SABC offices in KwaZulu-Natal PIC by: Nushera Soodyal