Phumzile van Damme warns of 'wolves in sheep's clothing' in SABC retrenchment saga

Phumzile van Damme warns of 'wolves in sheep's clothing' in SABC retrenchment saga

DA MP Phumzile van Damme has empathised with SABC staff facing the prospect of retrenchment, saying losing one's income “must be painful, depressing and a cause of anxiety, but warned against "opening the door" to imposters.

Over the past few weeks, the public broadcaster has been making headlines over moves to retrench 400 staff members as a measure to stay afloat after reporting a R511m loss for the financial year ending in March and a decline in revenue from R6.4bn the previous year to R5.7bn.

TimesLIVE reported that SABC group CEO Madoda Mxakwe said the broadcaster faced a difficult financial year and that this affected its revenue generation activities.

A 12% year-on-year revenue loss added to the broadcaster's woes, as advertising income dropped, said Mxakwe. TV licence revenue also declined 18% year-on-year to R791m.

On Friday, the SABC said its board had suspended the retrenchment process at the corporation for seven days to explore other options to ensure the financial sustainability of the broadcaster.

Van Damme said the looming retrenchments were because of “wolves in sheep’s clothing”. 

“I empathise deeply with SABC staff facing the prospect of retrenchment. The thought of possibly losing your income must be painful, depressing and cause of anxiety. However, let me caution you opening the door to wolves in sheep’s clothing who promise you the earth and the moon,” said Van Damme.

“It is because of those wolves you find yourself where you are. It is those wolves who will turn around and devour you. I saw earlier Ace Magashule was asked to intervene. Ace Magashule? Political intervention? Let me leave that with you to reflect on.”

ANC general secretary Magashule weighed in on the matter last week. He told SABC News that there was no need for retrenchments and that the party was monitoring the situation and engaging communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.

However, Van Damme said, by law a minister and the ANC cannot intervene in the matter.

“The board is appointed by parliament. The board appoints the executive. The board has the final authority on operational matters so as to prevent political interference from the minister, who carries a political mandate,” she said.

When asked what she thought could be a solution to stop the retrenchments, Van Damme said staff must take grievances to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and the labour court.

“The point is that it must be handled with sensitivity and compassion. That is why I will not celebrate job losses nor will I give anyone false promises that I or the DA can halt retrenchments. The other political parties doing so, I see it as callous and opportunistic,” she said.

According to Van Damme, political parties cannot halt retrenchments, neither can parliament.

“It has no legal authority to do so,” she said. “The CCMA and labour court exist for that very purpose. That is where you should turn to and not wolves in sheep’s clothing and snake-oil salesmen”.

Van Damme said if headcount at the SABC is not reduced in the next year or so, the broadcaster might have to request another bailout, which will likely be in the billions.

“It makes me so sad and heartbroken for anyone losing a job. The hard truth is it’s either some go now or everyone goes later when the SABC collapses. On principle, no bailout. On facts, no money for a bailout while dealing with the economic fallout of Covid-19,” Van Damme said.