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Chris Maroleng’s sacking causes further strife at South African broadcaster SABC

By Crystal Orderson, in Cape Town
Posted on Thursday, 25 April 2019 14:39

Protests at SABC back in 2016, targeting Zuma acolyte Hlaudi Motsoeneng. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

South Africa's public broadcaster, the SABC, is once again facing turmoil following the sudden removal of COO Chris Maroleng and concerns over an urgent cash bailout.

Several SABC staffers told The Africa Report that they won’t be paid this month. The broadcaster needs billions of rand to pay salaries and other outstanding payments to production companies.

  • The SABC is Africa’s largest broadcaster with several news and radio outlets broadcasting in several languages.
  • The SABC’s mission statement says it aims to be a “high-performing, financially viable, digitised, national public broadcaster that provides compelling informative, educational and entertaining content via all platforms”.

But to do this money is needed.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams indicated that her department is in discussion with the Treasury for a financial bailout for the ailing broadcaster.

  • Responding to a written parliamentary question from the Freedom Front Plus party, Ndabeni-Abrahams said: “While government recognises that the SABC requires urgent financial assistance, a final decision on the type of assistance as well as the exact amount has, however, not been reached.”
  • The SABC says it needs R6.8bn ($468m) to stay afloat, with management telling parliament it is facing, “insolvency if nothing [is] done about its financial situation”.
  • SABC staffers told The Africa Report that the government has “no choice” but to bail out the SABC, as it is “too big to fail”.

How did Africa’s largest broadcaster get here?

The SABC is reeling from years of poor financial management and corruption within.

Under the management of close Zuma ally Hlaudi Motsoeneng there were some serious irregularities, including a deal with Multichoice for which Motsoening got a R11m bonus, and high salaries to several senior staffers.

  • The SABC has asked the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) to recover millions of dollars from Motsoeneng. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Last year the SABC introduced cost-cutting measures including the announcement that it was going to retrench hundreds of workers. This was later abandoned after some pressure from unions.

  • A senior staffer tells The Africa Report retrenchments are going to be inevitable “as there is a lot of dead wood in the organisation”.

Maroleng gets the chop

Last week, in vintage Ramaphosa style, the President appointed eight new board members to fill the vacancies on the Board with immediate effect.

Then, on Tuesday, the newly appointed board announced that its COO, Chris Maroleng (who also goes by Chris Maroleni)’s contract had been terminated with immediate effect following an internal disciplinary hearing. Maroleng was appointed in January 2018 to sort out the mess post-Motsoeneng.

  • Speaking to SABC radio, Maroleng says he will be seeking legal advice to clear his name. “Certainly, I will be taking legal advice to decide what the next steps are, but it was a harsh decision and I will appeal it as it does not warrant dismissal.”
  • “It’s very important that we set the record straight. I acted in the interest of the SABC at all times and perhaps I might have acted in poor judgement with some issues but I will appeal the decision,” he said.

Charges against Maroleng include:

  • Approving a monthly acting allowance of just over R15,000 for an employee, despite a written human-resources decision to the contrary.
  • Two charges relating to protecting a former acting group executive against disciplinary action.

In scenes worthy of a corporate soap opera, SABC insiders told The Africa Report that the new SABC board was introduced to staffers on Tuesday and that Maroleng was part of this meeting, unaware that he was facing the axe.

  • A few hours later Maroleng was on several local radio stations talking about the shock termination.

Bongumusa Makhathini, the chairman of the SABC board, told 702 that the board’s decision “was the outcome of an independent disciplinary process which came out with these findings and recommendations”.

Bottom line: The Board is now one member short and far from sorting out SABC’s financial problems.

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