If ever there was a newsroom where comrade journalists whisper conspiratorially around the water cooler, it would be the SABC. The group’s acting CEO is gone, and one of its most popular DJs has just said bye Felicia.
But what impact do these shifts really have?
In case you missed it, SABC acting group CEO Jimi Matthews has said bye bye to the public broadcaster, effective immediately.
“What is happening at the SABC is wrong, and I can no longer be a part of it,” Matthews said, in a resignation letter addressed to the chair of the SABC’s board, Professor Obert Maghuve.
Matthews announced his resignation on Twitter with understated flair: “I have quit the SABC”. And of course, the news went viral.
While the shock of his resignation still reverberated through the industry, popular Metro FM DJ Thabo T-Bo Touch Molefe announced his resignation with a casual, “Sincerely, your boy”, after thanking the radio station for its role in his career.
While Molefe didn’t give a reason for his break-up with Metro FM, that may be glaringly obvious in light of recent events at the public broadcaster.
What are some of the SABC’s recent faux pas that have led to the exit of the prominent personalities? Hiding images of violent protests from viewers? Check. Suspending three journalists who, in the interest of journalistic ethics, chose to ignore the policy to ignore violent protests? Check. And then there’s the fun suggestion that journalists wear uniforms to work so they become disciplined (*side-eye*). Check.
The Hlaudi Manifesto has irked the South African public, journalists, and even employees within the SABC. The latter to the extent that the executive producers of Special Assignment and SAFM Current Affairs, as well as SABC investigative reporter Jacques Steenkamp, signed a letter addressing the public broadcaster’s COO, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, with a simple subject line: “Request for editorial policy clarity and over unfair suspensions”.
Motsoeneng has thus far remained uncharacteristically silent on the revolt mounting in his newsroom – perhaps a sign itself that things might be getting serious.
More surprising, however, is Matthews’s resignation. The now former acting group CEO defended Motsoeneng a mere four days prior to his comments on the “corrosive atmosphere” in the public broadcaster that has “made me complicit in decisions which I’m not proud of”.
Some of the most WTF moments of his Hlaudi defence included praise for Motsoeneng’s “rare skill” that the SABC, according to Matthews, could not afford to lose.
The proof was in the profitability, he said, and claimed that Motsoeneng had increased the SABC’s turnover from R4.9-billion in 2011 to R8-billion in 2016.
People were quick to brand Matthews a sell-out, disappointed that his legacy as an anti-apartheid activist had been tainted by this newfound, seemingly undemocratic mindset.
In some ways, there are parallels between Matthews’s diminishing struggle cred and the SABC’s decline. (Barring the SABC’s uncomfortable history as complicit with the apartheid government).
Matthews dropped out of his “coloured only” university in the Western Cape in protest of the oppressive education system. He taught himself photography, and eventually went on to document apartheid atrocities through video and film.
His work went against everything the apartheid era SABC stood for. His images challenged censorship laws – and thereby, what the state didn’t want the public to know – and helped show the world what apartheid really was.
In the past few weeks, his actions have almost blighted the Jimi Matthews everyone thought they knew. He nearly sank with the broadcaster, but his goodbye redemption letter to the SABC board might just be his lifeline.
“I wish also to apologise to the many people I’ve let down by remaining silent when my voice was needed to be heard,” said Matthews in his resignation letter.
But does it really matter? Matthews might have been acting CEO in name, but Motsoeneng still holds the reigns of control. And he doesn’t look ready to let go anytime soon.