Labour unions begin strike action and organise a possible blackout as South Africa’s public broadcaster continues to implement its Section 189 process.

Labour unions representing SABC employees remain dissatisfied with the public broadcaster’s restructuring plans and organised industrial action starting today.

Broadcast Media Africa reported that SABC employees gathered outside of the public broadcaster’s headquarters in Johannesburg before setting out on a march to the Union building – while complying with COVID-19 and lockdown regulations – to hand over a memorandum “of demands to President Cyril Ramaphosa, asking him to intervene in the organisation’s looming retrenchments.”

The strike takes place following a month-long pause to the retrenchment process. It is now likely to be completed by February. According to Ian Plaatjes, SABC’s Chief Operating Officer, management are“confident” that the internal recruitment process will be completed within two weeks. There are at least 170 vacancies that need filling.

It was also confirmed that redundancy and surplus letters have been issued to hundreds of staff. The number of planned job losses has nearly halved from 600 to 303.

Following circulating reports that the public broadcaster would be closing its radio services, including the African-language stations, the SABC also published a statement last week disproving the claims. It stated: “The public broadcaster is fully cognisant that millions of South Africans rely on its radio network as the only and most easily accessible source of public service content. On the contrary, the radio stations’ proposed structures are promoting and supporting the current needs of audiences, such as digital accessibility.”

The organisation added: “The SABC is committed to its public mandate of informing, educating and entertaining citizens in all official languages.” It also reiterated that African-language news bulletins on free-to-air television channels would not be shut down.

Labour unions have planned for further industrial action, including a ‘go-slow’ on Thursday and a four-hour blackout on Friday. The SABC has confirmed that it has put contingency plans in place to remain on-air.


Funding woes are also facing public media in the wider region. Namibia’s public broadcaster, NBC, which has implemented cost-cutting measures in recent years, also recently entered into negotiations with the Namibia Public Workers Union (Napwu) regarding salary increases and the future of contract workers. One of the outcomes includes increasing one-month contracts to a full year. Napwu has given NBC until today to implement negotiation outcomes following alleged delays, which the Union suggests is partly due to bonuses paid to management in secret, before it also considers industrial action. NBC’s Director General, Stanley Similo, denies allegations about secret bonus payments.

Header image: South African Broadcast Corporation (SABC) Television Park in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. Credit: THEGIFT777/iStock