Thursday, October 1, 2009


Johannesburg, 1 Oct 2009

The hunger coalition announced this morning that production assistant Zamambo Tshabalala has now reached her 25th day without food as the latest step in the coalition’s rolling protest to call for an ethical public broadcaster.

“I'm amazed actually,” Tshabalala says. “I no longer want food. Now it's just a question of having enough strength. I have felt dizzy a few times in the mornings, but if I sleep enough, take a nap, whatever, I feel terrific.”

The coalition will be holding a press conference on the morning of Tuesday October 6 at 9 AM at Atlas Studios in Milpark. At this conference, Tshabalala will break her fast and answer questions about her experience. At the same time, the next protestor will be introduced who will take over from Tshabalala.

The protest started almost two months ago now, when director/producer Michael Lee, stopped eating as a way to demand transparency and partnership from the SABC and especially to highlight the threatened slashing of local content. He reached 30 days before resuming food amid pressure from family and colleagues.

Lee handed over to six other protestors. Five stopped short of their original vows of 21 days, including the student producer and director of a documentary about the protest. Meanwhile, Tshabalala has just kept going.

The coalition is encouraged that emerging talent such as Zama has shown such resolute determination to change the landscape at the SABC. Her determination is a shining example of the pool of emerging talent within South Africa who want their voices heard and acknowledged.

Tshabalala said “Most people close to me have said that taking a stand with my body, myself like this is ridiculous. They don't seem to understand what is at stake. Or what I've gotten from this experience – one thing I have learned is I am capable of far more than others think I am, or than even I think I am.”

Tshabalala points out that the crisis is only now starting to reach the average person's consciousness now that programs are being affected. The South African audience is staring to sit up and take notice.

“The last couple days on SABC1 and 2, the screen, a couple times, just went black, and stayed that way. Once on the news, it cut to another program for a few seconds, and then back. Now people are really starting to wonder what is going on there.”

Last week the Cape Argus reported that both current and previous employees of the SABC could face criminal charges and that some of these individuals would be suspended. On Tuesday this week, the Sowetan and other publications reported that three specific executives had in fact been suspended.

When asked if this move gives hope to the hunger protestors, Lee expressed ambivalence: “It's good to see action. But whether this leads to the values of transparency, accountability, respect, and humanity, being followed at the SABC as a national public broadcaster remains to be seen.”
Gwen Britz, a co-founder of the protest, is cautious. As a media placement specialist she is concerned that the imminent suspension of staff at the SABC was reported in the media prior to the suspensions being effected: "The reports being issued in the public domain, in advance, via the media, is concerning as it does not appear to follow due process required by the Labour Act”.

In Britz' view, supported by research she has done since the announcement, Disciplinary Codes and Grievance Procedures already in place at the SABC may well be violated by the way things have been done. If so, she says, "this could just lead to more golden handshakes rather than tangible results.”