Public broadcaster’s archive system in a shambles
• It could not flight the sit-down it had with the struggle icon just a few weeks before his death
The SABC’S archives are in such a disastrous state that the public broadcaster has “lost” crucial archived material that include the exclusive interview done with former Robben Islander and revered struggle veteran Andrew Mlangeni.
The interview, recorded just weeks before Mlangeni died – at the time the last surviving Rivonia Trialist – captured some of the last moments of the stalwart. Mlangeni was incarcerated with former president and global icon Nelson Mandela, among others.
Sunday World can reveal that SABC political editor Mzwandile Mbeje had a sitdown for about an hour with Mlangeni at his home in Dube, Soweto, just before the ANC veteran turned 95 in June last year.
But when Mlangeni died the very next month, the SABC had “lost” the interview and could not broadcast the interview to the millions of viewers on the continent and further afield.
In terms of the Broadcasting Act, the SABC has a public mandate to “establish and maintain libraries and archives containing materials relevant to the objects of the corporation and to make available to the public such libraries and archives with or without charge”.
The SABC also has a duty in terms of the law to offer programming that informs, educates and entertains the public.
Sources at the corporation spoke of the poor state of the archives at the SABC, which led to the vanishing of the Mlangeni interview and other important recordings material.
“The archives are in a shambles and dysfunctional, adversely affecting the newsroom. To retrieve stuff is difficult. We could not find the Mlangeni interview when he died. It is a violation of the Broadcasting Act,” a source said.
Mlangeni’s son, Sello, said it was sad and disappointing that the SABC lost the interview, saying the public broadcaster had not communicated with the family regarding the matter.
“I am surprised that they have lost that interview … those [interviews] are supposed to be archived. That is sad, I must say. Disappointing,” he said, adding that the government had not sent the family the footage of Mlangeni’s official funeral in July. Mlangeni died at the 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria after complaining about his abdomen.
President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a special official funeral category 1 for Mlangeni, who in 1992 was awarded the Isithwalandwe/seaparankwe, the highest honour by the ANC for those who have made an outstanding contribution to the liberation struggle.
The struggle stalwart also received the Presidential Order for Meritorious Service: Class 1: Gold from Mandela in 1999.
Accused No 10 in the Rivonia Trial, Mlangeni was released in 1989 and became a member of parliament in the democratic South Africa until his retirement in 2014.
A former trade unionist, Mlangeni joined the ANC Youth League in 1951 and was a member of the SACP and Umkhonto we Sizwe.
It was not the first time that the SABC archives came under the spotlight.
Last year, former communications minister Yunis Carrim told the Zondo Commission into State Capture how it was concerning that the SABC gave access to its archives – said to be worth close to R1-billion – in a controversial 2013 deal for the corporation to broadcast its 24-hour news channel on Multichoice’s Dstv platform.
The SABC did not answer specific questions on what happened to the interview and whether anyone has been held accountable.
The corporation’s spokesperson, Mmoni Seapolelo, said the SABC as a public service broadcaster was fully cognisant of its responsibility to the public and took it seriously.
“However, the corporation, like any other institution, is not in any position to discuss every single detail of its daily internal operations in the media.
“There are systems and standard operating procedures that are in place to manage workflows and processes,” she said.
Lazola Kati, Right2know’s national communications organiser, said the SABC’S inability to produce pertinent records that were meant to be held by a public broadcaster showed a loss of mandate and neglect of certain aspects.
This, according to Kati, begged the question if the retrenchments were not affecting even record-keeping.
“Is it then a good idea to keep retrenching when clearly pertinent aspects of the SABC’S work are not being realised? The SABC needs to account for why it could not retrieve the interview,” she said.