An analysis of the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC’s) annual reports over the last four years shows that South Africans have steadily stopped paying their TV licences.
This figure is tracked annually as an ‘evasion rate’ – the estimated number of TV licence holders in South Africa who are reported to make use of a television set but have not paid their annual licence fee.
The TV licence evasion rate stands at 82.1% in 2021 – indicating that the vast majority of South Africans are not paying their licence fees.
Notably, this is up from 80.6% in 2020, and is a significant increase from the evasion rate of 69% in 2019.
This jump can be partially attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic which directly impacted collection processes and the ability of many South Africans to pay annual licence fees. However, the data also shows a clear trend of fewer people paying for their TV licences.
“The current depressed economic environment resulted in a lower collection than anticipated,” the national broadcaster said in its 2021/2022 annual report.
“While there is current legislative prescripts of imprisonment and payment of fines for non-compliance, the limited resources and costs required to make this at present uneconomically viable.”
Under current regulations, first-time applicants for a television licence must pay the full annual fee of R265. Renewals must then be made annually before the licence expires, with users given the option of paying R264 each year or R28 in monthly instalments.
While South Africa’s TV licence evasion rate is not a new problem, the SABC’s deteriorating financial position means it is increasingly looking at new ways to make up this revenue shortfall.
In a November 2021 presentation to parliament, the national broadcaster said it was considering plans to scrap the traditional TV licence model in South Africa in favour of a new public media levy.
The new levy would be device-independent and apply to all households and businesses.
It would also be based on whether South Africans can access the content, not just whether they watch it. South Africans would therefore be required to pay the levy even if they don’t watch SABC content – simply being able to access it, on any device, is enough.
The SABC noted that the current TV licence model is based on ownership of a TV set and is thus outdated and will make collections more complicated. It added that developments in technology meant that people could access television content through many different devices and platforms.
However, it will provide for an exemption for the indigent and discounts for pensioners, it said.