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Herbst: Will SABC history repeat itself? Brown in Zikalala’s footsteps…

Aug 05 2016 10:54

By Ed Herbst*

“Some of us will not allow the media and particularly the public broadcaster which has a duty and responsibility to act fairly and impartially, free of political influence, to take decisions that are open to different interpretations.”

Jacob Zuma in a letter of complaint to SABC CE, Dali Mpofu about the last-minute cancellation by the SABC of a scheduled interview after he was declared news maker of the year by the Pretoria Press Club 19/12/2005

With the revolving door at the SABC spitting out gargantuan golden handshakes faster than Lewis Hamilton takes Eau Rouge flat on a good day, the past few weeks have been fascinating for media watchers.

Apart from the inevitable and ineluctable snouting there was a series of possibly interlinked happenings:

1 July – Karima Brown, Chief Content Officer at Dr Iqbal Survé’s Independent News Media company joins an SABC picket and gives ironic interviews about censorship which has been practised assiduously at the Cape Times during her tenure at Independent News Media (Pty) Ltd.

5 July – Jesse Duarte gets very cross about what Karima Brown said during her interviews outside the SABC and an Indy reporter is summoned to the presence and read the Riot Act

7 July: Julius Malema correctly predicts the departure of Karima Brown from Independent Newspapers and is quoted in the New Age as saying Jackson Mthembu wants her to run the SABC.

29 July – Karima Brown resigns with immediate effect

31 July – Interviewed by Eusebius McKaiser for the eNCA programme Meet the Media, Brown would not comment on why she had suddenly abandoned a sinking ship but said she had some “ideas” where she was going.

Prelude to an election

All this happened in the prelude to an election.

This took me back to the legislative elections which were held on Wednesday, 14 April 2004. President Thabo Mbeki was re-elected with an increased majority.

Luthuli House, prior to this election had indicated that it was deeply unhappy about the fact that President Thabo Mbeki was not dominating the SABC news bulletins 24/7 and that far too much broadcasting time was being devoted to the Jali Commission of Inquiry into the corrupt hellholes that our prisons had become after a decade of ANC governance.

Here is a timeline:

22 February 2004 – City Press reveals that SABC board members want to bring back Snuki Zikalala.

26 March 2004 – Anton Harber writes on the Wits Journalism website of Zikalala’s return:

“It means SABC news will move from its current position of relative independence to something much closer to the ruling party. Zikalala is not a journalist one links to words like “independent” or “critical”. It is not just that he is an ardent ANC supporter for there is nothing wrong with that per se but he is close to that faction of the ANC that wants to see the SABC less critical and more sympathetic to the ruling party.”

16 April 2004 – Zikalala is appointed SABC managing director of news and current affairs. Luthuli House, then controlled by the Mbeki faction, waits until two days after the 2004 election to make the announcement because it knows that Zikalala’s appointment will be controversial – and this assessment was entirely correct.

He subsequently destroyed the SABC’s news credibility and bankrupted it with his African Renaissance fantasy, the 24-hour news channel, SABC News International.

Internecine betrayal

What followed thereafter was an extraordinarily dark albeit typical story of internecine ANC betrayal and counter-betrayal but, above all, a betrayal of the Constitution and the citizen’s right to know.

Zikalala’s first task was to abuse the SABC media influence and reach in order to ensure that Cell C got the third cellphone licence. This was because the majority of the shareholders in Cell C were Saudis and they had been promised by the ANC, come what may, that their bid would be the winning one in return for a $60m donation to ANC funds. As RW Johnson commented:

The manipulation of the tendering process for this multi-billion rand project was so obvious that it became a major impediment to foreign investors: it was one of the three greatest factors contributing to the 43 per cent drop in foreign investment in South Africa in 2000.

With that accomplished, Zikalala’s task, on behalf of President Thabo Mbeki, was to deny Jacob Zuma SABC airtime.

As the anchor quote to this article indicates, matters came to a head in December 2005 with a last-minute cancellation on spurious grounds of a scheduled SABC radio interview with Zuma.

Singing his own praises

Zuma bided his time and, after the Polokwane Putsch, Zikalala was toast. The Sowetan claimed that a crying Zikalala said: “The ANC voted for a monkey.” He denied the claim and did not suffer a Penny Sparrow-type backlash but, 16 months thereafter, his contract came to an end and was not renewed. The man who was cited at the TRC for human rights abuses left, much derided but singing his own praises and blaming his demise on his white South African fellow citizens rather than the Zuma faction of the ANC.

With the SABC now firmly under the control of the Zuma faction and with Jimi (The door or the window) Matthews and the man so loved by Baba in control, President Thabo Mbeki’s lecture on OR Tambo as part of the Celebration of the Centenary of the ANC at Fort Hare University on 19 October 2012 was totally censored.

At one minute and 55 seconds on this YouTube clip, which is featured on the Thabo Mbeki website, he says:

“However, before I reflect on this important matter, which is obviously relevant to the Centenary of the ANC, I must state that I have prepared this lecture deeply troubled by a feeling of great unease that our beloved Motherland is losing its sense of direction, and that, we are allowing ourselves to progress towards a costly disaster of a protracted and endemic general crisis.

Today, as we meet here at Fort Hare, I, for one, am not certain about where our country and nation will be tomorrow, and what I should do in this regard, to respond to what is obviously a dangerous and unacceptable situation of directionless and unguided national drift.”

No soundbite

Compare that to the 42-second news bulletin insert which the SABC of Hlaudi Motsoeneng and Jimi Matthews allocated to this story in which not a single soundbite from Mbeki was used – the entire story was done as a presenter voiceover with the express purpose of silencing him and denying the nation the opportunity to hear his criticism of the Zuma faction – the first time Mbeki had spoken publicly since his ousting.

In contrast to this, three weeks later, the SABC live-streamed President Zuma’s ANC centenary lecture on the SABC2 channel for one hour, 41 minutes and 37 seconds and the subject was the very man previously silenced (quite literally) by the state broadcaster. As the comments below the YouTube clip indicate, the irony was not lost on those who viewed the clip.

This is how the ANC rolls.

At war with itself

At the moment the ANC is at war with itself over Hlaudi Motsoeneng who has caused it unending embarrassment just prior to an election. While Jackson Mthembu and Gwede Mantashe express concern, Communications Minister Faith Muthambi sings his praises.

Snuki Zikalala has also now entered the fray and criticised Hlaudi’s censorship. In small but ironic measure this might be justified – in his time he was flayed because of his “blacklist”. Now, under Motsoeneng we have “no list” with a total ban on political discussion on SABC radio talk shows.

Will the Zuma faction emulate what the Mbeki faction did back in April 2004 with Snuki Zikalala and wait until a few days after the election before announcing that Karima Brown will return to the SABC?

It would be ironic if history repeats itself given what she said in a Business Day article (27/6/2006) after leaving the SABC where she had been Executive Producer of the SABC radio news programmes, AM Live and Midday Live:

“The organisational culture and ethos in the Auckland Park newsroom promote self-censorship. Under the guise of transformation, the SABC has been all but hijacked by a clique of self-serving government lackeys who believe they alone know what the public should see and hear. These individuals are not just in news management. They are on the SABC board, in the newsrooms and they even include senior journalists.”

Ed Herbst is a pensioner and former reporter who writes in his own capacity.

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anc  |  biznews  |  thabo mbeki  |  censorship  |  broadcasting
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