Yesterday, we published a piece by Stephen Grootes about how the media tends to humiliate ANC leaders. Today we publish Jane Duncan’s reply. Both stories were first published in The Media magazine as part of a series called Dignity in the Media.
The ANC gets treated with far more respect by the media than by the rank and file. But, then, maybe the leading party deserve it, says Jane Duncan.
Stephen Grootes argues that the media needs to engage with the ANC leadership at Luthuli House on the issue of dignity – presumably to try and narrow the gap in understanding between the media and the ANC.
But just how accurate is Grootes’s assessment of the feelings of “a sizeable proportion of the population”? In the public sector strike last year, some of the slogans, posters and songs about the ANC leadership satirised them in such a merciless, undignified way, they would have made Zapiro blush.
According to The Times, a crude song sung in the strike about the Minister of Public Service and Administration, Richard Baloyi, had “sexually explicit lyrics [that were] unprintable in a family newspaper”. The striking workers indecently gyrated their hips and spread their thighs, demonstrating what they thought Baloyi had been doing during his time in Cabinet.
Other ministers were also lampooned in the most undignified ways possible, with everything from Jacob Zuma’s propensity for collecting wives to Angie Motshekga’s looks coming under attack. So personal were the attacks on the ANC leadership that the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) apologised for the insults.
But what explains the enmity shown by Cosatu members towards the leadership that they were responsible for voting into office? The outpourings suggest anger at the growing gap between leaders and the rank and file. They also suggest that there are shifts in consciousness taking place about the nature of Zuma’s rule. Workers have experienced a decline in living standards, made worse by the global recession, while their leaders are seen to be living it up.
Perhaps the most gross example of the sort of conspicuous consumption that sticks in the craw of many South Africans was when businessman Kenny Kunene spent R700 000 on his 40th birthday party in Sandton, where he ate sushi served from the body of a half-naked woman.
When Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi accused Kunene and his guests of “spitting in the faces of the poor”, and Cosatu deputy president Zingiswa Losi said that they inhabited “a decadent sewer of conspicuous consumption”, ANC Youth League president Julius Malema’s response was to the effect that it was their revolutionary duty to party. In a riposte to Vavi, Kunene claimed brazenly that his party actually cost more than R700 000.
Many ANC supporters must be feeling that their own dignity is being stripped away by the behaviour of their leaders and those politically connected to them. After all, they were responsible for bringing an administration into office in the names of the poor and the working class.
The contemptuous behaviour of the Kunenes and Malemas of this world must make voters wonder whether they haven’t been fooled into voting in an administration that is far more concerned about its own pockets than the needs of the electorate.
With speedy accumulation and corruption the order of the day, the Zuma administration is rapidly losing legitimacy among the very people who supported the ‘Polokwane revolution’. Increasingly, they refuse to be blinded by the bling. The ferocity of the insults hurled at ANC leaders during the strike could be seen as a reaction to expectations raised by the ‘Polokwane revolution’, only to be dashed by the new elite’s scramble for the booty of government.
Grootes is right that ANC leaders need to be engaged about how they understand the right to dignity, relative to the right to freedom of expression. But the engagement needs to rather be on why they are allowing the get-rich-quick set who feed at the trough in the name of the ANC to spit in the faces of millions of ordinary South Africans.
If the media are to engage with Luthuli House, they must point out that when they expose the gap between the ANC’s ideals and the actual conduct of those who have made their wealth out of being politically connected to the ANC, then they are not to blame for insulting their dignity. They must point out that the president has only himself to blame for reporting and cartooning that lampoons his sexual conduct, if he uses his position of authority to get more nookie.
Grootes need not be concerned that the media are out of step with majority sentiment when they say these things. The public sector strike suggested that they pale into insignificance when compared to the things that are being said by ordinary South Africans. The position of organised workers is a relatively privileged one, so imagine what is being said by the unemployed. After all, if you spit in someone’s face, don’t expect a polite response.
This story was first published in The Media magazine.