“Magic Mirror in my hand, who is the fairest in the land?”
“My Queen, you are the fairest in the land”
The Brothers Grimm
Ed Herbst gives an assessment on how the SABC, through manipulated news coverage, stried to minimise the negative impact of President Jacob Zuma’s non-attendance of the Westminster Abbey memorial service for Nelson Mandela and how the same techniques are being used to downplay and conceal growing public dissent over ANC corruption and maladministration.
On 27 February, President Jacob Zuma, speaking at the launch of Independent News and Media SA in Cape Town, said, “We need a media sector that is an accurate mirror of ourselves regardless of race, colour, gender, class, creed or geographical location.”
While one must assume that the speech he read out at the function to celebrate the takeover of the formerly independent Independent News and Media SA (INMSA) by Iqbal Survé was written by someone else, did its dreadful ironies not strike him?
Did it not occur to him that the most powerful media mirror by far in this country is the SABC, which has been controlled by the ANC since the Mbeki era through deployed cadre proxies like Snuki Zikalala and Hlaudi Motsoeneng and that the Corporation’s routine censorship by omission, dating from the time when the Scorpions first started investigating him for Arms Deal corruption, hardly makes for the “accurate” reflection he claims to favour?
It’s all smoke and mirrors, isn’t it?
On 27 January the Telegraph in the United Kingdom broke the story that in a deliberate snub to Queen Elizabeth and the British people, President Jacob Zuma had let it be known that he would be “too busy” to attend a memorial service for Nelson Mandela which, as a special dispensation to honour South Africa’s most hallowed son, would be held in Westminster Abbey.
What is outrageous and shames us all as South Africans was that the service was the first in the 1000 year history of the building to honour someone who was not British and that originally the service was to have been held on 11 February. It was then specifically re-scheduled to 3 March to accommodate President Jacob Zuma. The British government was then informed that Zuma would be “too busy” to attend even the rescheduled memorial service but he was apparently not so busy that he had to decline an invitation to attend the lavish wedding of Robert Mugabe’s daughter in Zimbabwe on 1 March. Queen Elizabeth, who had been scheduled to attend, immediately let it be known that she would be sending Prince Harry in her stead – a savage but entirely appropriate démarche.
I watched an SABC TV news preview of the ceremony on Sunday, 2 March – the night before it was held – on the DStv Channel 404 SABC 24 hour news bulletin at 7 pm
The elephant in the room was the fact the President Jacob Zuma would not be attending the service but, the previous day, had attended Bona Mugabe’s in Harare.
The bulletin led with the Oscar Pistorius trial but the Westminster Abbey story, presented by Mzwandele Mbeje, who normally covers the presidential beat, followed.
Extensive coverage was given. We saw Vice President Kgalema Mothlanthe arriving in the UK, we had a piece to camera by Mbeje, vox pops and an interview with a British historian – but nowhere was the Zuma snub mentioned.
There was also no interview with Zuma – but we know that whenever Zuma crooks his finger, the state broadcaster runs to do his bidding so the absence of a Zuma interview explaining the intentional insult was intentional.
Neither was there an interview with anyone else from government and the fact that we were nostril-deep in elephant excreta and the stench was nauseating, was simply ignored.
The Sunday Times had carried the story on its front page that morning and its headline went to the heart of this egregious decision – ‘Zuma chooses Mugabe over Mandela’. Damage control started a few hours later. At 17:11 an exculpatory story was placed on the SABC website but once again and significantly, Zuma was not directly quoted anywhere in the story. There was, however, an extraordinary give-away line in the last sentence of the opening paragraph: “The Presidency has downplayed claims that the absence of President Jacob Zuma at the memorial service of former President Nelson Mandela in London is a lost opportunity to boost diplomatic ties between South Africa and its former colonial master Britain.” (my emphasis). National Party Prime Minister H F Verwoerd took South Africa out of the Commonwealth on 31 May 1961 – that’s 53 years ago. However, while the SABCnever misses an opportunity to raise the spectre of apartheid and colonialism to distract us from countrywide crises, this was an inappropriate occasion to raise such an utterly irrelevant fact – irrelevant because England was home to many activists during the anti-apartheid campaign such as Thabo Mbeki who completed his university education there.
What is quite clear is that the ANC had decided that it could not risk another high profile booing incident on an international stage and it accordingly sent someone with credibility and gravitas – qualities that President Jacob Zuma sorely lacks – in the person of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.
Another question – why was Zuma ’s presence at the Mugabe wedding not mentioned let alone covered by the SABC – even on its news website? Cost has never been a factor when it comes to coverage of an ANC president. Clearly, given the fact that Zuma was “too busy” to honour the memory of Nelson Mandela in London, his presence at the Mugabe wedding was correctly deemed it by Luthuli House to be adding insult to injury – hence the otherwise aberrational silence from His Master’s Voice.
In its 4 March coverage of the service the BBC, always a role model, mentioned Zuma’s absence in the first few sentences of the news insert and mentioned it again on its website: “It had been hoped the South African guests here would be led by President Jacob Zuma but he cancelled last week.
He spent the weekend at the wedding of Robert Mugabe’s daughter in Zimbabwe”.
True to form, the state broadcaster in its coverage of the event on 4 March by Mbeje used its standard modus operandi, censorship by omission, and made no mention of Zuma’s absence.
So what did number one consider more important than honouring the name and memory of Nelson Mandela along with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, British Prime Minister David Cameron, anti apartheid campaigner and former Labour Party MP and Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain, actor Idris Elba (who played Mandela in the film of Long Walk to Freedom) and several thousand people in one of the most historical buildings in the world?
We are indebted to City Press for the truly riveting answer: He started his highly important day by pressing the flesh at the Park Station in Johannesburg and then held a routine meeting with party officials.
Zuma’s actions are hardly unexpected – the UK received an explicit warning when it cut off aid to South Africa in April last year.
“This unilateral announcement no doubt will affect how our bilateral relations going forward will be conducted,” Clayson Monyela, the foreign ministry spokesman, said in a statement.
Now the UK Foreign Office knows exactly what Monyela was referring to.
Don’t expect any question on that matter to be canvassed with Luthuli House anytime soon.
Smoke and mirrors
It’s all smoke and mirrors isn’t it.
As acrid smoke drifts across our benighted landscape, an eNCA video clip contains an extraordinary admission. In it, the former social worker, now National Police Commissioner, Riah Phiyega, says that police are having to counter 1800 violent service delivery protests annually – that’s five a day!
In Gauteng alone, the cost of repairing infrastructural damage caused during recent protest riots is estimated at R65-million of which Bekkersdal contributed R20-million.
Unsurprisingly the face of this protest is Zuma and among its the symbols are his bucolic country retreat Nkandla, which is our version of Versailles, e-tolls and the ANC corruption which has, for example, deliberately created and exploited water shortages in Madibeng for financial gain resulting in death and destruction.
Watch, I urge you, the video clip of an eNCA investigation into this corruption, “Cashing in on a Crisis”.
Weep with Audrey Seema as she quietly but with great dignity, tears washing her cheeks, grieves at the grave of her son, Lerato, who died as a result of the ANC’s deployed parasite corruption. And, in the evocative words of Alan Paton, cry the beloved country as you watch an eNCA reporter confront ANC tenderpreneur Elias Mokwena of Chokzo Construction starting at 5:08 in the clip.
By any standards this is investigative journalism of which we can be proud. It is articulate, it is angry and one’s involuntary response is visceral – it rends the heart and churns the gut.
That anger burst onto the world stage on 10 December during the Nelson Mandela memorial service at the FNB Stadium in Soweto when President Zuma was booed with all the world’s leading news agencies present to bear witness to the regard in which he is held by ordinary South Africans.
An IPSOS poll and countrywide insurrection confirm that anger and frustration and, as Rhodes University academic Richard Pithouse, has pointed out, the booing on that day was, to use an incendiary metaphor, no flash in the pan.
The media mirror that President Zuma would have us believe was supposed to “accurately” reflect ourselves on that less than august occasion, was the SABC.
Let’s pause for a moment and assess just how powerful that mirror is.
After Mandela – The Struggle for Freedom in Post-Apartheid South Africa by Douglas Foster (W W Norton & Company, 2012) is required reading for those who wish to gain more understanding of where we are today and what brought us to this point. It contains two media-related chapters, ‘The Chroniclers’, which relates to newspapers and ‘On the Air’, which covers the SABC. The two chapters provide significant insights into the political ideology that drives “struggle journalists” like Moegsien Williams, Snuki Zikalala and Jimi Matthews. Foster writes of the reach of the SABC: “An estimated twenty million South Africans, more than half the population of adults, tuned in to the corporation’s radio stations. Six million viewers watched its television programmess. The news chief (Zikalala at the time) had 630 permanent staff and more than 600 people under contract to help him gather and present the news, making him the most powerful media manager in the country.”
The ANC’s manipulation of the most powerful communication medium in the country through routine censorship by omission is unconstitutional, illegal and unethical but an increasingly restive population is speaking out and the SABC is desperately trying to silence their voices and to withhold from them the truth.
Luthuli House, through proxies like Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Jimi Matthews and Nyana Molete has not so much drawn a veil over the SABC mirror as covered it with the darkest of shrouds.
President PW Botha tried but did not succeed in silencing the voice of the people and in preventing them from learning the truth. President Jacob Zuma is, with the help of the SABC, trying just as hard but in a social media age and milieu, he has even less chance of succeeding.
IMAGE: Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu at the service for Nelson Mandela in Westminster Abbey / GCIS.