“The commission was delayed by a year when Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa unsuccessfully challenged its validity in court, only starting up again last week. It was mandated to investigate the alleged inefficiency of the police in the area and the breakdown of relations between the Khayelitsha community and the police.”
‘Vavi tells of disappointment with Khayelitsha police’ – Mail & Guardian 3/2/2014
According to the SABC’s own commissioned research the South African public regards its news department as being biased towards the ANC and the reason for that absolutely justified perception is simple – the ubiquitous smartphone.
Throughout the day our smartphones enable us to receive and assess news from a variety of traditional sources as well as social media and this gives us the information we need to analyse the SABC’s news bulletins.
The way in which the SABC censors by omission news that it deems detrimental to the ANC then becomes immediately obvious. A case in point is the now notorious censorship of the booing of President Jacob Zuma on 10 December last year at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela and in the Corporation’s deliberate refusal to interview Thamsanqa Jantjie
Khayelitsha Police Commission
If further proof of this censorship by omission is needed then one need only look at how little coverage the Khayelitsha Police Commission, headed by former Chief Justice Kate O’Regan and former head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Advocate Vusi Pikoli, is receiving on the flagship SABC 7pm English TV news bulletin.
The mandate of the Commission is to investigate allegations of inefficiency at the three police stations in Khayelitsha and the resulting breakdown in relations between the community there and the police who are meant to serve and protect them. But are the residents themselves being kept informed on the progress of the commission and its findings? Probably not as the SABC is not giving them the story.
I have monitored SABC news night after night for weeks since the first sitting of the Commission on 23 January and I have seen nothing.
Perhaps Jimi Matthews, the head of SABC news can explain this, given the fact that three previous Commissions of Inquiry in Cape Town – the Democratic Alliance-appointed Heath Commission of Inquiry into the street renaming scandal when the DA’s Peter Marais was mayor, the Desai Commission of Inquiry into the Jurgen Harksen scandal and the illegal Erasmus Commission – were given constant coverage for weeks on end by the state broadcaster. The self-evident reason is that the Heath and Desai commissions were an embarrassment to the Democratic Alliance, the illegal Erasmus Commission was set up by the ANC specifically to embarrass the DA and was given unrelenting SABC coverage until it was terminated by court order and the current investigation into the situation at the Khayelitsha police station is being virtually ignored by the SABC precisely because it embarrasses the ANC.
Police minister Nathi Mthetwa abused tax payers’ money exploring every legal avenue to prevent the current Commission from sitting specifically because the situation in Khayelitsha mirrors what is happening at police stations throughout the country.
Media friends attending the Khayelitsha Commission tell me that the SABC does occasionally send news teams to the hearings, but that very little of the material is being used – in complete contrast to the lengthy inserts which were flighted throughout the day and on evening television news bulletins when the Heath Desai and Erasmus Commissions were sitting – to the carefully orchestrated political detriment of the DA.
There was one element of the evidence heard by the O’Regan/Pikoli Commission that speaks to the unspeakable grief of our citizens. Each of the detectives working on murder cases at the Khayalitsha police stations is dealing, on average, with more than 120 dockets – simultaneously!
Each of those dockets represents the grief, the anger, the trauma of a parent, a spouse, a child or a sibling and the chances of them getting any sort of closure is virtually zero.
On 8 June 2001 the Mail & Guardian broke the story about fraudulent petitions created by two Cape Town municipality officials aligned to Peter Marais who wished to leave a lasting legacy of his tenure as mayor by changing the name of Adderley and Wale Streets in the CBD to Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk Avenue respectively. The response was outrage and opposition as the overwhelming sentiment was that these two historic streets should not be renamed and that some other means of honouring the two Nobel laureates should be found.
Marais suggested a referendum by petition and the whistle was blown when a young lawyer working at the municipality, Victoria Johnson, realised that the handwriting on page after page of names supporting Marais’ proposal were the same – something which was later confirmed by a hand writing expert. DA leader Tony Leon set up a Commission, headed by former Judge Willem Heath, who found that Marais had misinformed the public and the media and not deported himself with the decorum his office demanded. This was to have a profound impact on politics in the province.
Marais resigned, Marthinus van Schalkwyk took his NNP colleagues into the ANC, which gave the ANC control of the Cape Town municipality and the provincial legislature and the looting began in earnest as more than a billion rand was siphoned out of the now ANC–controlled municipality through ‘developments’ such as Big Bay 1&2, Jewellery City, N2 Gateway etc. The SABC’s Sea Point news office under the control of Jeffrey Twala and Kenneth Makatees gave maximum coverage to anything that embarrassed the DA and coverage of anything that embarrassed the ANC was forbidden. I have written of the takeover of the SABC’s Sea Point newsroom on a previous occasion.
In the context of the Heath Commission my abiding memory is of the Outside Broadcast vehicles filling Wale Street outside the building where the Heath Commission sat. This gave the Heath Commission hearing the same level of coverage that the Oscar Pistorius trial is getting now. To the detriment and damage of the DA, the story dominated the SABC’s TV and radio news bulletins for weeks on end in complete contrast to the paucity of coverage of the O’Regan Commission on those bulletins today.
Two Commissions of Inquiry in the Western Cape were set up by ANC Premiers – the Desai Commission by Peter Marais and the Erasmus Commission by the Ebrahim Rasool, each one with the specific intent of inflicting as much political damage to the Democratic Alliance. Both Marais and Rasool liaised constantly and closely with Twala, the SABC regional editor in the Western Cape, to maximise that damage through unrelenting coverage by the state broadcaster.
When the Desai Commission had run its course the judge had to acknowledge that although he had found no concrete evidence of corruption against the DA, the evidence nevertheless “seemed to lead into an immense heart of darkness”. Nobody was ever prosecuted but the Scorpions, using the SABC to give maximum publicity, constantly leaked information saying that the arrest of DA politicians such as Gerald Morkel and Leon Markowitz for money laundering was imminent. Predictably, such arrests never happened but saturation coverage by the SABC kept the DA on the back foot – which was the intention.
(Ironically, once Harksen had been extradited to Germany he confessed to giving much more money to the ANC than he had given to the DA but if Judge Desai was looking for the “heart of darkness” he should have called for a Commission of Inquiry into the amounts donated to the ANC by Brett Kebble and, in particular to ANC Youth League members in the Western Cape.
When Kebble was murdered the ANC’s Essop Pahad, speaking at Kebble’s memorial service which was attended by most of the ANCs leading politicians, called for silence on fraudster’s interaction with the ANC and lashed out at media exposés of Kebble’s criminality. Those exposés, of course, never came from the SABC. Go to the Special Assignment website and type the words ‘Brett Kebble’ into the search bar and the instant response is: No result.)
The third commission, the Erasmus Commission, was instituted by then Premier, Ebrahim Rasool, whose bribing of journalists – the notorious brown envelope scandal – and dodgy deals on property like Somerset Hospital resulted in the ANC recalling him and hastily appointing him as US ambassador.
Building on the propaganda success of the Desai Commission, Rasool appointed as secretary to the Commission, a Cape Town attorney Zithulele Twala who, by extraordinary coincidence, just happened to be the brother of SABC’s Twala. However, when Rasool was found by the Cape High Court to have set up the Commission as a political smear campaign, this propaganda initiative against the Democratic Alliance was stillborn.
DA leader Helen Zille, speaking at the Cape Town Press Club on 25 April 2008 said, “It is no coincidence that Zithulele Twala, the Erasmus commission’s secretary, is the brother of Jeffrey Twala, the regional editor of SABC television news. I think it is fair to describe SABC’s television coverage of the Erasmus commission as ‘selective’ to put it mildly. But its reach is enormous. The commission will prove to be a poison-dripping tap, over many months, leaving a lethal lake that will be impossible to mop up in the course of my testimony. And I will be overcome by the fumes as I try to do so. But that, of course, is the purpose. And it is pure power abuse.”
She was never sued by either of the Twala brothers.
The censorship by the DStv Channel 404 SABC 7 pm TV news bulletin of the Khayelitsha Police Commission simply emphasises how justified are the attitudes of all South Africans reflected in the Corporation’s own and recent market research findings:
•The majority of respondents feel that the SABC’s news is biased towards the ANC;
•The perception of political bias and pro-ANC political reporting creates low credibility of political reporting among SABC News viewers;
•Most consumers seek other news sources to find balanced political views of events such as Marikana or President Zuma’s compound at Nkandla;
•SABC 1 is believed to be the more biased of the SABC’s three free-to-air TV channels; and
•There is a perception that politicians make decisions on content rather than the editors.
As the DA’s communications spokeswoman, Marian Shinn, put it: “Clearly, mismanagement and manipulation of its agenda by unscrupulous characters such as Acting COO Hlaudi Motsoeneg have tarnished the public broadcaster’s reputation. This report suggests that the SABC is seen as a mouth piece for the ANC, which is why we believe it has been buried.
“We will do what we can to ensure that the report is brought to light so that it can be debated and discussed in Parliament.”
Nothing will be done now or in future about the corrupt news gathering policies at the Sea Point office of the SABC which have been the subject of repeated reports given to the management of the state broadcaster over more than a decade because corruption busting is not very high on the ANC’s list of priorities.
What corroborates that statement is the fact that former communications minister, the disgraced Dina Pule, has just been returned to parliament because she is regarded by the governing party as the 70th best politician in the country.
IMAGE: Khayelitsha Metrorail Station / Wikimedia Creative Commons
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