Today is likely to be a bizarre day for SABC news reporters in Johannesburg. Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters plan to march to the broadcaster’s offices in Auckland Park to protest the banning of their election advert, and Icasa’s role in upholding that ban. Will the SABC cover this story, happening right on their doorstep? If history repeats itself, as it so often does, it’s highly unlikely viewers will see the story on the public broadcaster’s news programmes…
The 27 October 2002 was just another bizarre news day in the SABC’s ANC-controlled Sea Point news office.
The appointment by Snuki Zikalala of Jeffrey Twala as regional editor and Kenneth Makatees as his deputy in 1998 turned a conventional news gathering institution on its head and our news office into an arena of chaos, news corruption and unspeakable stress which saw a news cameraman come close to suicide and almost two dozen reporters, camera operators and producers leaving in the next few years. Many, like myself, chose to leave with no other employment in prospect, dependent on the charity of friends and family and whatever we had managed to invest, because our work situation had been made unbearable by the news bias and abusive behaviour of people like Zikalala, Twala and Makatees.
With the complicit support of successive and news executives like, we simply became pawns in the ANC’s game. In Cape Town we were forbidden from reporting on anything that reflected badly on the ANC and forced to cover relentlessly anything that reflected badly on the Democratic Alliance – as I pointed out in my three articles, Government and investigations: the pathology of non-prosecution, Will Khayelitsha be given news of police commission? Probably not… and Broadcasting déjà vu in Cape Town.
October 2002 was a tumultuous month in Western Cape politics.
The ultimate South African political crosstitute, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, as Tony Leon sets out in his magisterial book, On the Contrary – Leading the Opposition in a Democratic South Africa (Jonathan Ball, 2008), was treacherously working behind the scenes with the ANC to take the NNP out of the DA and into a coalition with it, thus taking political control of the province and rendering it vulnerable to the predictable and inevitable looting which is a hallmark of ANC governance.
This required the Constitutional Court to amend the floor crossing legislation but, once that was done, Van Schalkwyk’s forty pieces of silver, a ministerial post, was assured.
Here’s how Leon summed it up: “In parliament I witnessed Van Schalkwyk’s new dance routine. He was unfazed by the outpourings of bile in the media and apparently untroubled by a poll in Die Burger which recorded that 80% of historically NNP voters did not support his alignment with the ANC. He poured honey on Mbeki’s head and denounced me and the party of which, until a few days before, he had been deputy leader as ‘representing old apartheid privileges.’
“Our media department had a field day publishing all van Schalkwyk’s recent denunciations and denigrations of the ANC. But it mattered little: he was on his way and unperturbed about anything so trivial as previous commitments and loyalties.”
D-Day for floor crossing was 26 October 2002 and, after organising a triumphal lead story on that night’s TV news bulletin, Twala worked on. He had arranged a live crossing to Ebrahim Rasool and Van Schalkwyk on the Morning Live programme the next day and the canteen staff were brought in before dawn to arrange a hearty breakfast for his political handlers. There was, of course, no DA representative invited to give a semblance of balance to the panel.
This was to be pure, exultant, undiluted ANC/New National Party propaganda and I recall an earlier conversation with Twala in which he told me that he was bringing Tony Yengeni into the studio “… to explain the problems the ANC is having.” No such invitation was ever extended to opposition parties like the Democratic Alliance.
Kortboek arrived, his halitosis hanging heavy in the air. He had a triumphant smirk on his face and he was followed by a beaming Rasool, who was clearly looking forward to the lush new tenderpreneurial – Somerset Hospital et al – world that awaited.
Once the live crossing was over and they had departed, Twala strode triumphantly out of the studios into the foyer. He was stopped in his tracks by a laconic comment from a male receptionist who was known for his sardonic sense of humour. “Hey Jeff,” he called. “Now that the ANC’s taken over, you’d better start polishing your CV, pal!” This was clear reference to Twala’s role as an ANC embedded news mole. Twala, clearly agitated and appalled that the receptionist in his upstart temerity did not appreciate his hugely important role in the bigger scheme of things, immediately put him in the picture. “No! No!” he cried. “I’ve been told (by the ANC) to stay here!”
But the day was to get even more bizarre later on.
Van Schalkwyk had, with typical treachery, shafted his erstwhile ally, Peter Marais over several allegations of sexual harassment so that he could move into Marais’ old digs, Leeuwenhof, the traditional home of the premier at the province.
That night, van Schalkwyk had planned a sumptuous spread in what was to be an ecstatic celebration of what was to come – four years during which the ANC’s deployed parasites would leach more than a billion rand out of the Cape Town municipality and the coffers of the province through tender and other scams which we, of course, were not allowed to report on.
Twala had, as one would expect, promised to send SABC television and radio news teams to cover the joyous ANC/NNP proceedings at Leeuwenhof.
The TV news team on duty that evening was a bright young Xhosa reporter, one of almost two dozen news staff who later resigned from the Sea Point office and a cameraman who I cannot mention because he still works for the Corporation and will be victimised.
About 18:00, as they were about to leave for Leeuwenhof, they spotted from the third floor news department, someone drowning at Rocklands Beach immediately in front of the SABC building on the Sea Point beachfront.
Grabbing their gear they raced towards the lifts where they encountered Twala who demanded to know where they were going. They replied that someone had been swept out to sea and Twala angrily remonstrated with them that they must depart immediately for the Premier’s residence.
Marthinus is waiting!
“Marthinus is waiting!” he shouted.
They kept going and as the cameraman frantically set up his tripod on the Sea Point promenade, the reporter found out what was happening.
The suburb is a haven for what are colloquially known as ‘strollers’, street children and youths who find its population charitable and its restaurants generous with food donations.
By the time the camera was rolling the street child had disappeared beneath the waves. People were running up and down the Sea Point promenade in panic. A rescue helicopter arrived and hovered over the area, then rescue vessels from the NSRI and the SAPs diving squad swept in and starting searching the area with urgency.
As news room staff looked on from their third floor vantage point they saw Twala waddle up to the working news team and he shouted that they must leave immediately for Leeuwenhof because, “Marthinus is waiting!”
By this time the reporter had found a friend of the vagrant who had witnessed his disappearance. Before he could glean any further information or start interviewing him, Twala, in a rage, demanded that the story be dropped and that they leave immediately for the ANC/NNP victory party.
The footage that had been shot by then was never even fed to Auckland Park and the rest of the staff in the building who had become aware of the drama and who watched the SABC television news bulletin that night in the hope of learning more, saw nothing. This was just one of many news stories – floods, shark attacks, major rescues at sea – that Twala refused to cover because abusing the news room and his subordinates for political objectives was more important to him than covering news.
The next morning the youth’s body washed up on Rocklands Beach and the story was subsequently carried in the Cape Times. The SABC was scooped literally on its doorstep but Twala was happy because the victory party featured prominently on the previous evening’s late night bulletin and was repeated on the early morning bulletins. His political handlers were happy and so, accordingly, was he. The sad life and tragic death of a street child was not worth mentioning, let alone worrying about and of Ubuntu there is no sign.
The denouement for Kortbroek was to come two years later on the 14 April 2004.
In the interim the NNP lost every by-election it fought against the DA and in 2003, disgusted by Van Schalkwyk’s servile pandering to his new political controllers and the way in which he had abandoned the interests of Afrikaans , nine New National Party MP’s, including Sheila Camerer, crossed the floor and returned to the DA.
I was reporting the 2004 election from Customs House on the Cape Town foreshore, the traditional home of the IEC in city. As the results came in it became increasingly obvious that the NNP’s traditional power base, Afrikaans-speaking people, had deserted it in general and Van Schalkwyk in particular with resounding contempt. In 1994 the party was financially sound under F W de Klerk and had 82 seats in parliament. A decade later, on the watch of van Schalkwyk it was bankrupt, unable to pay its debts or its employees and reduced to just seven representatives in the National Assembly. This constituted a 94% loss of electoral support in just a decade. In seven of the nine provinces it received only 1% of the votes cast. Van Schalkwyk’s PA, Rian Aucamp, a kind, capable and helpful man, sat watching the results coming in, his pallor reflecting the dismal performance of the once all-powerful party. A year later the NNP was dissolved and Fred Mouton, inimitable cartoonist at Die Burger, aptly and cogently depicted van Schalkwyk as a small, ugly dog urinating on the grave of the party he had betrayed and ruined financially and politically. But he has served his purpose, immensely enriching what Zwelinzima Vavi calls the “corrupt, predatory elite” which specialises in what Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe calls “dishonest wealth accumulation” – an ANC euphemism for theft.
Twala, despite having retired, remains ensconced at the SABC in Sea Point and for the forthcoming election Matthews, who wants a dream team in the province to ensure a firm ANC hand on the tiller, has coupled him with Kenneth Makatees. The latter returns from Auckland Park to a news office that, a decade ago, he, along with Twala, did so much to traumatise with an appallingly abusive approach to staff and to damage with pervasive pro-ANC/ anti-DA news bias, something that was repeatedly brought to the attention of Auckland Park’s politically-appointed grandees but pointedly ignored.
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