“Burn Herald burn, passop Herald passop! The battle is between the ANC and the media. The primary battle in this democracy is against the media.” Nceba Faku, former mayor of the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality and ANC chairman in the region, urging several hundred party members to burn down the EP Herald building on 19 May 2011 after the newspaper had reported on his corruption.
“They will ‘close the building’ if media house Primedia continues to depict the ANC as it did in the Congress of Clowns cartoon, ANC national spokesperson Zizi Kodwa has warned.” City Press 1/6/2014
My heart sank when I read the headlines on 29 May…
‘Appalling’ clown cartoon angers ANC
ANC blasts ‘offensive’ EWN cartoon
Were we going to see another scenario which damages our image abroad like the ugliness which we saw when the ANC took to the streets over Jacob Zuma’s spear; burnt copies of City Press; intimidated vendors selling the newspaper; when the paper’s journalists received death threats and editor Ferial Hafajee was subjected to the most vicious of mysogonystic insults and when Blade Nzimande called for a boycott of the newspaper and Jackson Mthembu said that City Press reporters would no longer be allowed to interview the ANC politicians whose salaries they paid with their taxes?
Or the intimidating threat by President Zuma to sue Zapiro over the ‘Rape of Lady Justice’ cartoon, which was never going to happen because the chances of an ANC politician going into the witness box to testify under oath is as likely as Count Dracula prising open the lid of his coffin and fervently embracing the Cross?
There can be no doubt that the Congress of Clowns cartoon was disrespectful of the eleven and a half million people who voted for the ANC in the 7 May election. That point was made with his usual eloquence by Justice Malala in his column headlined ‘The people are never wrong’ in The Times of 2 June. Cartoonist Zapiro also stressed this point but said that if the cartoon was racist the easiest test was to take the matter to Equality Court – and the ANC has wasted billions of rands in the past two decades by litigating or defending cases which it has not won. There will, of course, be no Equality Court challenge – it is far easier to threaten to close the buildings of media organisations.
I was glad, though, that the FXI aroused itself from its normal torpor and questioned the validity of the ANC protest but was struck by the extraordinary hypocrisy with which the ANC had, yet again, played the race card.
The ANC is never happier than when it can play the race card, attack the media or dredge up our apartheid past. Only two of the “perfect storm” ingredients were available to the ANC on 30 May when it protested against the EWN cartoon outside the Primedia building, but one of the protestors did her best on the third when her placard linked the cartoon to the Holocaust.
The question has been widely debated of why so many people vote for the ANC when the country is in the grip of low level insurrection over the lack of service delivery, the gap between rich and poor widens by the day, endemic corruption troubles every sector of our society and we watch with shame and humiliation our precipitate drop in world rankings on every measure of effective governance. The Congress of Clowns cartoon reflected that debate in a visual way.
Ironically, on the same day that the recently appointed ANC spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa, was getting off to a good start in his new posting by threatening to close the Primedia building over the Congress of Clowns cartoon – no different in principle from a previous ANC threat to burn down a newspaper building in Port Elizabeth – the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela was using a more subtle analogy on this question. Speaking at the University of Johannesburg’s Convocation Day she used the example of the battered spouse who continually hopes that things will change for the better. “Abused women don’t stay because they enjoy the abuse, they stay because they hope things will change,” she said.
The silence from the ANC and from Kodwa on Madonsela’s analogy was deafening – wringing a supplicating apology out of Primedia boss Roger Jardine was far easier and far better PR than further attacking an icon of courageous integrity who you have relentlessly attacked for months over her Nkandla report…
There was however another even more glaring manifestation of ANC hypocrisy on the matter of racism in the media.
The party remained resolutely silent on 8 May this year when the Cape Times published an article which took up most of the op-ed page and maligned as right wing, white supremacists or the unintelligent dupes of those right wing white supremacists, the one million South Africans who recently exercised their democratic and constitutional right to vote for the party of their choice, the Democratic Alliance.
The article, ‘How the left let Abahlali down’ by local activist Jared Sacks also denigrates the 700 00 black people who voted for the Democratic Alliance in the recent election, it reviles the black people who represent the party in government and, above all it insults the members of Abahlali baseMjondolo, (AbM) the shack dwellers association, whose interests Sacks claims to represent.
His article had its genesis in a democratic AbM process and the decision which flowed from that process on 2 May. That was when the association distanced itself from the ANC which has relentlessly persecuted its members and endorsed the Democratic Alliance which it regards as the political entity most likely to champion its needs and to further its objectives.
This is the passage which, in my subjective view, is just as repulsive as the Congress of Clowns cartoon but which the ANC did not condemn or take to the streets about.
“I was shocked and horrified to hear of AbM-KZN’s decision to vote as a bloc for the DA. (Note: Abahlali baseMjondolo in the Western Cape has not endorsed the DA despite media reports to the contrary). I believe that this is a hugely mistaken move for the most important post-1994 social movement – both from an acknowledgement that the DA is a right-wing, white supremacist political party, and also from an understanding that electoral politics undermines, destroys, and co-opts rather than helps social movements. Despite my love for Abahlali, it is very difficult for me to continue to support an organisation that votes for the DA – a party founded on white supremacy.”
Dr Julian Brown of Wits University set out a cogent background to the AbM decision on the Daily Maverick website and his measured analysis provides a welcome and clarifying alternative to Jared’s racist diatribe in which he describes the party of Helen Suzman – who was hailed by Nelson Mandela and Albert Luthuli for her contribution to the Struggle – as a “right-wing, white supremacist political party”.
The DA’s leader in parliament, Mmusi Maimane, is at pains to distance himself from those who suggest that blacks who vote for his party are the stupid dupes of right-wing white supremacists, saying that such suggestions are insulting. “Black South Africans are not automatons, without any ability to think for themselves. Black South Africans, like every other South African, have the right to choose for themselves.”
Businessman Herman Mshaba who started Black Like Me in 1985 has a similar perception which he outlined to Daily Maverick’s Greg Nicolson. Mashaba says that one of the reasons he joined the DA is the race issue. “It’s precisely for that reason that I’ve made this statement because I think that this campaign to try and depict Helen and the DA as a white party that wants to protect white interests, I think it’s just really propaganda. With any political party anywhere in the world there’ll always be a juggle for political leadership,”
“Why should they look at it on the basis of black and white? It’s got to really do with political aspirations and leadership and that’s why I decided to throw my hat in the ring so that I really demonstrate that this party is the party [of] Mandela’s dream of the rainbow nation. If anyone is going to achieve that it will be the Democratic Alliance.”
Sacks is entitled to his opinion – and if he is correct then Maimane and Mashaba are either deluded or lying – but his article would have lost nothing of substance if those insulting references to blacks had been excised prior to publishing – and the sub-editors would have had every right, indeed every justification, to have done that. That editorial discretion was as much available to the Cape Times as it was to Eyewitness News over the Congress of Clowns cartoon.
In a personality piece on Helen Zille for the Daily Maverick website, journalist and author Marianne Thamm says: “In 2011 I followed Zille as she criss-crossed the country on the campaign trail for the municipal elections that took place on 18 May that year. Already then I realised that anyone who claims the DA is ‘still a white party’ hasn’t really got out much lately.”
Clearly Sacks does not get out much but one has to ask: Has it become so much open season on the Democratic Alliance within the now overtly pro-ANC Independent Group of newspapers that the sentiments about black people which Sacks clearly holds dear – and his contempt for whites who follow the example of AbM – can now be openly propagated in the pages of its newspapers as long as they are also used to denigrate the official opposition?
I ask that because Cape Times editor Gasant Abader could not resist adding his own imprimatur in a footnote which repeats and stresses a point already adequately made by Sacks in the body of his article – that AbM in the Western Cape did not sign off on the democratic decision by the parent body to endorse the DA in the 7 May election.
Private Eye and Camillagate
In older, competitive democracies the Congress of Clowns cartoon would not have caused the slightest controversy – Private Eye has been doing that sort of thing for decades. In January 1990 I remember stopping in my tracks in CNA, transfixed and dumfounded – because I was South African – by a Private Eye cover. The Camillagate tapes had just been published and, as it often did, the Private Eye cover used a photograph of two people each with a comment in a thought bubble above their heads which juxtaposed currently topical and contentious matters of public interest. On this cover, Camilla Parker Bowles, the married Prince Charles’ married mistress, was standing next to two British Bobbies. The thought bubble over one of them reads: “Madam, I must ask you to come quietly.” And hers, in response reads: “Yes, you never know who might be listening!” That sort of politically barbed satire is considered conventional and utterly unremarkable in one of the oldest democracies in world history but here, when Max du Preez similarly suggested on the SABC radio programme “The Editors” that President Thabo Mbeki was widely perceived within the ANC as an adulterer, he was targeted in the same way that journalists were harassed in the apartheid era.
For those of us who have achieved the biblical three score years and ten, the similarities between the National Party of John Vorster and PW Botha and the ANC are become increasingly obvious and increasingly troubling.
In the 1960’s the National Party expressed the same sort of outrage over a cartoon in the University of Cape Town Rag magazine, Sax Appeal, as Kodwa does now. In depicted a UCT student kneeling in front a lavatory and peering into the bowl. Gazing malevolently up at his horrified face was the then Prime Minister, B J Vorster. The Nats protested that this cartoon disrespected their leader and insulted the electorate who had voted their party into power – but they did not threaten to close down UCT’s Jameson Hall – nor for that matter did they threaten to burn it down. They also did not burn copies of the magazine or intimidate the students selling it. The students who wrote for it and compiled it did not receive death threats neither were the women on its editorial staff reviled with the most appalling of misogynistic epithets as Hafajee was when the newspaper she edits published an illustration of the Brett Murray painting. Furthermore, they also did not use taxpayers’ money to seek an urgent interdict against UCT as the ANC did against City Press and the Goodman Gallery in the Spear controversy.
And the NP legislation to curb media freedom, while punitive, did not contain the same draconian threats which the ANC now contemplates with its proposed Secrecy Bill.
Unlike the ANC the Democratic Alliance did not take to the streets to protest the disrespect that Sacks had shown to its black members or the black people who voted for it – still less did they threaten to close down or burn down Newspaper House for giving him the platform to manifest his particular slant on the intelligence of the 700 000 black people who voted for the DA.
To suggest that the ANC respects freedom of expression and seeks to encourage it is absurd but nobody, here or abroad, is suggesting that.
In closing: I read with bewilderment, sadness and consternation the outlandish response of Zizi Kodwa, the newly appointed spokesman for the ANC, to the Congress of Clowns cartoon. It bounced around like a breakdancer on tik, bringing in completely irrelevant facts to enhance its basic message and that message was a less than veiled threat that the cartoon showed that the ANC was correct in suggesting at its Polokwane conference that a media tribunal should be established.
Take this reference to pit toilets: “It is interesting that this cartoon that is praised as satire, has no single satire reserved for the fact that the Western Cape government has had the well reported ‘open toilet saga’ in (sic) their hands recently.
“No single DA MP is depicted in this cartoon in spite of the fact that the DA is in government in a province that is without decent toilets for our people.”
The Congress of Clowns cartoon referred specifically to the five newly- appointed ANC ministers of finance, agriculture, water and sanitation, posts and telecommunications and energy – it had nothing whatsoever to do with an opposition party.
The most bizarre reference was to open toilets in the Western Cape. Bizarre because:
- No child has died in a pit toilet in the Western Cape, the only province controlled by an opposition party
- It is common cause that the provision of school toilets is most lacking in a province controlled by the ANC – the Eastern Cape – as recent investigations by Daily Maverick and the Mail & Guardian show, and it was left to the DA to ask the SA Human Rights Commission to investigate.
- It is common cause that as fast as sanitation infrastructure is installed by the DA-controlled Cape Town municipality in the informal settlements controlled by the ANC, that infrastructure is sabotaged.
- It is common cause that the people who have been very much to the fore in the Western Cape in vandalising toilets or preventing their installation, Andile Lili and Loyiso Nkhohla, are revered members of the ANC .
Or this sentence: “The rearing of the ugly head (sic) of prejudice, tribalism and racism must never be allowed to hide behind the freedom of expression.” Nowhere in the Congress of Clowns cartoon does one see any reference to the tribes that the five depicted ministers belong to. In veering between pit toilets and tribalism Kodwa reminds one of Fikile Mbalula at his most eloquent.
If he is indicative of the brightest and best, the most erudite and eloquent that the ANC has to offer, then the depth of its talent is not merely wafer thin, it is barely a veneer.
Want to continue this conversation on The Media Online platforms? Comment on Twitter @MediaTMO or on our Facebook page. Send us your suggestions, comments, contributions or tip-offs via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.