By: Khalid Sayed
Around this time every year, many public commentators make a special effort to debate and engage the media and the important role that they play in our country. As Black Wednesday approaches next month, this year will be no different.
Sadly but predictably, instead of engaging ANC leadership in this discussion, the media have rather chosen to sensationalise some ANC leadership interactions with them. A discussion about their role in our democracy does not interest them, but they are eager to continue to attempt to manufacture consent, as US linguist Noam Chomsky would put it.
Recalling Black Wednesday in 2017, ANC Deputy Secretary-General, Jessie Duarte wrote a column titled, “The truth is not always what it seems to be”, paraphrasing the quote from the Phaedrus. Independent Newspapers later ran the column under the title: “Country’s economy is not at a standstill.”
Employing the example of the second war in Iraq and how a perception was created, both by the United States government and their allies in the media, of the supposed weapons of mass destruction in the possession of Saddam Hussein as a premise for that war. The column went on to explain that whereas in the past rhetoric, both as a science and as an art, was based on facts and persuasion, it was now simply based on a “concocted perception”.
Adriaan Basson’s piece, “Mokonyane is proof that Ramaphosa cannot unite the ANC and beat corruption” and published by News24, therefore affords us once again to reflect on what is horribly wrong with the media in our country. Again it is deeply concerning that such a senior journalist indulges in a serious concoction of warped perception.
Amidst the outcry of the ongoing war against women and children in our country, it would be shamefully negligent of me to omit pointing out that this is once again an attack on a Black woman by the media in our country. The media underestimates the great influencing role it plays by isolating and targeting Black women in particular.
What are the names of the CEO’s of the companies who fixed the price of bread? Has the name of the former CEO of Steinhoff become a tarnished household name? Who knows the name of the former head of Africa Bank when it went under liquidation? Or the two University of Johannesburg managers accused of swindling off millions of Rands? Or the Construction company CEO’s who stripped the public purse of billions of rands on stadium construction in 2010?
But Nomvula Mokonyane raised the ire of Basson simply because she called out his hypocrisy and concoction of perception. His piece was not an objective opinion, but rather an angered response. Speaking at the memorial service of the late Gavin Watson, Mokonyane appropriately paid tribute “…particularly to those who have been persecuted because they have never been made by the media; they have never been loved by the media; they still do not owe anyone in the media…” Then, stating a fact she said “…sadly Gavin has left before Adriaan Basson understood who Gavin is…”
In response, Basson calls into question the unity of the ANC and, in the media’s tedious tactic, attempts to divide the ANC. First he quotes “an ANC veteran” who according to him, maybe surprisingly, “made a whole lot of sense.” This quote Basson uses to substantiate his futile argument.
He goes on to attempt to play up the comrades serving in Luthuli House against the comrades serving in government; omitting to mention that these who serve in government meet at Luthuli House almost on a weekly basis, for one reason or another. Continuing with his wedge driving mission, he suggests that the Secretary-General is “shamelessly undermining” the President’s leadership but offers not a shred of fact to back up his concocted perception.
The media, particularly of Basson’s ilk, have always and will always drive an agenda of division in the ANC. What scares them the most is unity in the leadership of the ANC. Even more so, the ANC has always known that the support given to President Ramaphosa, by the likes of Basson, would invariably be short lived.
The concocted perception continues with Basson typing words such as the Secretary-General being “implicated”, supposedly praising the new National Director of Public Prosecution but dismissing her with the “delayed Bosasa prosecution and other cases”. He admits that his “understanding” was that that Watson would have been accused of something but where he gets this understanding from he does not say.
Furthermore, it is sad that a senior journalist should be reminded that a “finding” by the Special Investigating Unit is not a judgement of a court of law. But what this “finding” does do is serve as flimsy evidence in the court of public opinion. It assists the likes of Basson with their concocted perception despite never being tested.
Finally, with a healthy helping of irony, he accuses Mokonyane for having little “regard for facts or the truth”. It is true that the Watson brothers participated, against the wishes of their community, in the struggle against Apartheid and for the liberation of Black people. These are the facts. This is what is true.
Our country faces a crisis of violence against women and children. In an already violent society and where most victims of violent crime are South Africans, crimes are being committed against foreign nationals as well. The call by Mokonyane at Gavin Watson’s memorial service continues to reverberate: let us return to our humanity. She used the simple example of not reporting on the death of a person until the next-of-kin or family have not been informed. One of the most basic but humane tenets of journalism.
Rather than sensationalise, concoct perceptions, throw as much mud, respond angrily, target Black women and pursue trials in the court of public opinion, the media in South Africa would do well to ensure that we provide South Africans with information while still maintaining our humanity. As Mokonyane said, even the story of unity in the ANC will be told by the ANC and not by the likes of Adriaan Basson. As with that unity, we will also ensure that the good done by all our freedom fighters lives on while the evil they may have committed is interred with their bones. This is the humane thing to do.
Khalid Sayed is the Provincial Chairperson is ANC Youth League in the Western Cape.