Reporter’s Notebook: ANC’s ‘media interaction’ forum is anything but

By Andy Rice 2 July 2010

Every month the ANC opens its doors to embrace the media and spend some “quality time” with the hacks, supposedly chatting away about anything their inquisitive hearts desire. Yeah, right.

We don’t know who decided that Baleka Mbete was the best person to address this month’s ANC “media interaction” forum. It might have been her, though we doubt it. It certainly wasn’t Gwede Mantashe. Though it could have been Mathews Phosa. Who really knows? Phosa always keeps an eye out to expose someone to an experience that may weaken them politically.

Mbete had to toil her way through a long list of issues, with the World Cup, deployment, and, of course, the Youth League chief among them.

She’s really not good at it. She doesn’t like the media, the actual people, and it shows. And there’s nothing a hack-pack likes better than behaving like a wolf pack. But these things will happen. And we, the hacks, will suffer through them.

The main business was to congratulate the Black Stars of Ghana on their performance so far, and to wish them good luck for Friday evening’s appointment with Uruguay. Of course, that brought the international press, those enjoying a longish holiday here. But there were no players for them to grab, only officials. The main man was the head of the Ghanaian Football Federation, the wonderfully-accented Kwesi Nyantakyi. And he won the quote-of-the-day award with his “South Africa isn’t like other African countries, it doesn’t have potholes”.  But he was quite moving when discussing how warring tribes in the Sudanese desert put down their guns to watch football, and how both sides of that gaping sore will be rooting for Ghana.

But on to SA politics. ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu did his best to assure everyone that any question could be asked. Of course, he didn’t promise they would actually be answered. And when you remember that Mbete was once of the Mbeki school, lessons from the Mantashe school of spin have not been learnt. Or perhaps they were simply ignored.

The Youth League was always going to come up. As things stand, the current provincial executive committee of the League in Eastern Cape has asked the national ANC to intervene after it was disbanded by the national League. It’s complicated in the way that only Youth League politics can be. But just believe us when we say this is about Julius Malema trying to take over the province from the centre so its members don’t try to vote him out at the League’s national general council meeting scheduled for later in July. Mbete was asked by The Daily Maverick whether the ANC would intervene. She let rip about leaks to the press. Confused? We were too.

It seems she imagined all of this had happened behind closed doors. Doesn’t she read Business Day? Or any papers in the Independent group? Or anything, for that matter. Anyway, there was no answer to that question apart from “why do they speak to you when they should only be speaking to us”.

Thankfully, there was a follow-up about whether she was worried about what was happening in the League. “Worried, we’re always worried, but losing sleep over it, that’s another thing”. Well that clears that up then.

Things became just a little clearer when she was asked pointedly for the ANC’s reaction to Transnet’s sacking of Siyabonga Gama. Her answer was illuminating, we run it verbatim so you can get a sense of things.

“Questions have been raised about the process of deployment, for certain levels, in the same way that we have a list process, for public service, we will engage our own minds on the people that we have. To make sure we have a view through a sub-committee on deployment. To encourage ANC members to go for certain posts, and apply. It’s not like the ANC takes a view that this person shall occupy a particular position. It’s an internal process, we then take a view that Jackson has the skills, we believe he will not embarrass us, we encourage Jackson to apply, that’s all that happens.”

Okay then. Apart from the slightly unfortunate example of Jackson (who really enjoys a good bus lane after a drink or six), we think that makes sense. And aside from the fact that that’s not really true. If Gama had been merely “encouraged” to apply, then why so much anger and outrage when he was found guilty of signing those contracts with Siphiwe Nyanda’s company? And she forgot to mention that the deployment committee is exactly where power really is dispensed.

But that’s vintage Mbete. As National Assembly Speaker she was never accused of behaving completely fairly to all parties, and famously expelled DA MP Mike Waters for asking a question about the minister of health’s similarity to Mthembu. (This being a reference to drinking – SG).

It’s strange to think that someone who is so unfriendly to the media rose to the position of deputy president. Wouldn’t happen in a “normal” democracy now, would it? But then she did grow up in a revolutionary movement and never really learnt how the media should be loved to death. So she just pushes it away.

It’s unlikely she’ll do one of these ANC open doors to the media again.

By Stephen Grootes

(Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter)

Photo: Parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete reads the resignation letter of South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki to the country’s Parliament in Cape Town September 22, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings


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