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Opinionista

Hlaudi, you have become Them

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Steven Boykey Sidley is a Professor at JBS, University of Johannesburg, and the co-author of Beyond Bitcoin: Decentralised Finance and the End of Banks (with Simon Dingle).

Ah, Hlaudi. It is difficult to dredge up the appropriate outrage against a man so ill-qualified, so dishonest, so incompetent, so lacking in nuance and leadership and decency, so blind to history and common sense, that the only reaction that one can muster is blurty guffaw, as I did recently when Hlaudi bumbled incomprehensibly about his non-understanding of “censorship”.

A long time ago, Woody Allen made a film called Bananas. I remember little, but there was a subplot involving a revolutionary from some unnamed South American republic (a prop-bearded Woody Allen) who uses inflammable oratory and sweated invective to whip up the proletariat against the oppressive dictatorship, stages a coup, and becomes El Presidente. When pushed by his co-revolutionaries to hold elections, he demurs. The people in this country are peasants, uneducated, they do not need democracy, he announces. I remember laughing, somewhat edgily.

Except that it is not really funny, is it?

Hlaudi’s rap sheet is long enough to ensure that in any rational political or commercial system he would never be allowed into any management position ever again. He has lost multiple court cases, lied on his CV, tossed irrational raises at friends and self, initiated content policies that treat his customers like children and his advertising revenue like kindling, fired journalists for being journalists, muzzled staff, stifled debate, floated Monty-Pythonesque ideas like staff uniforms, and generally thumbed his nose (and worse) at august institutions like the Public Protector and the judicial system.

Why is he still there? Why is he protected? And who is doing the protecting? I hope that these questions echo like the rhetoric they are.

The phrase state capture has rung loud in our ears of late. It seems to me that I would far rather have a number of superkleptocrats and grease-palmed ANC apparatchiks than the transparent North Korean-style crushing of free speech that is currently under way, shortly to be replaced by pastel-coloured and saccharine reports of ribbon cuttings, praise singers and smiling citizens.

Every literary and film cliché springs to mind here – from The Trial to Nineteen Eighty-Four to Fahrenheit 451. Surely this dark and perverse grandeur cannot be happening before our very eyes?

Fulminations of reasonable citizens against Zuma, or wilful ANC blindness, or tender corruption, or any other number of sad failures of governance do not do justice to the hyperbolic shame that is our public broadcaster.

This malodorous spectacle is made more pungent by the short memories of those in charge – Hlaudi, his management team, his board, and his political handlers. Hear this loud and clear – do you not remember the mad scientists of apartheid and their control of media, and how you lived in simmering resentment of every TV and radio news broadcast for decades?

Surely you could not have forgotten this? Surely you must remember how you wondered how it could be that no one stood up and said – enough.

Surely you can see that you have become THEM? DM

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