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After Zuma: Is political hegemony a renewable resource?

Yonela Diko is currently the Spokesperson of the African National Congress (ANC) in the Western Cape. Prior to assuming his role in the ANC, he worked in various companies in the private sector. Between 2007-2009 he worked for one of the Leading Retirement Fund Companies, NBC Holdings as an Employee Benefits Consultant. After that he joined the Corporate Strategy and Industrial Development (CSID), an Economic Research Unit housed under the School of Economics at Wits University. He did his BCom degree at the University of Cape Town majoring in Economics.

How can South Africans expect a country’s renewal after Zuma if the narrative about both the ANC and black people has been consistent for the last 20 years and is cast in stone, a black pathology and black stereotypes that must always be sold to an existing and profitable market?

Many South Africans are pinning their hopes on a looming post-Zuma era which they say will give this country a chance to catch its breath from the daily scandals and reckless decision-making. Many, including some among the ANC leadership ranks, are screaming for this post-Zuma era to come sooner rather than later, so that the period of renewal can be much longer with an eye on the overwhelming ANC electoral victory in 2019.

There may well be something to these wishes and aspirations. The best way however to measure whether we should look forward to a certain utopia post-Zuma is to measure that against our recent past and break down the nostalgia into hard cold facts.

On 9 February 2008, The Guardian, analysing Thabo Mbeki’s presidency, said Mbeki’s story is a “Shakespearean tale of power struggles, paranoia, betrayals, secrets, lies and, above all, hubris”. On a different day, the same Guardian would say, “Aids, Zimbabwe and an economic policy that lost South Africa half a million jobs are the three shadows that have haunted Mbeki’s presidency and cost him support he could ill afford to lose”. If you read this line carefully and given the current narrative about the current leadership, you can easily replace Thabo Mbeki with Jacob Zuma and the story will sound much the same.

A 2006 Sunday Times editorial, two weeks after the Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge saga, went into overdrive in trying to portray Thabo Mbeki as a psychopathic leader who encouraged a sycophantic culture. This editorial, by Mondli Makhanya, at least according to one masters student who was doing research at the time, was one of no fewer than 30 out of 42 similarly vicious editorials of this Mbeki who was destroying the state and its institutions that the Sunday Times had fed us since 2006.

Given the current media narrative of “Mbeki the Angel” and “Zuma the devil”, why is the narrative about both men so similar (when they are in office) and so vicious? Is it because ANC leaders are the same power-hungry and divisive figures or is it because there is a calculated and intentional plan to sell black pathology and throw mud at black leaders with the hope that such mud will eventually stick? Or better yet, is it because while political leaders come and go, media leaders and their henchmen last with us a lifetime.

This 2006 Masters research student went further – over and above the editorial, since August 2006, Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya had penned at least 22 of the 42 articles in his own name dedicated directly and otherwise to hostile attacks against this one institution and individual, Mbeki. The student found in the course of his masters research that this was consistent with Mondli’s tenure at the Mail & Guardian, where along with the paper’s infamous “Is Mbeki fit to rule”, Makhanya dedicated no less than 30% of his editorial to making mince-meat of Mbeki.

The same obsession with Mbeki applied to the then Business Day writer, Karima Brown, who wrote in 2006 that Mbeki’s “sell-by date” was written on his back, or then columnist Xolela Mangcu whose obsession also saw him calling for Mbeki to step down back in 2006. That goes for Anton Harber and Peter Bruce as well. Most of these people are still looming large in our media space, still selling the same story, just different leaders.

On 20 October 2007, SABC and SANEF held a conference on “media and society”, which arose from claims in the Sunday Times relating to the conduct of the then Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang while in hospital, and an investigation into the disappearance of her medical file. The conference was also fuelled by the said looming arrest of both editor Mondli Makhanya and his journalist Jocelyn Maker who were said to be accused of stealing and publishing this health file of the minister. The looming arrests were of course dismissed by the NPA and were ridiculed by many speakers at the conference (which Makhanya had decided to skip), including then SABC CEO Dali Mpofu and writer Ronald Suresh.

At that conference, both Roberts and Mpofu went to town with various editorial positions of the then leaders of media houses, who still cast a long shadow even today. This included Mondli Makhanya (who he called a “colonial creature”), then Business Day writers Karima Brown and Vukani Mde and editor Peter Bruce, then political commentator Xolela Mangcu, journalism professor Anton Harber, former Progressive Party MP Helen Suzman (a “South African illiberal”), author and journalist William Mervin Gumede and Wits academic Achille Mbembe.

In a veiled reference to Makhanya, who was not present, Suresh referred to journalists who used “cruise missile journalism” and then ran, or “sit in their office and pontificate” without attending the scheduled Friday debate. Advocate Dali Mpofu, then SABC Group CEO, called freedom of the press and public interest “a red herring”. “The press is a machine, it doesn’t have any freedom. Freedom belongs to the people, they have a right to make choices,” Mpofu said.

Then SABC group executive for news and current affairs Snuki Zikalala offered the ultimate indictment to his fellow colleagues, expressing his concern over some editors, saying, “I don’t think some of my colleagues are interested in building this nation.”

Whether these views were correct or not, they highlight how deep and overwhelming the toxicity was that was being bought and sold by the media and friends about President Mbeki and his administration, something that has not changed a bit in 2017.

How then can South Africans expect a country’s renewal after Zuma if the narrative about both the ANC and black people has been consistent for the last 20 years and is cast in stone, a black pathology and black stereotypes that must always be sold to an existing and profitable market? There seems to have always been a decision, taken somewhere, that the media must try by all means to make the “present unpleasant” so that everyone can immediately forget the past and who is responsible for it.

The chamber of liberal white applause does not want to hear about the past, they want to be told it is the weaknesses in the state that have hindered the speed with which social change can be implemented, that is the news we are prepared to buy, so sell us that news. The chamber of liberal white applause wants to hear that the “socio-economic disparities that reflect apartheid racial patterns” are not the problem, but greed, corruption, crass materialism and conspicuous consumption is where the problem comes from, so sell us that news.

So the idea is that we need a media that will lull us into forgetting how the past affects the present, but point out to us at every turn what is wrong with our ANC-led state, irrespective of who leads, sell us that news, we won’t only buy it, we will buy the whole company.

The African-American Muslim minister and human rights activist, Malcolm X, was right then and is right today, that, “the media’s the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”

There will not be a political renewal in this country until there is a deep and thorough renewal of the media. There has hardly been a change at the top of the media food chain, same voices, reshuffled around among media houses, still spitting the same vitriol; it’s almost insanity to expect different results.

It is time for young people to take over the media houses and renew the minds and hearts of our people. DM

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