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Media ‘capture’? Remove your head from the sand, John Steenhuisen


Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

The media of the past 25 years is filled with stories of ANC corruption, maladministration, criminality among its members, and very serious lapses in ethics. I’m not sure what Steenhuisen is wanging on about.

I have never, actually, seen an ostrich with its head in the sand, but let us, for the sake of argument, assume that it actually does put its head in the sand and has no idea of what is going on in the world.  If so, here’s a question: when the proverbial ostrich has its head in the sand, can it simultaneously drop manure?I wondered about this (isolation from humans during a pandemic will do that to you) when I read John Steenhuisen complaining that certain journalists had been “captured” by the ANC. In Steenhuisen’s case, he specifically referred to Carol Paton. I won’t dig around in Steenhuisen’s manure. I am sure Paton can defend herself.

What I will say, is that when we do find life on any planet in the multiverse, and invite one of its inhabitants to South Africa, the creature would see at least two things related to Steenhuisen’s claim. The first is that poverty almost always and everywhere has a skin colour, and that inequality, too, can be gauged by skin colour. In both cases, the faces are almost always black. Forget the results of the last census, which affirmed this. Those are just facts. 

The second thing that the creature – from, say, OGLE-TR-56b, which is an estimated 5,000 light-years from Earth – would recognise is that the ruling alliance led by the ANC is chronically, probably terminally, corrupt and that South Africa would be a better place, ethically, if the alliance exploded in a massive supernova. 

The myth of a captured media

How did I reach the conclusions about the governing alliance of the past 25 years – including some of those individuals who have now scampered to make themselves look innocent? In the media. Here, I will allow myself the privilege of patronising Steenhuisen, or speaking to him as if he were Jacob Zuma. The media of the past 25 years is filled with stories of ANC corruption, maladministration, criminality among its members, and very serious lapses in ethics. I’m not sure what Steenhuisen is wanging on about. Let’s take a superficial tour.

In 1996, the Sarafina scandal broke – read the Mail & Guardian report here. In 1997, The Star ran a long read about massive corruption in the police force, written by Tom Lodge. Over the next two decades, the media (supposedly captured by the governing alliance), exposed the following (select) cases of corruption, almost every one of which involved the ANC.

In 1999, there was the notorious arms deal in which it was alleged that individuals in the ANC had benefited from bribery relating to defence contracts worth billions of rands. Also, under a revealing headline, “Three Damning Reports Expose Zuma’s Sinking Ship of Corruption”, The Times reported, in 2013, that Dina Pule had laundered a R6-million gift of taxpayers’ money to her boyfriend, Phosane Mngqibisa, by providing an unasked-for R10-million departmental sponsorship for the ICT Indaba in Cape Town the previous year. Pule reportedly admitted to then Public Protector Thuli Madonsela that Mngqibisa was her lover, while lying publicly about it; and had her department pick up Mngqibisa’s tab for lavish overseas trips, in the full knowledge that he was not entitled to such perks. Pule’s bio on the International Telecommunication Union website explains that she is a “Member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the African National Congress (ANC) since 2007 [and] Member of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the ANC”. The media covered the allegations of Pule’s corruption quite extensively. So much for the media being “captured” by the ANC.

The media also reported that Zuma’s nephew, Khulubuse, and Nelson Mandela’s grandchild, Zondwa, were allegedly at the forefront of the Aurora scandal. This was amid a desperate situation where creditors reportedly owed more than R100-million, and workers who had not been paid for two years, while Khulubuse reportedly bought his fiancée a Maserati – which at the time, cost between R1-million and R1.6-million. See here, and here for a flavour of media reports on the ANC and its kin. Even the World Socialist Web media reported on the Aurora scandal.

On 6 September 2013, the Mail & Guardian reported that a New York law firm, commissioned by Gold Fields, found that the South African mining house had (allegedly) hugely increased ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete’s cut in a contentious empowerment deal in response to an alleged threat by her representative.

And then there was the way Daily Maverick and amaBhungane blew State Capture wide open, and recorded, often in the most granular detail, how the ANC and its allies and friends have hollowed out the state and effectively sold the country to a band of brothers… The litany is lengthy. Everything you ever need to know about #GuptaLeaks in one place

Steenhuisen is simply wrong to throw shade on the media, or accuse journalists of being captured by the ANC. In fact, the media has been on the ANC’s case since day one – as have I, since I returned from abroad a decade ago, in quite strident terms. But, when I first left journalism, to return to the London School of Economics in 1995, I was asked to give the Mandela administration two years of my life, before leaving for more than 15 years to complete that education in higher learning that had so eluded me for decades. Within a week or so of my joining the Mandela administration (I was not then, and never will be, a member of the ANC), I was accused of having joined “the gravy train” – even though I took a huge pay cut from being the Sowetan’s political correspondent, with outstanding perks and benefits, to being a public servant. 

So, how does one understand Steenhuisen’s conniption? Well, we can either say that he is a spoilt white man who has had his way for decades and is now complaining about being scrutinised. But that would be a racist cheap shot. We can say that he is genuinely hurt by the loss of white power, but that tjank belongs to the old National Party and Democratic Party – some of its members are in the DA ranks. We can say that he is lying, but that would be rude and probably litigious. We can say he is an idiot, but that, too, would be unfair (and cheap). What I will say is that he should pull his head out of the ground while dropping manure. Or, he should probably give his proctology homework a rest.

The DA as protector of white minorities

The DA is no better, or no worse, than the National Party, apart from the explicit apartheid bits. Let’s take one example. During the apartheid period, the Nats staffed almost all the top levels of the central state apparatus and the public corporations. A close tie existed between the Afrikaner community and the state. I was a journalist between 1980 and 1995. I don’t remember the DA or its progenitors complaining about cadre deployment then. And no, this is not an endorsement of cadre deployment. I am simply pointing out that when these privileges were handed to white people, the liberals were not that concerned – but I stand to be corrected (with facts). 

The other thing that the DA shares with the Nats is its concern for white minorities. I will raise two examples. And no, this is not a hatred of Afrikaners or Jewish people… In 1994, both Tony Leon and FW de Klerk urged white minorities to stop being obsequious. They went very quickly – within a matter of months – from being the beneficiaries of apartheid, serving in its military and police that enforced cruel and unjust policies, to being minority victims. 

In an address to a Jewish audience in about 1994, Leon pointed out that the security of the Jewish people was not a privilege granted by the government or governing party, but a constitutional right. He was correct. But the (white) Jewish community deserved no more special privileges than the (white) Afrikaners, or Catholics who propped up apartheid. Leon questioned the Jewish community’s assumption that they could do better than influence criticising the governing party by simply raising their voices in private, while praising the government in public. Leon remarked that there seemed to be a widening distance between what was told to the president and what the people actually feel. 

As DA leader, he advised a Jewish community (as a white community that benefited from apartheid and served in its security establishment, and not as a cultural or religious group) to stop being “a little nervous about giving offence to the new government. Stand up as citizens,” he told them, “and do not be apologetic.” Again, he was right – as citizens, they had every right to stand up and speak. Leon proposed that Jews followed the example of Elie Wiesel, who said that he was compelled by the Jewish tradition “to speak truth to power”. As a great admirer of Wiesel, I completely agree with this. The point being that Leon and De Klerk spoke only for minorities who went, almost overnight, from villains to victims – conveniently forgetting their role in the security establishment that enforced South Africa. 

Steenhuisen is no better than that. He cannot brush white privilege under the carpet by invoking special status – or suddenly hide behind a bushel of liberalism – and telling half-truths about journalists being “captured by the ANC”. Things don’t work that way. We have to protect minorities, whether they are Jewish, Afrikaner, coloured, Indian, Chinese, Shangaan or immigrants from around the world. What we can’t do is make up stories, create scapegoats or gaslight individuals or groups.

Much like the way that ANC cadres cannot overnight make themselves innocent of what went wrong and pose as victims, white people who benefited from apartheid – whatever their persuasion – cannot now claim persecution. We have to confront this issue of historical white privilege and not simply shore it up. As James Baldwin most eloquently put it: “You cannot fix what you will not face.” DM


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All Comments 17

  • John Steenhuisen = Tony Leon 2.0….. My biggest disappointment is that if only we had had police investigators, prosecutors and judges as dogged and determined as those journalists who began exposing corruption 24 years ago, maybe more of the thieves than *just* Tony Yengeni (who, despite a criminal record, is still a member of the ANC NEC) would have ended up in orange overalls…

  • The DA lost its way somewhere during Hellen Zille’s reign, I think. Since then the ‘leadership’ of the party has become insular, blinkered, and somewhat tangential to reality. I found Tom Eaton’s book “Is It Me or Is It Getting Hot in Here?: Great expectations and boiling frogs in South Africa” to be very enlightening on our situation. In it he talks about how the DA is essentially a mid-level bureaucrat who does their job really diligently, but has no personality or outside interests and who doesn’t understand why nobody loves them. Except in Steenhuizen’s time they have come to define their job a little differently, it seems.

    • I suppose you have your reasons for not liking the DA tho’ you are not clear on just what they are. Maybe just afraid of equality? This leaves you with a real big problem … Just who are you going to vote for? The PAC -Lite “Good” Party? The Purple Cow Party? EFF? (Just joking!) or what?

  • No, the media is not captured by the ANC. It is too full of it’s own importance. Capture is not the issue, balance is the issue. It is a strange world where when everybody is anti-racism they attack the only party that is anti-racism!? Maybe some people are afraid of equality?

    • You have encapsulated my current issue with the media in SA – a party denounces racism in all its forms, states that is focused on alleviating poverty regardless of who is poor, and they are denounced for being racist!! As the IRR has consistently demonctrated, survey after survey has shown that poverty & jobs is the number one priority of most people in SA. The commentariat is obsessed by the ANC’s racial project & does appear to have bought in to the racist policies of the ANC. These policies have achieved absolutely nothing for the people of course, but they do have the advantages of being as right-on as it is possible to be & being really, really easy to spout..

  • More proof of a “captured” media. Captured in its own attempts to espouse some kind of politically correct narrative that eschews actual analysis and jumps to knee jerk conclusions on issues of race.

  • Read so many report, comments, articles, about this saga. Bottomline is, South Africa as a country has lost out. For any democracy to function, you need strong opposition, very strong! To put pressure on the governing party. What the DA has done since the last election is sickening. Without going into details, the DA will loose many voters, and this will strengthen the ANC despite their many blunders and lack of sound governance. And our country is the looser

  • Although he tries to obfuscate it this is just another white/DA bashing article by this very predictable journalist. Steenhuisen is right. I can’t recall an article that unpacks the DA’s policies. All the media does, as well illustrated by this Lagardien piece, is poke fun at the personalities involved in DA leadership. How many times must we hear that we as whities have had our turn and now we should shut up and put up with being the victims of racism. Racism is terrible but if it’s the privileged, arrogant, whining, deluded etc, etc whites that are suffering from it than racism is OK but we won’t call it racism anymore.

  • Ismael, you forget about the nasty groups of “journalists” that defended Zuma and the Guptas. What of Iqbal Surve’s so called independant media. What of the crew that wrote nonsense about SARS staff in order to caoture SARS and successfully so. Your profession is far from angelic and pure as the driven snow.

    You constantly focus on white bashing when whites are 3.5m out of 58m population. Focus on the gangsters that have cuased the train smash that this land is now where nothing works. This was the handy work largely of the ANC, period! Wake the hell up! Ironically you cannot see your own bigotry.

  • Spot on, Mr Lagardien. The DA doesn’t have any feet left to shoot itself in as it lurches from one tweeting faux pas to the next HR scandal, so aiming at “the media” is mere deflection. We, voters, don’t take the DA that seriously.

  • Clearly, in this case, a Ph.D in international whatever gives no value support to these above attempts at a local assessment of this type of topic. The DA, as with its predecessors, representing millions who have voted against apartheid, still continue to have to find ‘the truth’ from the steadfast sources of the likes of amaBhungane, Scorpio, Accountability Now, Paul Trewhela, Ground Up, Daily Maverick, with its true bounty of great investigative journos – not including yourself, mind you – etc etc you name it. Watch eNCA’s presenter Sally Burdett’s face change every time she HAS TO interview anyone of the DA. Read the at times incoherent Mondli Makhanya in The Witness or in City Press as he scrapes and scribbles around something, somewhere, negative to add to the DA’s image. BUT, oh no, nary a word of the successes of the DA-in-Administration. How does a white person deal with a South African Trade Union, sorry…a white WOMAN? …sorry, a white woman, with an Agricultural Union, nogal? The DA in the WC negotiated with the Agricultural Trade Union to create untold numbers, in agriculture, during a rising drought, with no noteworthy central govt support, and create a WESGRO which raised R4bn, from – not the EU – but other african states…Oh let me stop! Read the WC Premier’s annual reports of 2015, 2016, 2017, you name them. Read of the Dept of Works assets dept attempts to get its assets off the national grid, and to even put power BACK into the grid, blocked by central govt! This news, this DA-positive information is NEVER broadcast on eNCA, or in the now captured press ( read: Cape Times, Sunday Time, City Press, Natal Mercury, Daily News, Eastern Herald, The Star (does this still exist!)) etc, Laggard-in. Why is there no private TV publisher owner in RSA, someone who is “allowed” to publish news, news independently investigated? Why, Lagardien, why? Not much written about this Mr Lagdien, not much! There would be many many takers for such a freedom, for both social media types. And, why Lagardien, is there equally no independent radio, allowed to publish its own news, resourced by its own investigators? What kind of “freedom of the Press” is this? The press in RSA is captured by regulations, regulations brought about under ANC- led government! The DA has contested so many ANC-led actions in courts – hugely successfully – where it can..not much positive stuff written about this, Mr Lagardien!
    The fear of the effects of the Values Review and the Economic Justice Policy and the evidence-based policy for decision-making, and the clear Gwen Ngwenya-driven return to non-racialism has had no unconditional acclaim from your pen, nor from any of the other so-called ‘free press’! Certainly not on TV nor radio.
    Ad nauseum deters!
    Pack it in Lagardien. Your writings are mere scallywag scribble.