Ac­tion or win­dow-dress­ing?

SABC cri­sis is noth­ing new

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - CRAIG DODDS

SUD­DENLY, the ANC is com­ing over all re­spect­ful to­wards Chap­ter 9 in­sti­tu­tions. At least, it says it is. De­fy­ing a Chap­ter 9, sec­re­tary-gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe said on Tues­day in re­la­tion to the SABC’s con­tempt for Icasa, would re­sult in a “hard les­son”.

The party made sim­i­lar obei­sance to the Of­fice of the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor af­ter Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and Par­lia­ment was slapped down by the Con­sti­tu­tional Court three months ago.

And it made all the right noises as the ad hoc com­mit­tee to nom­i­nate a new pub­lic pro­tec­tor went through the short­list­ing process this week.

The chair­woman of the com­mit­tee, ANC MP Makhosi Khoza, has gone out of her way to make her­self avail­able for in­ter­views and pub­lic en­gage­ments and more than just talk­ing, she has been lis­ten­ing.

Pub­lic in­puts were used to in­form the cri­te­ria by which prospec­tive can­di­dates will be mea­sured and Khoza has tried to build fair­ness into the process by re­quir­ing can­di­dates to ar­rive to­gether on in­ter­view day so none can ben­e­fit from the ad­van­tage of watch­ing the oth­ers be­ing ques­tioned, and al­lo­cat­ing equal time slots for each in­ter­view.

This is the face of the re­spon­sive ANC, at ease with the pub­lic and civil so­ci­ety and con­fi­dent in its cause.

But, con­sid­er­ing it was not so long ago that the same party tried ev­ery­thing in its power to trash the rep­u­ta­tion of Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela as the bat­tle of wills over Nkandla reached its cli­max, we are en­ti­tled to ask whether this is the face of the real ANC.

Partly be­cause there are other voices within the party – the Youth and MK Vet­er­ans leagues to the fore – which have con­tin­ued to ex­press their con­tempt for Chap­ter 9 in­sti­tu­tions in the wake of the Icasa rul­ing on Mon­day.

But, more sig­nif­i­cantly, be­cause re­gard­less of what the party says about its re­spect for the con­sti­tu­tion, the rule of law, Chap­ter 9 in­sti­tu­tions and the role of a pub­lic broad­caster, the op­po­site val­ues dom­i­nate in prac­tice.

Man­tashe said it was up to the SABC’s share­holder rep­re­sen­ta­tive – Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Faith Muthambi – and Par­lia­ment, as rep­re­sented by the com­mu­ni­ca­tions port­fo­lio com­mit­tee, to ad­dress the SABC cri­sis and its se­rial fail­ures of gov­er­nance and lead­er­ship.

This sounds fair enough – they are in­deed the ap­pro­pri­ate over­sight ve­hi­cles – but it ig­nores the fact that the SABC cri­sis has hardly struck overnight.

The broad­caster has rat­tled through 11 chief ex­ec­u­tives and five boards un­der the ma­lign in­flu­ence of chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng, while Muthambi has cheered him on and the port­fo­lio com­mit­tee – eas­ily the most dys­func­tional in Par­lia­ment (just at­tend a meet­ing where the SABC is the topic to get an idea) – has de­lib­er­ately looked the other way.

That’s be­sides Muthambi’s uni­lat­eral tin­ker­ing with her pow­ers to give her­self ef­fec­tive con­trol of the broad­caster and the SABC’s de­fi­ance of Madon­sela’s in­struc­tion Mot­soe­neng be dis­ci­plined.

So Man­tashe’s sug­ges­tion the min­is­ter and com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­mit­tee sort out the SABC mess­con­ve­niently dis­re­gards the fail­ure of ei­ther to rep­re­sent, up to now, the in­ter­ests of the ul­ti­mate share­hold­ers – ev­ery South African cit­i­zen.

It also con­ve­niently dis­re­gards the small mat­ter of lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions and the SABC’s duty to pro­vide vot­ers with an un­var­nished pic­ture of so­ci­ety.

Man­tashe’s sen­ti­ments are likely to have zero ef­fect in re­al­ity, in other words.

Which re­turns us to the ques­tion: what is the mean­ing of the ANC’s pro­fessed com­mit­ment to the prin­ci­ples of democ­racy and the rule of law when these are in­creas­ingly dis­ap­pear­ing from the prac­tices of its gov­ern­ment?

Delet­ing the dis­con­tented from pub­lic con­scious­ness – though they can hardly be deleted from their own – is just the first step down a slip­pery slope to­wards more overt forms of re­pres­sion, in­clud­ing the use of state vi­o­lence and it could be ar­gued that junc­ture has al­ready been reached in cer­tain in­stances.

It will be­come in­fin­itely more pos­si­ble if such vi­o­lence is kept from pub­lic view.

The rhetoric to match such re­pres­sion – the con­jur­ing of name­less bo­gey­men, in­ter­na­tional con­spir­a­cies and dis­parag­ing of le­git­i­mate griev­ances – is al­ready ap­par­ent in the dis­course of el­e­ments within the ANC and its gov­ern­ment.

It is un­der­stand­able that those in the gov­ern­ing party who find these au­thor­i­tar­ian lurches to the right as re­pug­nant as any­one else would nev­er­the­less re­main loyal, rather than walk­ing away.

They may be­lieve the ANC re­mains the most plau­si­ble ve­hi­cle to de­liver on the ideals of a just so­ci­ety for which they have sac­ri­ficed much. Giv­ing up now would ren­der those sac­ri­fices largely fu­tile when so much re­mains to be done.

Walk­ing away would also sur­ren­der the party and the levers of power it holds through the state to the worst el­e­ments within it, open­ing the door to a nightmare of par­ti­san se­cu­rity agen­cies turn­ing on, first and fore­most, those who have left.

And such splin­ter groups have in the past strug­gled to find trac­tion among the elec­torate af­ter an ini­tial burst of suc­cess, with­out the ANC’s con­sid­er­able or­gan­i­sa­tional power and match­less her­itage.

Win­ning the war from within re­mains the first prize, there­fore.

But, in the event of de­feat, the mo­ment of truth may have ar­rived, when such peo­ple would have to an­swer for them­selves the ques­tion: what is the mean­ing of the ANC’s stated prin­ci­ples and poli­cies when its praxis has be­come in too many ways an un­recog­nis­able perver­sion of them?

PIC­TURE: DUMISANI SIBEKO

ANC sec­re­tary gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe has cau­tioned against de­fy­ing Chap­ter 9 in­sti­tu­tions.

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