Action or window-dressing?
SABC crisis is nothing new
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?
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe has cautioned against defying Chapter 9 institutions.