I have updated the story I published on Saturday, with new information at the end.
All’s fair in love and war, but South Africa has, until now been able to boast elections which are well-run and fair. No longer. As the ANC’s support begins to fade the party has begun to show its claws.
Worse still, its control over the state broadcaster, the SABC, has been used to cynically deny the opposition the right to have its voice heard. The SABC’s news coverage is blatantly biased, while it has now banned a key Democratic Alliance (DA) election broadcast.
The DA’s election ad can be judged by anyone who want to see it, who has access to a computer and the internet. But millions of poor South Africans are being denied the chance to make up their own minds.
Things are getting nasty – and it is not just the opposition that is complaining.
Intimidation and funding
This week a respected and independent NGO – CASE (Community Action for Social Enquiry) released a report accusing the ANC of intimidation and the improper use of the state resources.
The researchers found – and I quote – that “the research overwhelmingly pointed to the ANC as the primary source of intimidation in South Africa.”
CASE’s 102-page report, titled “Just singing and dancing? Intimidation and the manipulation of voters and the electoral process in the build-up to the 2014 elections.” It is based on extensive newspaper sources as well as interviews between August and November last year with representatives of nine political parties.
The evidence, which would shock any fair-minded observer, is in line with a report that the DA released on Monday.
Abuse and misappropriation
The DA told a press conference that: “Over the last two weeks, the spotlight has been focused on the abuse and misappropriation of public resources for the private benefit of one person. With 30 days to go before the election, it is clear that President Zuma’s government is also abusing public resources to assist the ANC’s struggling election campaign With 30 days to go before the election, it is clear that President Zuma’s government is also abusing public resources to assist the ANC’s struggling election campaign.”
The CASE report reinforces this evidence, making clear just how extensive these practices are. But it goes much further. Who would not be angry to hear the concerns of this Agang activist?
“Older people—pensioners—are told if you vote for anyone other than the ANC you will lose your pension. Young mothers, 18–19 years old, they come from poor backgrounds and get the R250 child grant, they are being told if you vote for anyone other than us you will lose this grant.”
Even the secrecy of the ballot is brought into question. The report quotes a member of Cope from the Eastern Cape alleging that in a previous election an IEC member had been involved in intimidating voters by placing a cell-phone in the voting booth.
“They would put a cell phone in the voting booth. The ANC agents would be telling people, that `you know what, when you get into the voting booth, there’s a cell phone with a camera. That cell phone will be taking a photograph of you. Whatever you vote we will know. If you don’t vote for the ANC, we’ll take away your food parcels and your grants.’ I mean that’s blatant intimidation.”
A call for action
The ANC appears to believe it has a divine right to rule South Africa and that it “owns” the poor in particular.
The CASE report concludes with this call:
“The course of action that would best address the problem of political intolerance in South Africa would be for the ANC to acknowledge the shortcomings of many of its followers, and the obstacles these present to the potential consolidation of democracy in South Africa. Acknowledgement would hopefully be a first step towards implementing measures that would commit the ANC to observing more fully the democratic practice to which it says it is committed. It is well known that the rhetoric of leaders of an organisation does not necessarily impact on the behaviour of its rank and file members. Addressing the use of intimidation by many of its members requires purposeful action by the ANC, rather than pronouncements for public consumption.”
Since then this has appeared in City Press – highlighting concerns about the SABC.
Staff lash SABC for ‘taking sides’
Rapule Tabane @City_Press 13 April 2014 15:00
Source: City Press
This instruction – and SABC board chairperson Ellen Tshabalala’s warning to news staff that their cellphones were being monitored – has underlined the controversial role the public broadcaster is playing in this year’s elections.
The SABC has become the focal point of the elections after its journalists alleged political interference in their work.
Three senior SABC news executives, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs, told City Press of other examples of what they claim is extensive political interference. These include:
. A controversial new instruction, issued earlier this year, that new parties that do not yet have representation in Parliament are not entitled to live coverage of their manifesto launches. Parties like the Economic Freedom Fighters were denied live coverage.
. Senior managers told staff in regional SABC offices to ignore election coverage decisions taken in daily editorial meetings.
. Controversial chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng this week issued an instruction that the news department should no longer cover “violent” service-delivery protests, saying it was serving no purpose.
. Interference by SABC board chairperson Tshabalala, who warned news staff that their cellphones were being monitored because they work for a national key point.
The public broadcaster yesterday became embroiled in yet another controversy after it banned a DA campaign advertisement in which its Gauteng premier candidate, Mmusi Maimane, said “[President Jacob] Zuma is corrupt and is taking us backwards”.
This follows the Public Protector’s finding that Zuma and his family improperly benefited from the more than R200 million the state spent on his home in Nkandla.
The DA yesterday appealed to communications watchdog Icasa for a ruling on the matter.
The three news executives say that “numerous instances of interference in their work” pushed staff to fight back against their bosses at a three-day elections workshop last month.
They extracted an undertaking from senior managers that they would act in accordance with the public broadcasting mandate as set out in the Broadcasting Act, the Icasa Act and the SABC’s editorial policies.
The three news executives said the move was prompted after staff felt that Motsoeneng’s tight control of news was getting out of hand.
This was after an instruction, attributed to Motsoeneng, that camera shots showing the crowds at opposition rallies should not be aired.
The instruction adds that opposition party leaders should be shown speaking on stage or that they be interviewed after the rally.
However, this rule did not apply to the ANC.
The staff also said that in a deliberate move to prevent the coverage of the EFF, an instruction was issued this year that only parties with a 1% representation in Parliament would enjoy coverage of their manifesto launches.
But staff pointed out that in 2009, the Congress of the People’s manifesto launch was well covered even though the party had no parliamentary representation.
Staff members question the decision to stop showing images of violent service-delivery protests.
“Why is the SABC getting involved in this? Why should we not show violent protests?” asked an editor.
SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago denied all the allegations. He insisted that the public broadcaster was acting in accordance with Icasa and IEC regulations.
“There is no truth in the fact that the opposition parties’ crowds are not shown. This is just trying to find fault with the SABC,” he said.
“On the issue of regulation, I have indicated in my response that elections are regulated by Icasa and the Independent Electoral Commission. The SABC does not make regulations for the election.
“They are made by Icasa and the IEC in consultation with political parties. All we do is to implement them,” he said.
This week, SABC news staff told City Press they were shocked by Tshabalala’s warning at a meeting in January that their cellphones were being monitored because they work for a national key point.
“She is worse than Hlaudi. She has no idea what being a board member means,” said an editor.
At their election workshop last month, editorial management team members adopted an extensive resolution that they presented to head of news, Jimi Matthews, in which they said they aimed to protect their editorial independence and integrity.
The resolution states: “We reject direct or indirect interference by any political party in the editorial decisions of any part of the SABC news team.
“We will not allow commercial, political or personal considerations to influence editorial decisions. We therefore reject any undue attempts to influence editorial decisions.”
But Kganyago said: “The document you are referring to was a reminder to the newsroom that during elections, it is in the nature of politicians to try to exert influence over journalists.
“The document was a reminder of the editorial values that govern the newsroom and a commitment to adhere to those values.”
Motsoeneng did not answer his phone yesterday.