The decision at a meeting of the ANC’s Party Communicators late last week that the SABC’s journalists should be “forced” to give President Jacob Zuma “even more love” on the broadcaster’s channels, is merely a long line in the political interference in the editorial policies of the delinquent and dysfunctional institution.
Before 1994 and the dawn of democracy, the SABC was rightfully regarded as the propaganda arm of the Nationalist Party. Under the tutelage and control of the NP, it was disingenuously called the SABC instead of the Nationalist Party Broadcasting Corporation [NPBC] as that would have been too blatant. Instead the SABC was packed with NP lackeys. The top echelons and their corner offices being reserved for the crème-de-la-crème, the Broederbond.
The role of the Board was to not to fulfil its coveted governance role and mandate but to drink the tea and gorge themselves on the syrupy treat – the koeksisters so beloved of their forefathers. Policy and direction was decided not at Faulty Towers but decided by black suited men who surreptitiously met at nondescript venues with fellow Broederbonders.
A daily staple of the SABC was the pep talk entitled Current Affairs at which the NP’s viewpoint the on political events was propagated. At 3SAI in Oudshoorn, Army recruits such as myself were subjected to verbatim transcripts of the latest program. The dangers of die Rooi Gevaar and die Swart Gevaar were indelibly etched onto receptive minds.
Glimpses of their curmudgeonly race obsessed world view were periodically revealed much like Marilyn Monroe’s skirt when she “inadvertently” walked over a grating of an air duct. One such instance was a piano competition. An 18 year old black youngster had the temerity to enter. When his application was rejected on the grounds that piano playing was the sole cultural preserve of whites, he further exposed their racist credentials by claiming that as a National Broadcaster he was entitled to enter.
The SABC was unmoved.
They peremptorily rejected his application.
Imagine having a black child play amongst the whites! He might even be so presumptuous to want to marry one of their daughters. Imagine. SKANDE. The future of the white race was dependent upon keeping the likes of this black youngster out. Didn’t even Darwin warn of miscegenation, the bogeyman of unrepentant racists?
Perhaps the morale of the volk was uplifted but for liberals like myself who voted for the kaffir boetie, Helen Suzman, the SABC was a mere parody of an unbiased purveyor of news. Whatever it claimed, was discounted.
Then PW Botha did the previously unthinkable. During a news broadcast he personally phoned the Head of the News Department. As he unceremoniously wagged his finger, he dictated what the revised bulletin should read.
The SABC had reached its nadir.
It was now a sub-committee of the Nationalist Party.
The advent of the ANC with their Stalinist predilections did not fill many with confidence. A Pravda style national broadcaster with party functionaries filling all the editorial positions did not augur well for South Africa.
A new Board was appointed with its first non-Broederbond Chairman, a black. Instead of Zwelakhe Sisulu being a stooge of the ANC, his appointed was like a breath of fresh air to the moribund organisation. Controversial topics were embraced. The SABC was no longer the preserve of the Afrikaner as it became a polyglot, multi-racial admixture.
Like the Prague Spring this glasnost was not to last. As the ANC’s grip on power became more imperious, the former openness was discarded and tossed aside. The free-thinkers were cast aside. In their stead, the ANC toadies made their unwelcome appearance.
The first manifestations of this transformation from public broadcaster to ANC’s mouthpiece were the continual faction turf wars. In order to gain the ascendancy, one’s opponents were unfairly denigrated. A dysfunctional Board and Management beholden to the prevailing faction were swept to and fro as the political winds ebbed and flowed.
The SABC mandate to inform and entertain was ignored.
The pliant management had once again become the tools of the ruling party.
I will not rehash the various crises to stain the legacy of this organisation.
Just one example will highlight the extent of the shift in the SABC mandate from unbiased impartial reporter of events without fear or favour to openly protecting both the ANC and its deeply flawed leader, Jacob Zuma and that was the 2015 SONA address in Parliament.
Instead of the SABC focusing its cameras on the violent eviction of the EFF members of Parliament, they were focused on an impassive Baleka Mbete who was impatiently awaiting their removal from the Houses of Parliament. The whole reason for that charade of not highlighting the real news was so as not to embarrass Zuma or the ANC.
This tawdry episode has only evinced muted criticism from civil society.
None of these actions bode well for the SABC. With its integrity in shreds and its impartiality called into question, the SABC will once again become the polecat of discerning general public. A reputation for bias is not easily discarded. Instead it taints even the most benign innocent message.
The suppression of views in the internet era is both ineluctable and literally impossible.
From castigating the Nationalist government from abusing the SABC for their own advantage, the ANC is now hell-bent on committing the same offence.
The ANC could do well to reread the allegory tale by George Orwell entitled Animal Farm.
If not for the fact that it was written in the 1930’s, it was prescient in presaging the current actions of the ANC.