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Media Freedom & Right to Know news

The SABC and the whited sepulchre

"While there are a few leaders with integrity, they are overwhelmed by the never-ending scandals of corruption: from the Arms Deal to Travelgate, from Guptagate, to Nkandlagate....
"Soon the ANC's murky river will spit its few untainted cadres out, just like the French Revolution became a monstrosity, sending to the guillotine some of its architects, including its finest minds."

Prince Mashele and Mzukisi Qobo, The fall of the ANC - What Next? (Picador Africa 2014) - Prince Mashele reads the ANC's last rites... Article summary: How the ANC's deployed cadres have corruptly exploited our most iconic symbols of democracy for financial gain and the way in which the governing party controls the state-funded SABC to keep this knowledge from voters.

Two of the most cherished symbols of our liberation struggle are Robben Island and Nelson Mandela and I have used a religious metaphor - the ANC's oft-proclaimed "broad church" morphing into the bible's "whited sepulchre" (Matthew 23:28) - to describe how nothing is sacred to the ANC when it comes to personal financial gain:"... the moneylenders are now called tenderpreneurs and are welcome in the temple; the Nkandla Fire Pool has become our Holy Grail and over it all hangs the threatening, the brooding malevolence of the Protection of State Information Bill."

The art of the scoop - SABC style... That particular sentence referred to the way in which Nelson Mandela's funeral at Qunu has been abused by a deployed cadre, Phumlani Mkolo, to siphon money - meant to provide transport for the poor to attend the Nelson Mandela funeral - into private pockets with the help of other deployed cadres at the ANC-controlled Buffalo City Municipality (East London, King William's Town and Bisho.)

Let's just sum that up in a single sentence.

Not only was the name of Nelson Mandela abused for personal gain but so, too, was his death. As the Daily Dispatch reported on how the ANC doled out Mandela funds.

I would like to pay tribute here to the outstanding investigative journalism of two Daily Dispatch reporters, Bongani Fuzile and Mphumzi Zuzile who have diligently chipped away at the ANC's edifice of lies and obfuscation to in East London to reveal the way in which this was done and how, after the exposé, the offices containing the records of the taxi scam were ransacked in a clear attempt to destroy information pertaining to this corruption.

What their work shows is that the baton of investigative journalism has been passed from the famous protagonists of the past - Kit Katzin of Info Scandal fame and Helen Zille who exposed as a lie, NP Police Minister Jimmy (It leaves me cold) Kruger's assertion that Steve Biko had died as a result of a hunger strike, to cite just two - to a new generation of young, black journalists eager to speak truth to power.

It also exposes as a lie the assertion of the New Verwoerdians who, in seeking to deny these obvious manifestations of our media transformation and the progress that has been made in this regard, purge the Independent Newspaper Company of outstanding white journalists, just as Snuki Zikalala and Phil Molefe in a similarly racist purge at the SABC sought to "transform" it by driving out white journalists like Max du Preez and John Perlman.

The SABC... Censoring by omission?
On 21 February, a month after the Daily Dispatch broke the story, Gwede Mantashe finally acted and, once again, the newspaper had a scintillating front page lead: "ANC boss Gwede Mantashe has instructed his provincial and regional leaders to act against those who unlawfully benefited from funds meant for taxi mourners to be transported to former President Nelson Mandela's memorial services.

"In what appears as a desperate attempt to save the ANC from the embarrassment of being accused of stealing money meant for the burial of its most celebrated president, Mantashe this week said failure to act would be viewed as an invitation to the party's top six officials, which may include President Jacob Zuma, to come to East London and get involved."

Here, at last, I thought was the green light that Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Jimi Matthews and Nyana Molete, had been waiting for. The ANC had condemned, at the highest level, this extraordinarily sordid example of corruption - surely, now, the state broadcaster would reflect this on its evening TV news bulletin? The SABC has two camera operators stationed at Bisho - about 45 minutes from East London - and more reporters than the Cape Times. That night I watched the SABC 7pm flagship 24-hour news bulletin on Channel 404 in eager anticipation.


There have been brief and sporadic reports on radio but nothing on television.

It has always been thus after the Mbeki faction apparatchiks like Snuki Zikalala drove out those who wished to cover news events as they happened and without fear or favour.

Just as a charitable endeavour related to Nelson Mandela was used as a trough by the ANC's deployed parasites in the Buffalo City municipality, so too has Robben [ Robbed ] Island - without a word being expressed or a video image being broadcast by the SABC.

A host of many might call "deployed parasites" have been given their opportunity to snout there including such revered ANC luminaries as Carl Niehaus and this has not gone unnoticed by the international community.

Here is what UK newspaper The Guardian wrote after the South African Mail & Guardian exposé:
"Now the island, described by one ANC activist as encapsulating the meaning of apartheid, has become symbolic not of the triumph of the human spirit but of the deep problems afflicting the Rainbow Nation. Foremost among them: crime, incompetence and corruption."

But even the relentless the never-ending international embarrassment of ferries which constantly break down can be turned into a revenue stream if you have the right connections.

Thebe Investments, which extols its links to the ANC, was quick to exploit the ANC-created chaos and corruption at Robben Island and, if you have the money, you can visit the island in the luxury to which you are accustomed.

But why do stories such as the Buffalo City municipality taxi scandal and the Robben Island ferry debacle not make the running order on the SABC's flagship television news bulletin?

To understand that you have to revisit the SABC's "Eureka Moment" and understand the dynamics of what determines whether stories appear on this bulletin and, if they do, in what order.

The SABC's Eureka Moment came in 2002 when former SABC staffer Pat Rogers noticed that the Corporation had, for more than a fortnight, remained silent about the Mail & Guardian revelation on 29 November that the Scorpions were investigating then Deputy President Jacob Zuma for his alleged involvement in Arms Deal corruption.

Rogers then took this censorship by omission to the BCCSA, which ruled that it could only adjudicate on what had been broadcast. This was the Eureka Moment that the SABC had been waiting for - the astounding and hugely welcome revelation that there could be no sanction if they simply refused to cover any news story that embarrassed the ANC or, more specifically, the ruling faction within the party. The rot started then because censorship by omission has been the SABC's stock-in-trade ever since.

In a letter to the Cape Times on 26/8/05, Rogers wrote:

"The grounds they (BCCSA) gave were that they could only deal with what had been broadcast, not what had not been broadcast; that there was no empowered body in South Africa to deal with censorship; that the SABC had more weighty considerations to deal with than a local newspaper and that there was an important ANC party meeting coming up."

Then CEO, Peter Matlare, through the notorious Judy Nwokedi memo, sought to further suppress discussion of Zuma 's involvement in the Arms Deal scandal on all SABC programme saying that any such discussion could only take place with the approval of Pippa Green and Jimi Matthews, the heads of radio and television news respectively. He justified this by saying that this was part of the SABC's "upward referral" policy. There is no indication that Green or Matthews ever expressed concern about the fact that one of the most widely-used mediums of communication in South Africa - phone-in talk show radio programmes - was being suppressed for party political reasons on the subject that has been the subject of several books and dominated headlines for a decade and still does via the discredited Seriti commission.

Matlare, with the apparent approval of Green and Matthews, then withdrew the live parliamentary broadcasts from the country's most listened-to radio station, Ukhozi FM, which has almost seven million listeners "to prevent abuse of the airwaves and centralise editorial control of political content under the heads of radio and television news respectively".

The real reason, of course, was that politicians like Patricia de Lille and Blessed Gwala of the IFP were going to raise the Mail & Guardian bombshell in parliament and Luthuli House did not want the voters in Jacob Zuma's heartland to hear about it or to discuss it.

The Media Institute of South Africa (MISA) expressed widely held concerns in this regard in its weekly media brief (Vol 1 # 9) published on 5 September 2003, but Green and Matthews not only remained silent but subsequently defended Matlare in newspaper letters and articles.

Since the 2003 Eureka Moment, the SABC has unconstitutionally, illegally and unethically used censorship by omission to routinely silence opponents of the ruling faction and to keep the nation ignorant of happenings that adversely impact on the image of that faction - think of the SABC's three-day silence after the Sunday Times front page lead on the story of Jacob Zuma's child by Sonono Khosa on 31 January 2010 and think of the censorship of Jacob Zuma being booed at the FNB Stadium on 10 December last year.

What determines the running order?

During the Zikalala era, any Mbeki story that was available had to lead the SABC3 English TV news bulletin and those stories were expensive. Miranda Strydom was on permanent standby to accompany the Mbeki entourage on his travels and colleagues in Auckland Park told me that the inclusive costs of the satellite feeds required was R500000 a time.

However, because Zikalala knew that few ANC MPs watched the Afrikaans bulletin, the Afrikaans team was given relative autonomy in that, while the Mbeki story had to be carried regardless of how irrelevant it was in the lives of the viewers, it did not have to lead the bulletin.

That has been somewhat relaxed in the Zuma era.

While we still get our nightly Zuma story along with the now obligatory history lesson about the evils of apartheid - something Luthuli House and the SABC regard as essential propaganda before an election - Zuma does not automatically have to be the lead story.

Progress of a sort, I suppose, but still testimony to two decades of pervasive ANC corruption that has cost this country hundreds of billions of rands and plunged it into low-level insurrection.

About Ed Herbst

Ed Herbst is an author and a prize-winning reporter. He worked for SABC television news for 28 years but left in 2005 without other employment in prospect because of the pervasive news and other corruption at all levels of the corporation. He is also a fly fishing enthusiast.
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