This is how repression starts

2010-03-27 10:28

SO, all journalists who would dare criticise the

ANC Youth League and its leaders must make sure that they do not have skeletons

in the cupboard lest they get ­investigated by the league.

Anyone who doubted that we are descending into

a banana republic must have had their doubts cleared up by this extraordinary


With all the shenanigans at the youth league and the systemic

corruption of ANC deployees and politicians in all possible spheres of society

driving the newsroom agenda of many newspapers, the poor imperfect journalists

will have to scramble to find new things to write about.

To say that this is an ultimate assault on the freedom of

expression is an understatement. We do not need far-fetched examples to know

that this is how repression starts.

The media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, has reported

recently that the freedom of the press on our continent is in a parlous state.

It says in its recent report that: “The DRC continues to be one of those African

countries where exercising the right to information can lead to prison, hospital

and sometimes the cemetery.”

It also dubbed Sierra Leone “one of the worst press

freedom violators” following the imprisonment a few years ago of leading

journalist Paul Kamara for four years on trumped-up libel charges.

It says of Zimbabwe, where you can be arrested for poking fun at

the president, that freedom of the press “simply does not exist” (this must

sound familiar to the likes of ­Zapiro).

We are reminded of the tragedy of

Rwanda where years after the genocide the government continues to “behave like a

predator” harassing the press in that country.

Across the continent stories of journalists’ families being

tortured and their homesteads being torched by intolerant regimes abound.

Interestingly the media watchdog has always given South Africa high

marks on the question of the freedom of the press, especially after 1994. The

league’s scandalous conduct is taking us back to an era worse than apartheid and

threatens this good name.

The apartheid regime investigated journalists as a

matter of course, tailed them, tapped their phones and harassed their families

and friends.

This was done to break their spirit and shut them up – sometimes

for good. In order to get personal information about journalists, the youth

league will have to do similarly shady things.

It is heartening that President Jacob Zuma has plucked up the

courage to ask the question: “For what?”

Well the answer is simple Mr President?– so that the journalists

can back off and not expose the rot that has set in, so that they stop probing

where ANC politicians get their millions to sustain their lifestyles. It is not

complicated at all.

This is a continuation of a culture of intolerance of dissent that

is now taking a new and dangerous dimension and instead of asking a bland

question Zuma must act to assure the country that this is not happening under

his sanction.

The best way is to order an immediate investigation against the

youth league for flagrant violation of the Constitution that he has vowed to


Anything less would be seen as nothing but tacit approval of the

intimidation of the media.

Does all this mean that the journalists are innocent?


journalists at fault for using ­underhanded tactics to get information on


Are journalists entitled to have inappropriate relationships with

politicians to extract information?

Do journalists serve their profession well

by being sucked into the factional fighting of political parties?

Of course not.

The fourth estate must also urgently introspect about how some

among them are fuelling the destruction of public confidence for the objective

role of the media to tell the truth.

There are just too many stories doing the

rounds about journalists who prostitute themselves for scoops. The South African

National Editors’ Forum has to look into this and not put its head in the


None of these weaknesses of the fourth ­estate can ever justify the

league taking the law into its own hands and probably abusing state apparatus to

assemble a new arsenal of intimidation.

If this is allowed one wonders what will

be next. Prosecutors who are “not perfect” being intimidated from prosecuting

the politically connected? Investigators who are “not angels” being told to back


We cannot be a country that is guided by the lowest common

denominator of our ­human frailties.

One wonders whether the ANC will take a

strong stance against this rot or will they turn a blind eye in revenge for all

the bad press that the media has been dealing them lately? Time will tell.


Tabane is

political adviser to the Congress of the People ­parliamentary leader Mvume

Dandala. He writes in his personal capacity


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