ANC’s invisible man loses his SABC echo

2008-05-10 00:00

TWO top figures at the national broadcaster have been suspended: its chief executive and the news editor. Almost anywhere else in the world it would be a media calamity. In South Africa it brings a ragged national cheer. Things can only improve. (Well, hope springs eternal on the subcontinent and it certainly would be difficult for things to get worse.)

The public response to the chaos at the South African Broadcasting Corporation is an indication of how bad things are there. When it was announced that Snuki Zikalala, the gatekeeper who managed news coverage on behalf of President Thabo Mbeki, had been suspended, it was welcomed by every political party in the country.

That delight included many within the African National Congress, including the ANC Youth League, and Mbeki’s alliance partners, the South African Communist Party and the South African Congress of Trade Unions. The Bulgarian-trained propagandist, infamous for his list of analysts and commentators who could not be quoted on the airwaves, was widely loathed.

The Mbeki-appointed SABC board, in which ANC MPs passed a vote of no confidence last week, struck back immediately. It suspended CEO Dali Mpofu, the man who suspended Zikalala. In a nursery rhyme-like sequence — “this is the dog that chased the cat that ate the rat that stole the grain that lived in the house that Thabo built” — the pro-Jacob Zuma ANC faction now wants to sack the board.

As purge and counter-purge rage, Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, one of the more spectacularly incompetent ministers, stood wringing her hands and expressing “great concern”. What she is waiting for is for her boss to tell her what the hell to do next, as the oxygen of always favourable, sometimes fawning, publicity for Mbeki is slowly being closed off.

Speaking of which, it seems that in the approved Stalinist style, Mbeki is systematically being erased from the public record. Immediately after the Polokwane conference he was deprived of his weekly newsletter to the nation. Henceforth it would be shared among the party apparatchiks, it was decreed.

Mbeki’s presence is now dwindling on the ANC’s website. If one goes to the Zuma page one can read his every public utterance, starting in 1999 and up to date to yesterday.

The page links to a carefully crafted biography that proudly notes Zuma’s appointment as executive deputy president in 1999, but somehow neglects to mention that he was fired six years later.

Go to the Mbeki page and ostensibly one can access his “speeches, statements and writings” all the way back to 1964. Except that one can’t. Every link leads to a blank page emblazoned with the injunction “back”.

Same with his biography. The guy, according to the ANC site, has no history, although his father, Govan Mbeki, and all the other ANC notables have fulsome hagiographies. The click-throughs to contact the Office of the President or to write to the president personally have also been disabled.

One can access the ANC’s historical archives from the Mbeki page, but there again the Mbeki trail runs into blank pages. The country’s president has become the invisible man of the ANC.

If it is any consolation to Mbeki, there are a number of charming pictures of him on his page, taken in happier days. It is when these, too, are removed that Mbeki really has to worry.

Or perhaps that moment will be when his nemesis moves into the Union Buildings and gets to work on doctoring the State Archives. In a few years from now, he might have been carefully airbrushed out of our history, a figment of our collective imaginations.

Thabo who? Snuki what?

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