Guest Column

A new era of politics calls for caution from the media

2018-02-28 11:44
Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba. Picture: Jabu Kumalo

Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba. Picture: Jabu Kumalo

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Herman Mashaba 

When I decided to enter the dubious world of politics – the most daunting choice of my life – I knew it was a world in which I was going to be a disruptor. 

To borrow a quote, "I [had] come to the conclusion that politics [was] too serious a matter to be left to the politicians".

In my view, our country was threatened by collapse, though it’s not out of the woods just yet, and I could no longer sit back as an armchair critic. 

Moreover, the great but unrealised potential of our country made it all the more difficult for me to continue watching from the side-lines whilst a few unremarkable individuals seemed determined to herd us all into ruin.

One wonders whether South Africa’s economic growth rate could have found its way to the magical 6% by now, as envisioned by the National Development Plan (NDP), had our leaders been less pre-occupied with enriching themselves.

Sadly, despite the ANC having marched the former president, Jacob Zuma, to the gallows, it seems a number of his henchmen continue to dodge the executioner’s axe. 

We know of the massive damage caused by former president Zuma’s leadership – our country’s economic growth slid drastically downwards from about 3 to 4% to less than 1%.

South Africa moved from 20 consecutive quarters of positive growth and a surplus to a R57 billion budget deficit, which forced ardent Zuma supporter, former finance minister, Malusi Gigaba, to further impoverish the poor with a 1 percentage point VAT increase.

On Monday it became evident that the freshly minted president, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, was more prepared to perform a Cabinet recycle, instead of reshuffle – essentially keeping some of Zuma’s worst offenders in his circle of protection. 

Last December, I wrote that Mr Ramaphosa’s election as ANC president would not signal the new dawn that many hoped for. 

His recent Cabinet "reshuffle" simply confirmed that.
 
In Monday’s Cabinet recycle, Ramaphosa chose to retain Gigaba despite him emerging as one of the chief facilitators in the Gupta state project, particularly during his tenure as public enterprises and then home affairs minister.
 
Even the disreputable Bathabile Dlamini, who placed the financial welfare of 17 million grant recipients in jeopardy by insisting on an illegal contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), found refuge in Ramaphosa’s Cabinet.

It’s all a case of the same bus, same passengers, same route, just a different driver. Sadly, it also seems the most ill-disciplined of the passengers is likely to try wrestle the wheel from the driver. In any event, the less said about David Mabuza as our deputy president, the better.

From where I sit, we are in deeper trouble than we thought.

I grew up never imagining myself one day being a civil servant. I spent more than half of my life as a businessman, and in the process, became a firm believer in the free market.  

Free enterprise restored to me the personal freedom deliberately denied to myself and millions more South Africans through the evil system of apartheid.

I was fortunate that my efforts in business were successful. By my standards, when we finally achieved our political freedom in 1994, I was already an accomplished entrepreneur. 

Voting for Nelson Mandela on 27 April 1994 was one of those moments that will stay with me until I die. Madiba reinforced my self-belief; cheered my will to focus on the future rather than remaining a victim of my past. I became a proud citizen of my country for the first time. South Africa became the envy of the world.

This is the country I sought to help protect when I entered public service. 

On 22 August 2016, I was elected as the first non-ANC executive mayor of the City of Johannesburg by a coalition government led by my party, the Democratic Alliance, with the official support of our coalition partners and the EFF. 

It has been a tumultuous journey full of mixed emotions, successes and self-sacrifice. But, it has also been an immense privilege to serve.

I knew my actions were going to be unwelcome in certain quarters. I was attacked, insulted and called names.

The Sowetan piece of Monday, 19 February 2018, "Mashaba hires wife’s firm to fix City", has made me realise that South Africa has entered a new era of politics. 

No, I do not mean the sunshine and rainbows promised by those who are currently enamoured with Cyril. I speak to an unfortunate trend I have seen taking root in South African politics. 

Let me explain. 

Change is often a difficult thing, especially for those who are likely to see themselves stripped of the power they once possessed.

Desperately clutching at that power, they resort to the worst of measures to retain control.

With its strangle hold on South African politics gradually slipping, the ANC has increasingly become desperate to protect their power; in the case of Johannesburg, they are desperate to take it back at all costs. 

This includes deliberately spreading misinformation if need be. This is the era of politics I speak of.

Personally, I won’t have it.

Let me be clear, I am a strong, unapologetic supporter of a free press. I believe that democracy can only truly flourish when the media is free to disseminate information and be allowed space to question authority. And I am also a strong believer in accountability and openness.

How could I not be?

I sincerely believe that, were it not for our strong and independent media, South Africans may have never known of the scandal that was Nkandla or the controversial multi-billion Rand Arms Deal.

Were it also not for our independent media, we might have not known of how the Gupta family, with the alleged aid of former president Jacob Zuma and several of his ministers, went about pilfering the state.

However, given the new lay of the land, I would suggest our media must guard against being used to drive malicious political agendas. Such actions can only harm this noble professional. 

Our media must continue to function as independent defenders of the public interest and truth.

It is for this reason that the Sowetan article was startling to me. It appeared to rely heavily on information from an "anonymous source" with an ulterior motive. 

It is incumbent upon journalists to question the sources of their information as well as their sources' insistence on remaining in the shadows. What is it that these purveyors of information are willing to reveal under the cover of darkness that they will not reveal in plain sight, and why?

Often times, my office receives countless queries arising from these hooded information peddlers who set the media off chasing ghosts.

The Sowetan article also exposed how, too often, media outlets simply carry forward each other's stories without verifying what is contained in them.

The danger, as became evident in my case, is the dissemination of fake news on high circulation. Unfortunately, retractions and apologies aren’t as interesting as salacious gossip positioned as news. 

For those who do not have the power to make their version of the story truly heard, this can be entirely prejudicial.

It is important then for the media to note that in this era of politics, an equally new era of fact-based journalism should be ushered in with less of the alternative facts that are becoming so normal in our discourse now.

- Herman Mashaba is executive mayor of the City of Johannesburg.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    herman mashaba  |  city of johannesburg  |  media freedom  |  fake news  |  politics
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