Jan Gerber

Nasrec blues: Working in the clampdown

2017-12-20 13:47
Cyril Ramaphosa

Cyril Ramaphosa

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In these days of evil Presidentes – working in the clampdown!

We can’t speak to no delegates – working in the clampdown!

The coffee’s shit, the atmosphere’s lit – working in the clampdown!

We’re kept in a pen, herded around like cattle – working in the clampdown!

(With apologies to The Clash)

Since the start of the ANC conference, a bit of resentment has been building among the assembled media types. We are being kept away from the delegates in an encampment and some delegates have made it clear that we’re not wanted here.

At our very first chance to enter into the hallowed plenary hall for Jacob Zuma’s last political report as ANC president, we found supporters of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma singing and dancing in front of the stage. We were told to sit in front of the stage. As dancers started to bounce their way to the seats, one turned to us.

"We are going to beat you!" he yelled with eyes wide and his head glistening with sweat.

"You with your white monopoly!"

I thought it prudent not to point out that he forgot the "capital" at the end of this catchphrase.

Then Msholozi finally started his speech. He thanked everybody, including the media.

"Our friends, the media... Good friends, not so? Heh-heh-heh," he said.

Later in his speech he blasted the media, saying we are participants with a vested interest.

"They’re liars! They’re liars!" said a member of the Veterans’ League, who sat right behind me.

The other times we entered plenary, there were suggestions from the floor that we should be kicked out, with the notion that it is the delegates’ conference, not the media’s.

Then, on Tuesday, some of us stood up – literally. We were made to sit in lines on steps in the blazing sun and wait for newly elected ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa, who was strolling through the stalls of businesses exhibiting at the conference.

While the heavily guarded and grinning Ramaphosa shook hands with officials from companies like MultiChoice, Sasstec and Sharks Protection Services, we were baking in the sun and decided to leave after more than 30 minutes.

After Bloomberg journalist and Sanef’s chairperson for media freedom pointed out how unprofessional this all was, an angry senior policeman in plain clothes, believed to be an NDZ supporter (the type of guy who posts photos of himself with an AK47 on Facebook) took Mkokeli’s accreditation tag and manhandled him, in view of uniformed policemen. Hours later Mkokeli was allowed back in.

Getting to this walkabout already cast a shadow of totalitarianism over the event. An official of the ANC’s slightly Orwellian named Department of Information and Publicity (DIP) gave us a sermon about speaking to delegates, of which the gist was: it is verboten.

Then another security guy said, forebodingly, "We don’t understand democracy, we just understand security."

Since that incident, further complaints emerged: female journalists said they were touched inappropriately, footage has been deleted, and photographer with prosthetic legs was shoved when he couldn’t move fast enough for a security official’s liking, amongst other incidents.

In short, there is a nasty air of paranoid heavy-handedness in the way the media is treated in certain regards. In some ways the DIP looks after us well. We are well fed, for example. But I would rather do my job unhindered and live of Marlboro’s and water if necessary.

On Monday, at his last press conference as secretary general, Gwede Mantashe was asked why the media are prevented from talking to the delegates.

He said a "free for all" can’t be allowed; it could collapse the conference.

I don’t buy this argument.

The fact of the matter is us whiny journalists aren’t here for our own amusement, we’re here because we are the public’s ears and eyes, and whatever happens at Nasrec, has an impact on every South African.

This "whatever happens at Nasrec, stays at Nasrec" attitude isn’t helping a party whose public image has been tainted – to put it lightly – by a litany of grim scandals.

If Ramaphosa is serious about reviving this political party, a good start would be to breathe some transparency into this corpse. But I don’t know if this is the type of thing a guy who is constantly surrounded by security guards cares about.

- Jan Gerber is a politics reporter for News24. Follow him on Twitter: @gerbjan.

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:    cyril ­ramaphosa  |  anc leadership race  |  anc
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