The impasse over the SABC’s alleged blackout of ANC activities continues, with a livid ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule lashing out at the public broadcaster on Friday night.
Magashule hinted that it was time the governing party took control of the SABC.
“It is amazing because our friends throughout the world are asking us a question: How are you governing? Why do you call yourself the governing alliance when you are not in charge of the public broadcaster?” Magashule said to raucous applause.
He made the remarks in front of SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande and Cuba’s vice-president, Inés María Chapman, during a public lecture on Cuba and Latin America at Unisa’s main campus in Pretoria.
Nzimande agreed with Magashule, saying: “Let’s put pressure, comrade Ace, on the SABC. We can’t be having a poison that we are given every day about Venezuela and Cuba. And sit and keep quiet and say that we have a public broadcaster. This is not an attack. It is a critique in an academic platform.”
He accused the SABC of analysing Venezuela from what it downloaded from Reuters news agency and other wires in the “major imperialist” countries.
“I always listen to radio. I am a fan of radio. Of course some of the radio is very right-wing, but I listen to know what the enemy is thinking. Sometimes I listen to many stations on SABC. And they will complete an item about Venezuela without calling the Venezuelan ambassador to South Africa. They do the same with Cuba. You hear someone saying this latest situation in Cuba has been one, two, three, here is a report from the British Broadcasting Corporation. My God!”
Nzimande said senior editors at the SABC should not tell them about freedom of expression. “Don’t tell us you have freedom of expression. We know that. It is the struggle of the people of this country who brought that very same freedom for those senior editors at the SABC to decide how to run their stories.
“But, you owe us. You have that freedom because of the sacrifice of the Cuban people. So be fair to the Cuban revolution.”
Well-placed sources within the SABC have for weeks speculated that there is a narrative coming from the governing party that the SABC is anti-ANC and is not giving it fair coverage heading into the elections.
The sources said that it wasn’t just Magashule who holds that opinion, but is a perception within the ANC at large.
One source told City Press: “This is the first time in a long time that there’s an independent SABC during a democratic election in South Africa and the ANC possibly feels hurt that they are not in charge.”
SACP national spokesperson Alex Mashilo said on Saturday that the party was deeply concerned about the history of governance decay at the SABC as well as unfair or biased coverage.
Earlier this month, City Press reported on a visit to the SABC news bosses by ANC head of elections Fikile Mbalula, where he accused the broadcaster’s newsroom of a “clampdown” on the ANC’s election activities, which he also referred to as a “blackout”, according to sources.
Mbalula denied that the meeting was hostile and said he had gone to the broadcaster because he “wanted to understand their approach to their coverage of political parties”.
But last week Media Monitoring Africa’s William Bird said: “There is no evidence from our elections monitoring at this stage that the SABC is treating the ANC unfairly in terms of the coverage the party receives.”
He said that the government continued to exert pressure on the broadcaster.
“If the ANC really cares about an independent public broadcaster,” said Bird, “why have they not appointed the new board? Why has that suddenly ground to a halt? And where is the money? A government guarantee or bail-out was promised by the communications minister two weeks ago, but it has still not arrived.
“It feels to me that the SABC is being deliberately kept in a state of perpetual crisis.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s apparent delay in formally appointing new board members, whose names have been put forward by Parliament, was the source of much speculation last week.
Two sources agreed that it probably had to do with the appointment of the chair of the SABC board.
Currently presiding over an inquorate board with four remaining members after a collapse that many perceived to be orchestrated by the ANC, current chair Bongumusa Makhathini is seen to be politically independent.
Sources believe the ANC would like to have him replaced and a new chair named.