Do South Africans mistrust President Jacob Zuma so much that they are prepared to believe Muammar Gaddafi?
And does South African media, confronted with a quote from a Libyan state TV broadcast, report it with a tinge of “it’s possible Zuma could have said this” or does it report it in a way that makes it clear that this is Libyan TV at its propagandist best?
I found the reports on Thursday, following a BBC radio comment on what Libyan TV reported on a conversation between the two leaders, a bit unsettling.
First the facts as we know them.
During this week Zuma got a call from the “Brother Leader and Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”.
A conversation took place and the call ended. Now there are people who say Zuma should not even have taken the call. That is absolute balderdash, as our other long-serving leader would have said in his prime.
How, or indeed why, should Zuma refuse to speak to Gaddafi if the latter wants a chat?
Maybe it was a “goodbye my friend” call or maybe he could have been saying “how do you think I should handle these upstarts that are rocking my applecart?”
Or, indeed, Gaddafi could have wanted Thabo Mbeki’s phone numbers from Zuma so he could ask the former president how one deals with a people who say go when you had not thought it was time yet.
Zuma could not have refused the call and taking it was the right thing to do.
After that conversation Libyan TV reportedly said that our president had told the great one that he would call for the African Union (AU) to “take decisive action and uncover the conspiracy that Libya is facing”.
While Thursday’s reports did not go into the conspiracy details, Libyan TV has always defined the conspiracy as wide, starting from Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and passing through drug addicts and drinkers of Nescafé to Barack Obama.
The implication is that Zuma has bought into this conspiracy theory and feels the AU should investigate it.When Libyan TV says this is what Zuma said the South African media says Zuma needs to explain.
Really? Have we now started believing the Libyans or is it just that we have never really trusted Zuma?
Libyan TV further claimed Zuma had also stressed “the need not to depend on tendentious reports circulated by foreign media outlets” and “the need to listen to Libyan media in this regard”.
Without claiming to be anything close to a “Zumaism scholar” or one who understands the president fully, the expressions in this statement are not the kind one is used to from the man from Nkandla.
Honestly, I am having difficulty with imagining Zuma saying “tendentious” in a free flow conversation, even with Gaddafi.But still the coverage in our media was tinged with a sense of “it is possible he could have said this”.
Hence, the stress in virtually all coverage was on the fact that spokesperson Zizi Kodwa refused to elaborate beyond saying the government would not discuss distortions of the conversation.
Of course all of us may know the stories from 2006/07 that the great one had bankrolled Zuma to the tune of R22?million.
This much was in the much maligned Browse Mole document.
The talk then was that the money was used to fund the great comeback and the bussing of people to the various court cases that Zuma was facing at the time.
So some level of suspicion of payback time between Zuma and Gaddafi could be imagined.
However, South Africa has made its position on Libya as clear as possible.
It has supported sanctions at the UN, supported the country’s expulsion from the Human Rights Commission, denounced the killings and called, like everyone else, for respect for the rights of Libyans to have their say without being bombed by forces of their supposed revolutionary leader.
So, when we have all along treated Libyan TV as the propaganda mouthpiece of the man and which you believed at your own peril, how do we turn around this time and behave as if we have bought into a tendentious foreign media argument.
Do we mistrust Zuma that much?
A few years ago an Indian diplomat, on his way home after doing duty here, said the South African media reports on our country as if South Africans were foreigners. His utterances came to mind this week and I have been wondering why.
» Tsedu is City Press’s public editor