OPINION | SABC crisis: Too much power was given to politicans at the end of apartheid

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The SABC building in Auckland Park in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The SABC building in Auckland Park in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Veli Nhlapo

A bailout is like a bandage and will only prolong the inevitable at the SABC which has been destroyed by politicians, writes Mokgele Modisane.


The SABC will not survive the current crisis that it’s facing – thanks to fatal blows inflicted by a party that is adept at that – the ANC. The fact that it is the hardworking professionals who are going to pay the price makes us angry and difficult to accept its fate.   

One of the biggest mistakes that the country made during the transition to democracy was to believe that almost all things that happened during apartheid were inherently wrong. To rub salt in the wound, we blindly trusted politicians when they were centralising control of institutions and giving themselves the absolute power to control them.

6 December marks the date which Bophuthatswana used to celebrate its independence. I remember that there was a broadcasting corporation there which worked excellently in many regards. It attracted skilful broadcasters who built a solid foundation, became a breeding ground for talent and was a platform for quality content. Unfortunately, we did not see all these things because it was a "Mangope thing".

A view held by critics of Bophuthatswana – which happens to be a dominant narrative - is that the homeland system was a creation of the apartheid regime to have some black folks appointed as administrators and given limited political and administrative authority. They would then be made to advance apartheid among their fellow people.

The conclusion is that people who agreed to this system, like Lucas Mangope, were puppets of Pretoria and they implemented its mission perfectly. Well, the former statement is true. The latter is false to many people who lived in Bop and experienced the positives of Mangope’s excellent leadership.

Kgosi Mangope knew the intentions of the white supremacists.

He cooperated with them and made them believe that he was going to deliver their intended purpose. It is very possible that they knew that Mangope might try to achieve something worthwhile, but they thought it would not be possible because they were in control of the purse strings, and the independence of the homeland was a domestic arrangement.

But Mangope was brought up by a man who performed miracles in his tiny village of Motswedi, where he invented modern development. His son wanted a bigger stage so that he could emulate him. He saw Bop as an ideal opportunity to do that.

Mangope's mission about his homeland was contrary to Pretoria’s. And this is what he eloquently spoke about when he opened parliament on the 10th anniversary of his homeland in 1987:  

"When the architects of apartheid drew their notorious blueprint for their particular brand of self-development, they envisaged returning the black people to the rural areas where they thought or said these black people had come from.

"They allocated something like 13-odd-% of the land to these black people. The idea was that the black people should go back to their huts and to their subsistence farming – if necessary they would be helped with some instruction on how to improve upon their unsophisticated methods…

"One can therefore understand the consternation felt, when using the simple tools and means handed over at the time of Independence, our country had the vision of break out of the mould of Southern African thinking in regard to development.

"A vision that would allow a Sun City, a Mmabana, an Ombudsman, a Consumer Council with teeth, and many other modern institutions. Sun City has drawn hundreds of thousands of South Africans, Southern Africans, Northern and South Americans, Europeans and others from the four corners of the world. 

"Other shocks were in store for them – a monopoly on TV in our common part of Southern Africa destroyed by the advent of Bop TV.  Our radio station with its “Mind of its own” intruded into the Southern African airwaves.  We dared to ensure that we had our own entrance and exit to the world in the form of our new airport and many other examples that kept coming into existence."

Bailouts are therefore like a bandage.

They will only postpone the inevitable painful truth of the demise of the SABC.

To fix the SABC and other good institutions that we have in our country, we need to remove the party with predatory politicians from the seat of power. This is why I recently decided to join a party that has a history of service delivery. We acknowledge certain shortcomings of Mangope’s regime and party. But we believe that his too numerous positives deserve to be emulated.  

Mokgele Modisane is a member of the United Christian Democratic Party. He recently finished writing 'Tautona L.M Mangope – The man who fought apartheid differently.' It will be published early in 2021.


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