The media is out of sync

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is set to consult with officials, civic society and opposition parties in Lesotho, the Presidency said. Picture :Nokuthula Mbatha/ANA Pictures

As with the Polokwane Conference, the media is out of sync with the majority of ANC branches and portraying Ramaphosa as being crowned ANC president. The Times Group in particular seem to be the de facto PR company for the Ramaphosa campaign. Yet as South Africans we must hear what ANC delegates are saying: let us not be governed by propaganda.

Up until the results for the presidency of the ANC was announced at its fifty-second national conference, the supporters of Thabo Mbeki, led by the likes of Mosiuoa Lekota and Mluleki George, were convinced that their man would win. Many remember the palpable disappointment on the face of Thabo Mbeki as he congratulated Jacob Zuma for winning the race. His sycophants had failed him and he was naked.

For many commentators, in the media and academics, this was a shock. They had convinced themselves that Mbeki would win it. Through the copious articles and commentaries, they delivered, these commentators thought that they could sway it in Mbeki’s favour. 

Already in 2003 with the infamous press conference of Bulelani Ngcuka, and Penuell Maduna on his side, a caricature of a tainted Zuma unfolded. Zuma was tried by the media, he was guilty of a case, as there was prima facie evidence against him but not enough evidence. Mbeki’s subsequent handling of the allegations against Jackie Selebi indicated that he had a hand in this campaign against Zuma. A charge he has subsequently strenuously denied. 

How is it possible that the minister of justice and constitutional development and the national director of public prosecutions addresses the media on a prima facie case against the sitting deputy-president of the Republic, without having first briefed the president on the matter? Did the president propose a delay, as he did in the Selebi case? If not, why not? These are the type of questions that remained unanswered.

Unlike with Pravin Gordhan and his encounter with a NDPP who announced a prima facie case against him, the media took this trial via the media perpetrated by these two against Zuma. Unlike with Gordhan, the media could see no political play with Zuma’s case. He was to be demonised and this demonization led to the case of rape.

The surprise at Polokwane was therefore only limited to the chattering classes. ANC branches across the country knew who held the balance of forces and who would take it. This was signalled already in 2005 with the reinstatement of Zuma at the ANC’s National General Council. Yet the media remained resolute. The gulf between what was happening in the ANC and what was said in the mainly English print media could not have been wider.

As if our media has not learnt about that gulf, seems it is widening even more today. In a week at the National Policy Conference where the dominant song was wenzeni Zuma?, the media continues to report that the Ramaphosa team had made victories. It is worthwhile to translate that song in full: “What has Zuma done? Answer! You are governed by propaganda. Tell us: what has Zuma done?”

Therefore, ever aware of the role that the media and commentators play in promoting smear campaigns, the delegates to the policy conference, who inevitably will be delegates to the national conference later in the year, have yet to receive an answer from their interlocutors. While these interlocuters may accuse these delegates of being in denial about their leader, the reality remains, the chattering classes are just not in sync with the delegates to the ANC conference.

The factionalist approach taken by the English print media, the Times Group in particular, is not new though. It was the Sunday Times that broke the story that President Zuma was being investigated for rape. A charge he would later be exonerated from. It was the Sunday Times which published two vitriolic attacks against President Zuma in 2006, in the run-up to Polokwane, titled: “Stupidity, a mitigating factor for Zuma” and “Visit the Zuma website to see what was meant”. At the time, the Sunday Times strenuously defended David Bullard, the author of the two pieces, to the tee. It was the Sunday Timeswho published Zapiro’s controversial cartoon depicting President Zuma ready to “rape” lady justice, while his key allies held her down.

Leading the pro-Ramaphosa faction in the media is Peter Bruce who in May 2017, before the policy conference, wrote an article titled: “Ramaphosa looks regal while Zuma slithers”. A week later, he described Ramaphosa as a “genuine reformer” stating that “South Africa is blessed with real leaders”. In July 2017, after the policy conference, he wrote an article titled: “Ramaphosa unleashed is a sight to behold – at long last”. Bruce continues to lead this pro-Ramaphosa pack which of course is completely out of sync with ANC branches.

As with Mbeki’s choir of supporters, the Sunday Times, a few weeks ago, reported widely on a poll that was conducted to test popularity in the ANC on who should become the president. According to the report, the poll was commissioned by the supporters of Lindiwe Sisulu to ‘test the waters’. As a side, this is a clever move by Sisulu supporters as she could easily be positioned as a king maker but more importantly it dispels her biggest criticism that she has no constituency. The poll proves she has some support.

The results of the poll was said to be nearly forty-three percent for Ramaphosa, doubling his support over that of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who is sitting at twenty-one percent. Sisulu polled seven percent. 

However, the poll, reported by the Sunday Times as a fait accompli for Ramaphosa, cites the sample of those polled to be at 2400. Half of these, it says, are card carrying members of the ANC. No further information is given on the sample. We do not know whether these card-carrying members are delegates or even active in the ANC. With a membership of, safely, a half-a-million, this sample represents not even a percentage of ANC membership.

If it was conducted with the majority of those polled coming from the Northern Cape, then Ramaphosa would score high. Yet the Northern Cape has the smallest delegation, if not the Western Cape, going to the conference.

Not to be outdone, the Financial Mail of 12 July 2017 suggests that the presidency is there for the winning for Ramaphosa. It should not be surprising that the Times Group has become a de facto public relations company for Ramaphosa. The bias that these publications, the Sunday Times, the Times, the Financial Mail, Business Day and the Sowetan, have displayed should dispel the notion that there exists editorial independence within the group. These editors are simply kowtowing to the pro-Ramaphosa line taken by the group. A group owned by Tokyo Sexwale’s Mvelaphanda Group and thus indicating a clear political agenda.

Never mind that Joel Netshitenzhe had to back-track on White monopoly capital, the media wishes us to believe that the Ramaphosa side is making head way based, especially they say, on the national policy conference outcomes. It is history repeating itself with the media’s darling being portrayed as president. If anything, the voices of the delegates and their message should be ringing in our ears. Let us not be governed by propaganda.

Wesley Seale teaches Politics at Rhodes University