Long live the spirit and memory of Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela-Mandela! Yet sadly, by Monday morning after her funeral, the media in South Africa had shifted its focus and was directing the nation’s narrative again. The outpouring of grief, memories and examination of Mme Nomzamo’s life would, within a few hours, give way to the media’s agenda again and be refocussed to something else.

As Her Royal Highness Princess Zenani Dlamini testified in her obituary of her mother, many media houses, initially, did not succumb to the pain of the loss of the mother of our nation. They too, like the western media continued to do, brought up old lies, old stories and old clips to remind us of who they thought had died. However, these domestic media houses soon experienced the backlash of a mourning nation. 

References to “ex-wife”, ‘former activist” and the Seipei saga were dropped. Ironically within a matter of days, the media itself would go on trial through the nation becoming aware of how media houses and journalists in particular were used by the apartheid regime to discredit our Mme Nomzamo. 

The reality of course remains that Mme Nozamo was one of the greatest, if not ‘the’ greatest, victims of a disinformation campaign this country has ever witnessed. As was revealed, academics, journalists, media houses, analysts, policemen and politicians, on both sides of the political spectrum, were used to perpetuate this web of lies. 

It is therefore correct that HRH Princess Dlamini should ask why the truth is only told now that her mother has passed on. This could even be interpreted as a rhetorical question, for the point was that her mother had suffered so much in life that these perpetrators of killing the truth had to ensure that she suffered in death, not knowing the truth.

Disinformation has become part of our culture. An bed-fellow of fake news, one may suggest that it is a result of the political culture in which we live, a post-truth society. As sensationalists, we want what is ‘sexy’, what makes us feel good and then link it to anyone, no matter what damage is caused. Even more so, in a climate where ‘spin’ has become the norm, all we need is a little truth and then add some untruths to the mixture in order to spice things up. 

Sadly, our democracy is the lesser for it because the right to information is a cornerstone of any democracy. The media, which has the task of holding the state accountable, are the very architects of these untruths and are often the cause of this web of lies.

In recent weeks, in the light of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytic scandal, we have seen that the destruction wrought on our democracy is not only done by the print and broadcast media but by operators of social media as well. Not only are we fed fake news, violating our right to information, but our right to privacy is also compromised by our personal information being sold off to the highest bidder.

It is within the light of this that one is very sceptical when one reads about the current court application made by the Office of the Inspector General of Intelligence (OIGI), in the media. 

In the wake of his High Court application, which no doubt sought to catch headlines, there has been a concerted effort, almost deliberately one could imagine, of a smear campaign against the Director-General of the State Security Agency, Arthur Fraser. 

One cannot help but think of those who have gone before on that list of falling victim to smear campaigns: Robert McBride, Anwar Dramat, Jeremy Veary, Peter Jacobs and now Arthur Fraser. 

Needless to mention, that they are all former umKhonto weSizwe combatants who were or now are in strategic places in the state and who have to endure articles such as: “Who is Robert McBride?”, “Who is Arthur Fraser?”, by a bias media. Bias, because, as with Mme Nomzamo, we hardly get to hear of their sacrifices.

Indeed, Fraser has been in the news of late, especially with the release of Jacques Pauw’s book: President’s Keepers: Those keeping Jacob Zuma in power and out of prison. Yet the majority of media houses, if any, do not report that when linking Arthur Fraser to this book, that the two previous OIGI’s had already investigated and exonerated Fraser in its reports of 12 December 2013 and 25 April 2014. Of course, this truth is too inconvenient for our media. 

The question is why now, almost a decade after the so called allegations against Fraser are these matters making headlines again, why is Fraser a threat to the Republic or to some persons in the Republic,  we must ask? 

The history of Fraser is well documented, he did not conform to Mbeki in 2005, he did not conform Zuma in 2009. In both instances he was regarded as a pariah by these former presidents, if newspaper reports of this period are to be believed. If the so called evidence was credible against Fraser, why not prosecute him at the hight of the Zuma era, when Fraser was technically fired by Zuma. 

In reality, neither does SSA have control over what is leaked and what is published and herein lies the moral dilemma. The media gets to choose what becomes public and what is supposedly in the interest of the Republic.

On Monday 12 March 2018, in one of the rare less dramatic firings in the Donald Trump White House, John McEntee, the president’s long-time personal assistant was frog-marched from the White House. He had failed his security clearance test. In one of the greatest democracies in the world, the right to the protection of state information is paramount. Any democracy, simply cannot afford for state secrets to be made public. 

Many, especially media corporations, would argue that it is for the sake of public interest that such information be released but whether it is actually in the interest of the public is another question altogether. What a breach such as the one in the Cambridge Analytica saga has taught is that this right to know certainly does conflict with the right to privacy; both individual and state privacy.

Dr Setlhomamaru Dintwe, the inspector general of intelligence, alleges that he cannot fulfil his constitutional duties without the necessary security clearance. The head of the Agency, whom the OIGI gives oversight to, contends that Dr Dintwe was twice informed that there had been a breach of  classified information and, after a third instance, indicated in a meeting that he would need to re-vet Dr Dintwe. Dr Dintwe neither responded to any of the letters nor did he object to being re-vetted; truths not reported in the media. Surely the best way for this matter to be settled was for a court of law to adjudicate. If Fraser was wrong then he must fall on his sword, but if he was right, then as a nation we have serious problem with the man heading our OIGI today.  

South Africa, as a democracy, may have a bigger problem than we imagined. For not only are some of our media houses peddling in classified information, a criminal offence, but so are members of parliament. When a member of parliament is presented with classified information, they are duty bound – given their constitutional oath, to report such information and persons peddling in such information to the authorities. 

At the same time, South Africans have an inspector general of intelligence who does not know the law governing his fiduciary duties and who does not follow the prescripts of that law which dictates that he must first appeal to the Minister before seeking external remedies. Even worse still, we seem to be sitting with a person heading the constitutional institution that should be giving oversight to our intelligence services who simply cannot keep a secret. While in the meantime, the smear campaigns continue.

If our President is keen to permanently resolve this matter once and for all, appoint a judge to investigate and findings criminal or otherwise against whoever has subverted the rule of law. 

Wesley Seale is a PhD Candidate at Beijing University in China

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