The Big Read: The SABC's long-running farce

30 May 2016 - 09:20 By Justice Malala


This column was supposed to be about the SA Broadcasting Corporation and its nonsensical decision to ban footage of protests from its television news broadcasts. It was going to be a funny column.I was going to write it in the form of a play. I would have a Yes Minister-type of character called Hlaudi Motsoeneng as the protagonist.He would be a man on fire: desperate to keep his job (for without it he is nothing: no qualifications, no achievements, no prospects, no constituency and no talent) and desperate to please his political masters.His dilemma: What should he do next to get applause and kudos from Luthuli House and the Union Buildings? How should he make himself relevant to his political masters, to the man known as uBaba? After all, Communications Minister Faith Muthambi reportedly once said of him to SABC board members: "But Baba [President Jacob Zuma] loves him, he loves him so much."For my character Motsoeneng, this love has to be constantly renewed and reinforced.In the play, every time Motsoeneng opens his mouth the SABC choir - which in 2015 it was revealed sings songs in praise of him with the lyrics "Hlaudi Motsoeneng reya o leboha [we thank you]" - would burst into song.Last week, in response to a DA parliamentary question, Muthambi revealed that just over R3.7-million has been budgeted for the SABC choir for the 2015-2016 financial year and about R3.8-million for 2016-2017. Which explains why it sings so lustily for its supper.You must understand my protagonist's state of mind in the course of the play. On Monday last week, the Cape Town High Court dismissed with costs an application by Motsoeneng and the state broadcaster for leave to appeal a ruling setting aside his permanent appointment.As constitutional law expert and political commentator Shadrack Gutto told the Business Day newspaper, Motsoeneng should have vacated his office on the day of the judgment."We are dealing with people trying to dodge . obligations . The appeal has not gone through yet, so Motsoeneng cannot remain in office. He is defying the courts, and this has been allowed by the board because it is compromised. He has to step aside, if not resign," said Gutto.And so, with the courts saying he is a man who should not be in his job or even in the SABC building, what does Motsoeneng do? He announces that the SABC has taken a decision "that it would not show footage of people burning public institutions such as schools in any of its news bulletins with immediate effect".Why?"Continuing to promote them might encourage other communities to do the same."Really? So the people of Ennerdale, south of Johannesburg, are protesting because they watched SABC news showing the people of Vuwani, Limpopo, burning schools? And the people of Hammanskraal, Tshwane, do not have genuine "land hunger" and have not been evicted without notice in the middle of winter?In Motsoeneng's warped thinking, they are just imitating the people of Zandspruit in Johannesburg.This is the sort of illogical bunkum that has come to characterise the SABC.This is the tragedy, and some would say comedy, I wanted to write. But I am getting tired now. I am reaching the end of my endurance. Increasingly, I feel tired of shouting at those who have eyes, but refuse to see. I am exhausted by those who have organs on each side of their head but refuse to hear. I am drained by those who have brains, but refuse to use them. I am shouting against the wind.It is 22 years since South Africans defeated the apartheid monster that used to ban the showing of community protests, that muffled journalists and jailed editors. We saw what happens to a regime that tries to hide the reality of people's anger, that tries to act as a nanny to its citizens and make them believe everything is all right when it is not. Such regimes fail again and again.The SABC's decision, as COPE spokesman Dennis Bloem put it, "was a slip down a very dark hole".No one knows this better than the ANC, one would think. This is the party, after all, that fought for the real South Africa to be shown to the world and to South Africans throughout the 1960s, '70s and '80s. Yet ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said last week: "It's a responsible decision; it's responsible journalism and it's not self-censorship. It's a responsible one to an extent that you don't show what is not in the good interest of nation-building."When people who should know better say things like that, you know that we have now truly begun our descent.

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