Jessie Duarte's rant typifies ANC's disdain for media

07 April 2019 - 00:01 By Onkgopotse JJ Tabane

A few years ago Floyd Shivambu, then the ANC Youth League spokesperson, called journalist Carien du Plessis a "white b***h". Julius Malema told a BBC journalist that he had "rubbish in his trousers". He did this at Luthuli House where Jessie Duarte was deputy secretary-general. He kept his position, as did Shivambu. Fast-forward to when a journalist was choked in parliament's precinct and another had rapists unleashed on her on social media. Are we surprised?
To think Duarte is outside of the ANC norm is a mistake. The ANC deals with the media grudgingly. When Ace Magashule presides over a press conference, you can see the pain in his body language; he and Pule Mabe are ill at ease. Zizi Kodwa was an exception, if one remembers the fraudster Carl Niehaus and the petulant Duarte as his predecessors.
A few years ago I wrote an open letter to Duarte, who had just scored an own goal by claiming that "our people don't care about Nkandla". I suggested that we should then build Cyril Ramaphosa an Nkandla in Venda if it mattered so little. She retorted that "I know you think I am stupid". It had never crossed my mind.
After the publication of my book Let's Talk Frankly she summoned me to Luthuli House to ask "where I stand with the ANC". I found this offensive. She had not bothered to read my book to realise that my poison pen was directed at all in society, not just the ANC leaders.She was furious that there was a cartoon of the corrupt Jacob Zuma on the cover, and that I had dared make fun of one of his wives not being in good standing for allegedly attempting to poison him. Apparently the wives had served her with a petition to act against me. I was summoned to the principal's office, but she had no facts with which to confront me and concluded the meeting by saying I should "keep writing", as if I needed her permission.
I am tired of people like Duarte who shoot the ANC in the foot and are allowed to get away with it.
Duarte must be taken to the Equality Court. A clip of her insulting a CNBC journalist on the sidelines of the ANC's conference in 2017 is a case in point. After the party's horrible showing in the 2016 elections, she was furious at Power FM, claiming that it had a tiny listenership. She suggested that I should shut up. Before dawn she had apologised to my bosses.
She also pursued the silly idea of a media tribunal, one that has had no takers in the ANC. It won't fly in this country. Her outburst this week against TV reporter Samkele Maseko did not come about by mistake. It's what she and many ANC leaders have internalised in their misunderstanding of the role of the fourth estate in a democracy. In the same way, Baleka Mbete jammed the signal in parliament a few years ago.
The new minister of communications followed in those footsteps by blocking an SABC camera from filming what she did not want the public to know. The same Stella Tembisa Ndabeni-Abrahams collapsed the SABC board after two minutes in office.
But media freedom is not under threat. None of these people has the intellectual capacity to threaten it, imperfect as it is. They have not presented any strategy to silence the media. They are farting against the wind. The media even survived Zuma. He tapped the phones of journalists, had them tailed, and tried to sue cartoonists yet the media continued to expose corruption. We have also seen this in books by journalists - Zuma Exposed, When Zuma Goes, The President's Keepers and now Gangster State. The books were published in the midst of the attempted repression by successive ANC administrations.
The march to freedom of expression has won. Silencing critical voices is not a South African phenomenon, but here it will be resisted. Duarte suggested that the TV reporter did not, like her, fight in the trenches for media freedom. That does not make Maseko less of a citizen. Do we have to reach the age of 70 to lay claim to freedom?
Do you think anyone will ask Duarte to say sorry? I doubt it because many ANC leaders agree with her hostility towards the press. But this week's event reveals the last kick of a corrupt carcass in the ANC.
• Tabane is an author, communications expert and TV talk show host.

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