The media in South Africa, it is suggested, should rather concentrate on issues and policies than on personalities and private lives.
Even in the case of Joel Netshitenzhe, there are no holy cows in South Africa.
The recent massive email leak involving a specific family and their business dealings has recently dogged our headlines.
South Africa has greater challenges to worry about, such as decent sanitation, young girls being raped and killed and the majority of our young people, according to Statistics South Africa, never finding a job in their lifetime. Yet we are subjected to the private emails of a family.
If there is criminal activity involved, report it to the relevant authorities and let the courts determine their fate, but let us move on and deal with the issues that really affect our democracy. State capture is not unique to South Africa nor did it come, allegedly, with the Guptas.
Jane Duncan in a seminal chapter describing the media’s role in South Africa’s democracy and specifically in the 2009 national and provincial elections sums up the challenge with our media and print media in particular.
The chapter, Desperately Seeking Depth: The media and the 2009 elections, suggests what could be best described by a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Great minds talk about ideas, average minds talk about events and small minds talk about people.”
In her study, Duncan tries to assess whether those running for political office are keeping the ideas and issues such as unemployment, crime, poverty, the economy, HIV-Aids, housing and corruption on the table. If these elected officials are not doing so, then at least the media should.
Sadly in Duncan’s assessment, “… owing to its overtly commercial nature, (the) South Africa’s media system has a political economy that skews media attention towards upper-income brackets …”
In other words, the “real” issues are lost. Duncan continues, “…issues affecting lower LSMs (Living Standards Measurement), such as poverty and unemployment, are less likely to be canvassed in the media…”
To drive her kernel point home, Duncan says “… by focusing on the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, at the expense of the ‘why’, delivery problems are not exposed consistently, and when they are, they are not related to party policy decisions…”
The current overemphasis on one family and their social networks – or who they have business and political dealings with – has become the focus of our media lately.
Instead of interrogating the why, we are led to focus on the who, the what and the where. We are directed to focus on places, events and people. As a result, we lose the basic sense of consistency, as Duncan points out, and our inability, through our public discourse, to interrogate issues rather than just people and events.
For example, two leading academics who recently released their work on state capture, titled Betrayal of the Promise: How South Africa is being stolen, are employed by the Public Affairs Research Institute (Pari), a division of the University of the Witwatersrand.
In the first quarter of 2015, Pari called for applications for its masters bursaries which are only eligible at Wits.
The scholarships were valued at R80000 a year at the time and one assumes the degree will be completed within two years.
That is R160000 for each masters student. Currently, Pari lists six masters fellows on its website and three doctoral fellows. Doctorates are done in five years, so the funding increases.
It is superfluous to calculate the exact figure as the R80000 figure is at least two years old. But it does give one an idea of the funding received by Pari for these bursaries alone. Would Pari be able to survive without them?
The punchline of course is that these bursaries are called the Pari-Nedbank Bursaries. The Pari website states: “…these scholarships are made possible and are generously funded by Nedbank and the public service sector Education and Training Authority.”
The call for applications for the scholarship, as advertised on NGO Pulse, does not mention Seta though, but is branded the Pari-Nedbank Scholarship.
As mentioned earlier, Pari depends heavily on Nedbank for funding; funding that would have enabled these two academics to add their work to the state capacity research project.
Should it therefore come as a surprise to us that Joel Netshitenzhe, the latest ANC NEC member to call for the recall of President Zuma, sits on the board of Nedbank?
Conspicuously, it would seem that Netshitenzhe enjoyed a profile on the Pari website up until recently but it is no longer available.
Netshitenzhe was head of ANC policy in the most crucial years of our democracy. He was there when the tectonic shift was made from RDP to Gear; a move that reinforced structural poverty.
He played Mbeki’s Goebbels in rolling out a propaganda machine when heading the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) by denying the millions who were dying from HIV-Aids because Mbeki’s administration refusal to roll-out ARVs. His machinery denied the xenophobic attacks and the rampant crime that was affecting the poor in the main.
Netshitenzhe was there in the corridors of power when unemployment in South Africa rose to its all-time high in post-apartheid South Africa, sitting at 31% of the economically active population.
Such is the legacy of Netshitenzhe and he deems himself worthy of calling for Jacob Zuma’s head.
One could fall into the same trap that the South African media does and concentrate on Netshitenzhe, but we must not. We must as, someone suggested, join the dots.
We must join the dots between the ANC left under the Mbeki presidency and the harvest that the ANC is reaping because of what happened under that presidency.
We must join the dots in understanding that because of international isolation, the national Treasury, even under apartheid, was strong and therefore played an influential role in the country’s transition to democracy and the early years of our young democracy.
We must understand that the policies perpetuated under people like Trevor Manuel, who today unashamedly is in denial about white monopoly capital, is what brought our economy into the stagnation it currently experiences and the quagmire it now faces because of failed “inclusive growth” policies.
We must join the dots between which corporates and individuals fund which academic projects, implicitly and explicitly, and who the ones are who are pointing fingers calling the kettle black when they themselves are guilty of the same crimes.
So what if the Guptas funded Black First Land First? It is a worthy cause, it is an idea and an important issue. We must take it seriously and fund it.
The challenge remains when we talk about individuals rather than systemic issues which, like a cancer, affects all of us. Sadly, for the Guptas, there are no holy cows in South Africa.
Wesley Seale lectures politics and international studies at Rhodes University
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