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Editor’s memo

Defending repression

by Vincent Kahiya

AFRICAN politicians, especially the post-independence type, have this proclivity to control freedoms and rights of their subjects under the spurious premise that they won the fr

eedoms on behalf of the people.

The rulers, including our own here, have often masked this demagoguery in high sounding terms like “power belongs to the masses” or “people’s freedoms” or that “the people will determine the fate of this country” and so forth. But which people?

Last week SABC boss Dali Mpofu wrote a letter published in the M&G announcing the broadcaster’s pulling out of the South African Editor’s Forum because of the Sunday Times’ “appalling” handling of the Manto Tshabalala-Msimang issue (See page 16).

Mpofu in the letter deposited a fawning thought, the stuff demagogues spew indignantly in defence of repression.

He opined: “The parameters of our freedom will be determined by the people who brought that freedom about and not the apologists for those who inherently resent it and its foundational values.”

Mpofu not only uses the same language as politicians, he also believes that SABC speaks on behalf of the “people who brought that freedom” and not those who opposed the said freedoms.

Oftentimes, when political leaders with dictatorial tendencies talk of the “people” they mean a coterie of self-anointed powerful rulers who believe that they are infallible because they delivered freedom from colonialism.

Because of their exaggerated liberation credentials, post-liberation war rulers in Africa believe that they are the owners of freedoms that accrued from the demise of colonial regimes.

They see their roles as father figures who by right dispense the freedoms to the people in carefully prescribed doses.

The people should forever be grateful of their prescriptions and are not allowed to ask for more.

Dissenters are branded running dogs of neo-colonialists or what Mpofu calls “apologists”.

The point that Mpofu misses is that entities like SABC or our own ramshackle ZBC are suborned media outlets which do not deserve the title of a public broadcaster. They have become appendages of strong political forces in ruling parties.

Their PR role, especially the quest to praise-sing failure, has seen state-owned broadcasters being frowned upon by the public they pretend to represent. So the talk about “people” does not wash.

I also believe that it is important to declare at this juncture that that freedom is not necessarily the same as democracy.

In fact, democracy can be shown to be inimical to freedom.

The counting of heads, or the will of the majority, in no way protects or guarantees freedom.

In fact, freedom can be utterly savaged under democracy as the rise of Hitler’s National Socialist party proved.

Let me not talk about democracy here but concentrate on freedom.

The foundation of freedom is the principle of self-ownership.

Freedom can be measured by the yardstick of exactly how much self-ownership is permitted.

So it’s quite possible to talk of one country having more freedom than another.

As in the case of Zimbabwe and South Africa, they both claim to be democracies but they have varying levels of freedoms.

The relatively greater freedom in South Africa, as is the case in a number of African countries, is under threat from what is termed Zanufication of the ANC.

Writing for the New Statesman in March, veteran South African journalist and author William Gumede aptly captured the extent of Zanufication.

“The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has complained to the South African Broadcasting Corporation, the public broadcaster, over its failure to cover the Zimbabwean meltdown. Although the ANC in South Africa and Zanu PF are light years apart, the spectre of ‘Zanufication’ haunts South Africa, raising the question: ‘Is there something inherent in the political culture of liberation movements that makes it difficult for them to sustain democratic platforms?’”

If media freedom is a key pillar supporting the so-called democratic platforms in South Africa, then Mpofu’s moral high ground is a threat to the integrity of that political superstructure.

Gumede’s article quotes a senior national executive member of the ANC, Blade Nzimande, warning of the danger of South Africa backsliding: “We must study closely what is happening in Zimbabwe, because if we don’t, we may find features in our situation pointing to a similar development.”

Dr Tafataona Mahoso will soon be having good company down South.

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