More chiefs, but where’s the service delivery?

September 30, 2010

I was given a little booklet by Statistics South Africa entitled Stats in Brief 2009, and a very useful little document is is too. Hardly bigger than a Kindle screen, it contains in its 200-odd pages a wealth of statistical data on South Africa, from economic statistics to tourism figures. All the data in this little book is also available on Statistics South Africa’s website, but the book format, with its ease of moving between pages/sets of data, somehow enables you to make connections that are much more difficult to detect while navigating the web. For journalists, it is a veritable treasure trove of potential stories.

For example:  on Page 64, you’ll find that there has been no virtually no job growth in the Eastern Cape province over the past nine years. Turn the page, and you’ll notice that there has been about 47% growth in one particular job category: legislators, senior officials and managers. Mmm. Thumb through to the section on municipal expenditure and – my, oh my – the Eastern Cape province spends more on municipal councillors’ remuneration than any other province save KwaZulu-Natal, which has about a third more people. In percentage terms, the Eastern Cape muncipalities devoted 4.4% of their expenditure to councillors’ salaries in 2008, compared with a mere 0.8% in Gauteng, and up from 2.8% in 2001. Now if service delivery only improved at a similar rate…

Kudos to Stats SA for making this sort of informaiton available in such a user-friendly format.


ANC’s Mantashe suggests the Press Ombudsman is biased. In fact, he’s been rather kind to the government.

July 7, 2010

African National Congress (ANC) secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has resurrected the idea of a statutory tribunal to police the media. According to a report in Business Day, he accused the media of “negativity” in their coverage of the ANC government and said the Press Ombudsman is unable to deal effectively with unethical journalism, which he claimed was “very prevalent”.

I don’t think we have to worry too much about this; a statutory media council would be too gross an infringement of media freeom to pass constitutional muster. Be that as it may, Mantashe should be called to account. What exactly does he mean by “negativity”? Reports about failures of service delivery? About corruption? And can he give examples to support his blanket statement that “self-regulation does not work”? Mantashe states that the current Ombudsman cannot fairly adjudicate complaints against the press because he is a former journalist, making him inherently biased. But is that the case? In fact, the evidence suggests the opposite.

I did a quick analysis of Press Ombudsman rulings over the past three years, and found only five cases in which the ANC, the government or a senior government official submitted a complaint to the Ombudsman. Two of those were upheld, two were partially upheld, and one was dismissed on appeal. Hardly evidence of pro-press bias!

If Mantashe and his party have genuine grievances about press coverage, perhaps they should make use of the Press Ombudsman’s complaints mechanism before declaring that it doesn’t work. They may just be surprised.


Shock! Horror! Now the ANC Youth League wants to nationalise state-owned enterprises!

October 30, 2009

Never accuse the ANC Youth League of a lack of ambition. In an interview with the Mail & Guardian, secretary-general Vuyiswa Tulelo said the league wasn’t planning to stop at nationalising the mines. The mines are just the first step, she said.

“Later we will look at other sectors, including state-owned enterprises, especially rail and energy.”

Nationalising Eskom and Transnet? I though the trick was getting rid of them?

Tulelo also has advice for those who fret that the state won’t be able to run nationalised industries properly. “If you give people performance contracts, they will be forced to do better.” But that didn’t work for those who are running the soon-to-be nationalised Eskom right now…


Communist Party’s attack on Zille is puerile and defamatory

October 5, 2009

This is what passes for political debate in South Africa these days:

We cannot tolerate a situation wherein ugly Zille uses money that is supposed to build toilets to buy her own make-up and Botox. You can’t use that money to buy your Botox, that money belongs to service delivery…

The speaker was Buti Manamela, leader of the Young Communist League, at the launch of the SA Communist Party’s “Red October” campaign in Khayelitsha, Cape Town (read the full report in The Times).

How does he get away with this? And why do senior ANC leaders, such as Education Minister Blade Nzimande and ANC deputy secretary-general Thandi Modise, who were present, allow him to spew such vile sexism? Shame on them.

It is OK to attack the DA’s record in service delivery in the Western Cape. But it is not OK in 21st Century South Africa for a male politician to attack a female politican opponent by calling her “ugly” – especially not one who was in the front of the chorus condemning Zille for “sexism” when she appointed an all-male cabinet. And it is not OK to accuse an opponent of stealing public funds to pay for make-up and cosmetic surgery. That is not only puerile, it is also defamatory, and I hope Zille sues Manamela for every penny he has.

Service delivery? I don’t know if Manamela, Nzimande or Modise read The Times, but if they do, they should turn to page 6 of today’s paper, where they’d see a photograph of a child running through a cess pit of untreated sewage in a street in Ezakheni township, at Ladismith in KwaZulu-Natal. Despite residents’ frequent complaints, the municipality has done nothing to prevent sewage spills like these. This is in an ANC municipality in an ANC-controlled province. Calling Helen Zille names won’t make those people’s lives any better.


Nyanda for communications minister: is this some kind of sick joke?

May 11, 2009

Some journalists believe that President Jacob Zuma’s inauguration speech signalled a thaw in his relationship with the media. But actions speak louder than words: look who he appointed as his communications minister.

Of all the surprising cabinet appointments – and there are many – that of former Defence Force chief Siphiwe Nyanda as minister of communications is the most puzzling. Not only has Nyanda no obvious qualifications for the job, he has an active dislike of the media. He has been one of the most vocal media conspiracy theorists among Zuma’s closest supporters. 

In an article in November 2006, when Jacob Zuma was facing a charge of rape, and the corruption and fraud charges were still hanging over him, Nyanda accused the media of pursuing a vendetta against the president-to-be. Likening media reports of Zuma’s legal troubles to “name calling and scare-mongering”, he argued that the media were part of a giant complot of “forces opposed to Zuma’s ascendancy to high office”, and concluded, somewhat ominously: “With media like this, South Africans should not only be afraid – they should be very afraid. They should fight to reassert their rights to balanced, unbiased news reporting.”

Two years later, after the NPA dropped charges against Zuma, Nyanda again accused the media of “connivance” in “a grand scheme to persecute a citizen and violate his rights”; part of a “grand strategy” to undo the ANC president.

(Nyanda himself, it must be noted, was a target of unfavourable media attention some years ago, when it emerged that, while still chief of the defence force, he had bought a car at a discount from a company which successfully tendered for a chunk of South Africa’s arms deal; and again after he had left the defence force and went into business with a shady – to say the least – operator in the defence industry. Whether this is part of the conspiracy he doesn’t say.)

In his new position, Nyanda won’t actually have that much to do with the news media. He has a role in the appointment of a new SABC board, but the power to appoint and fire board members lies with Parliament. He oversees ICASA, but the communications authority is independent from ministerial interference. He will be the political head of the Government Communications and Information System. Arguably his most important job will be to oversee the liberalisation of South Africa’s telecommunications authority. He has no legal authority to exercise control over the news media.

But he will set the tone for the relationship between the media and the government, and if his past utterances are anything to go by, we should not expect a new era of glasnost. While the ANC has shelved its Polokwane proposal for a statutory media tribunal, the kind of thinking that led to it in the first place is still prevalent among some of those who believe Zuma was persecuted. It is the kind of thinking, as media commentator Anton Harber has noted, that “does not discriminate between acceptable criticism, discussion and debate, and the actions of the country’s enemies (whoever they are). It lumps everyone together in a lazy, sloppy and potentially dangerous way. The party’s critics are at one with the country’s enemies”.

You could argue that Nyanda simply got his just rewards for his steadfast support of Zuma; and there is nothing intrinsically wrong about appointing your closest allies to the cabinet. That is how politics work. I suspect Nyanda didn’t get Defence – for which he is imminently suited due to his military background – because he has too many business ties with the defence industry. So it may be that Zuma slotted him into the communications portfolio simply because it was available. But it just seems to me that by appointing Nyanda as communications minister, Zuma is saying something different to his ringing endorsement of press freedom in his inauguration speech.

Nyanda may prove me wrong; I hope he does. After all, it was his boss – the victim of the “media conspiracy” – who said on Saturday:

“We must defend the freedom of the media, as we seek to promote within it a greater diversity of voices and perspectives.”


Mangcu accuses the media of “cowboy justice”. Where’s the evidence?

March 26, 2009

A favourite tactic of media critics is to use anecdotal evidence to tar the whole profession. In his Business Day column this week, Xolela Mangcu goes one better. He convicts the media of “cowboy justice” in its coverage of Jacob Zuma’s legal travails, without providing one shred of evidence in support.

Sweeping statements are made, and then applied to the media at large in support of Mangcu’s argument that Zuma isn’t getting a fair deal. For example: “Journalists and cartoonists have continued to describe Zuma as a rapist” even though he has been acquitted on a charge of rape. But which journalist? Which cartoonist? Similarly, “they” – the media – “have convicted Zuma in the court of public opinion of the murder of ANC cadres Ben Langa and Thami Zulu”. But which media specifically? Where is the evidence? Of course there have been ethical lapses in the coverage of Zuma’s political and legal battles. Nobody is perfect. But you can’t condemn an entire profession for the mistakes of a few. For one who accuses the media of “riding roughshod over the rule of law”, Mangcu shows remarkably little respect for due process.

What’s more, Mangcu is plain wrong when he states that the law does not differentiate between politicians and ordinary citizens when it comes to protection of their rights. Our law relating to the protection of privacy does indeed make a distinction between ordinary people and public figures such as politicians, who are deemed to have a diminished right to privacy. Similarly, the law of defamation recognises that a politician has less of a claim to the protection of his reputation than ordinary citizens. The mechanism used to decide under which circumstances a politician’s privacy may be legitimately invaded, or his reputation impaired, is the public interest (not, as Mangcu states, “public opinion”). The public interest is a difficult concept to pin down, but we have a long line of judicial precedents to guide us. It does not mean “what the public is interested in”, and neither is it the same as the “national interest”. It means, more or less, what the public should, or needs, to know about our politicians. By that standard, much of what Mangcu describes as “cowboy justice” is in fact legally justifiable.

It is not, as Mangcu complains, that “some of our most senior journalists” expect Zuma to meet “a higher standard than that in the Bill of Rights”. They expect him to meet a higher standard than ordinary citizens, because he wants to president of our country. There is nothing wrong with that.


Statutory media tribunal not a good idea after all, says ANC, but we still want our newspaper

March 25, 2009

So the ANC no longer thinks a statutory media tribunal is a good idea, at least not for now, The Times reports. I suppose that is good news; not that a statutory media tribunal would ever have passed constitutional muster anyway.

The party still thinks it would be a good idea to have its own newspaper, according to Jesse Duarte. I can’t wait. Isn’t this just the time to start a new newspaper?

I previously wrote about the ANC’s publishing dreams here.