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ANC will not succeed with apartheid strategy

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In the changed media world of global electronic news sites and social media, the ANC government will not succeed with the same kind of manipulation strategies that failed the apartheid regime.

Nothing illustrated this truth better than what happened when violence erupted last week in the streets of Tshwane.

While the ANC downplayed the violence in statements and blamed “outside parties” for protest, the South African Police Service called for reinforcement amid rumours that the Defence Force might be deployed in the area.

The government-controlled South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) only reported that the ANC’s “National Executive Committee and the Gauteng provincial leadership are expected to meet with Tshwane ANC branches in an effort to try to resolve the standoff in the city.

“Alleged disgruntled ANC members in the city went on violent protests over the party’s Tshwane mayoral candidate, Thoko Didiza.”

While it did mention that “buses were burned and a metro police vehicle overturned and roads barricaded in and around Mamelodi”, it did not show any footage of the violence or damage to property on its news bulletins.

The broader public was, however, well informed about the extent and seriousness of the situation on social media platforms like Twitter, via online news sites (many from international news organisations) and You Tube feeds.

Similarities with the past

There are striking similarities between what is happening at present regarding the flow of official information in South Africa and that of four decades ago under apartheid.

With the strong regulation at that time of any information that could remotely be linked to ‘security’, it was often claimed that if you wanted to know what was really happing in the country you should read foreign papers. And famously it was a BBC documentary in 1965 that revealed a picture of township life white South Africans hardly knew existed,

Last week a headline in a Twitter feed proclaimed: “If you want to know what is happening, watch foreign media.”

Back then, in the 1970s, manipulation of information at times led to ridiculous situations.

At the time of the ‘Border War’, newspapers were forbidden to report anything about it without permission of the SANDF – for “security reasons”.

Then news editor of a daily morning paper, I noticed one day that we were carrying an official notice of the funeral of a young soldier killed on the border. The reporter instructed to follow up the story came back to say the SANDF spokesman refused to give permission for us to report on the matter – even though it had already been carried as an advertisement in our paper.

Having shared some time with the spokesman as members of the parliamentary press gallery, I phoned him to enquire after the reasons for his refusal of permission for us to report on the matter.

“It is the afternoon papers’ ‘turn’ to get permission to publish first and they can only run with it tomorrow afternoon,” was his reply. He could, or would not, give any security-related reasons for his refusal of permission.

Changed world

Ironically, considering the present stance on violent protest by the government-controlled SABC, run by an ANC deployee, the then SANDF spokesman had been recruited for the job from the ranks of the then equally government-controlled SABC.

The culture of how government and the SABC deal with information has clearly not changed in the past four decades.

But the media world has changed dramatically. As events in Tshwane have become shared public knowledge, another twitter message distributed last week nailed it on the head by stating: “The revolution will not be broadcast, it will be tweeted.”

In this changed environment the ANC and its deployees have even less of a chance to hide the truth from the citizenry than the apartheid regime had.

by Piet Coetzer

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