South Africa Watch

ANC is South Africa’s biggest source of fake news

Wings of fake news

It has become virtually impossible for the South African media to not disseminate fake news when reporting on the country’s political scene.

Beset by factionalism, two formal centres of power at national level, multiple centres of power at sub levels, and an intransigent deployee as head of government, it has become impossible for the African National Congress to speak with one voice. In the process it has become the biggest source of fake political news in the country.

For the media, the job of journalism has also been complicated by how social media is turning reporting into a virtual, unscripted real-time so-called reality show. 

This reality was starkly illustrated this week by what happened with South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) reporter Tshepo Ikaneng, while reporting live on the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) at a luxury Gauteng resort.

He became an instant twitter celebrity with his scoop that a deal had been struck, and that President Zuma had agreed to be “recalled.”

Quoting “authoritative” sources he reported that the only remaining issue, holding up matters, was disagreement over how the “recall” will be communicated.

Next came a statement from a spokesperson of the president’s office describing the report as fake news. However, just about 24 hours later, on Tuesday, ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, in a statement at media briefing, confirmed reporter Ikaneng’s take on the matter, saying: “…  the President had agreed in principle to resign and had proposed time frames extending from three to six months.”

He then added that “…the NEC once again sent a delegation to brief the President Jacob Zuma about the need to shorten the timeframes so that this matter is speedily resolved. The NEC received feedback from the delegation that the President of the Republic did not accede to a shorter time frame.”

It would seem that, in this case, if anybody was responsible for spreading fake news, it was the office of the Presidency on Mr. Zuma’s watch.

However, yesterday it did not stop at diverging messages from party scource and government's executive. Secretary general Magashule and his predecessor in that position, Gwede Mantashe, the now chairman of the ANC, did not sing from exactly the same hymn sheet.

While Magashule during the media briefing repeatedly dodged the question if the party would introduce a parliamentary motion of no confidence in M. Zuma if he does not very shortly resign, Mantashe in the Eastern Cape told an ANC gathering the NEC told Mr Zuma: “Once you resist (to resign) we are going to let you be thrown out through the vote of no confidence … we are going to let you be devoured by the vultures.”

Confusion remains

The questions of the when, and how the ANC will allow Mr.  Zuma to be removed, or remove him itself, from office were expected to be answered after Wednesday’s ANC parliamentary caucus. Fact is, short of him resigning himself, parliament is the only institution which can remove him legally.

Whatever statement is issued after the caucus meeting, don’t expect it to be the only news to emerge in the days, and maybe weeks, to follow on the matter – much of it to be labelled “fake news.”

The situation surrounding the ANC reminds this reporter of the days when reporting from parliament in the late 1970s, and the then governing National Party being deeply divided about the issues of political, and other, reforms needed. After every Thursday’s caucus meeting, at least two stories would emerge from leaks from both sides of the divide.

The difference then was that there were no twitter and the like to compete with, leaving some time before the next day’s paper’s deadline for going to print. Time to crosscheck the information you had just does not exist anymore. This situation is further exacerbated by a serious flaw in the way that a platform like Twitter functions. Most often it gives you a short one-liner without allowing you to go the original report or document it punts.

The challenge for jouralists in today’s political-, and media environment is to identify the trends and processes at play to assist readers in understand the confusion surrounding them.

In short, the details differ, and the context change from time to time, however political processes remains the same. Judged against the experience of first reporting on, and later being a member of the NP’s caucus, I’m convinced that the ANC is divided beyond repair, its historic mission as liberation movement completed, and its demise only a question of time, and whether it will be a managed process or a chaotic collapse.

For the sake of the country it can only be hoped that the new ANC leader, Cyril Ramaphosa, like a F.W. de Klerk, will realise this truth and avoid the latter, which could damage the country for decades to come. He should go the “managed process” route.

by Piet Coetzer

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