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JOHANNESBURG — Media censorship and Apartheid went hand in hand, but thankfully the dawn of democracy in South Africa enshrined freedom of expression under the new Constitution. However, despite this right being made sacrosanct post-1994, the SABC, according to Ed Herbst, has become a bigger censorship monster than it did during its time under Apartheid-rule. Herbst, in this piece, goes on to explain how he eventually opted for early retirement from the SABC after he became fed up with its almost daily censoring and abuse of journalists, particularly under the Thabo Mbeki era. It’s a sobering piece and one hopes that the SABC will one day strive to serve all South Africans and not whoever is politically in charge. – Gareth van Zyl
By Ed Herbst*
Perhaps it was the excitement of accompanying my parents to the (1992) referendum voting station and seeing the longest queue of my life. I remember the tension and the look of hope on people’s faces as they discussed the real possibility of a ‘new South Africa’. I also recall my parents telling me, “This referendum is the watershed event that will decide the fate of our country.”
The referendum results revealed that after a registered voter turnout of 86%, a majority 68.7% voted ‘yes’. This resounding ‘yes’ vote signalled the irreversible death knell of apartheid. – Robert J. Traydon News 24 19/10/2017
The wheels in South Africa have not come off and it will just be a matter of time before the country once again emerges as a jewel, said Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday. – Liesl Peyper Fin24 19/10/24
I was one of the 68.7% of voters who voted for change in 1992 and, in my naïve gullibility, I believed Cyril Ramaphosa two years later when we were promised a country which would turn its back on the past. The ANC promised that there would be:
- An end to corruption
- Open and transparent governance
- An end to racial profiling and ethnic hatred and that ethnicity would no longer be a barrier to personal progress
- A resolute crackdown on crime
- A focus on uplifting the poor – this was an imperative as the planned R32 million (and counting) upgrade to the ANC premier’s official Parkside residence in Pietermaritzburg indicates
- A more efficient South Africa
- Job creation and a vibrant economy
- A gentler, more empathetic South Africa
- A more caring South Africa
- A South Africa with a strong emphasis on human rights
In particular I, as an SABC employee, sincerely believed Ramaphosa when he promised a more truthful SABC, free from political bias. This is what he said at the time:
When the ANC wins the electoral support of the majority of South Africans, it will not seek to replace the National Party as the subject of the SABC’s slavish loyalty. And we want to establish both the principle and practice of that independence now.
The ANC is committed to public broadcasting which is independent of the government of the day, and which owes its loyalty not to any party, but to the population as a whole. In other words, we propose a broadcast service committed to providing full and accurate information to all South Africans, and one which is protected from interference by any special interests – be they political, economic or cultural.
Initially, that hope was realised when we had people like Zwelakhe Sisulu, Barney Mthombothi, Allister Sparks, Max du Preez, Jacques Pauw and John Perlman working at the SABC, but the rot started when President Thabo Mbeki deployed his imbongis – people like Snuki Zikalala, Christine Qunta, Thami Mazwai and Dali Mpofu – to the SABC.
The Mbeki era at the SABC ended with the state broadcaster having deliberately not used its massive audience reach to counter the HIV-AIDS pandemic and taxpayers being forced to fund a R1.4 billion bailout after a decade of typically-ANC wanton looting.
As authors like RW Johnson and Brian Pottinger have pointed out, the de-modernisation of the state, the criminalising of the state, started in the Mbeki era and yet, as I experienced, the SABC prevented its reporters from documenting this downward spiral. It commissioned documentaries and then immediately binned them if they were found, in the slightest way, to be critical of the ANC – an extraordinary example of wasteful expenditure.
Now, in the Zuma era, an insolvent SABC requires a bailout of more than double that amount and JZ783 continues to gerrymander the SABC board by appointing two of his inner-circle cronies to the most influential positions on the SABC board.
No SABC staff members died or committed suicide during the apartheid era as has happened in the recent past because of the actions of the ANC’s illegally deployed cadres at the SABC. And, speaking from personal experience, the Sea Point news office was a paradise compared to the purgatory we experienced after two ANC-supporting enforcers, Jeffrey Mzukisi Twala and Kenneth Makatees, took control in 1998, clamped down on any news coverage which did not favour the ANC, constantly sought to undermine the main opposition party while promoting the ANC and started a purge of ethical new staff . This was a portent of what is now happening at the Cape Times which, like the rest of the Independent Media titles, seems to be on the verge of bankruptcy.
In 2008, Helen Zille had this to say about Twala
It is no coincidence that Zithulele Twala, the Commission’s secretary, is the brother of Mzukisi Twala, the regional editor of SABC television news. I think it is fair to describe SABC’s television coverage of the Commission as “selective” to put it mildly. But its reach is enormous.
She was not alone in such observations – read what IFP politician, Suzanne Vos, had to say in parliament in the same year.
I started work at the SABC in 1977 and, in the next 21 years, I had only two news inserts deliberately dropped for party political reasons. After 1998 we, in the SABC’s Sea Point news office – now effectively controlled by the ANC – lived with daily censorship by omission and grossly-biased, utterly corrupt ANC-favouring news coverage.
My first experience of censorship during the apartheid era occurred in 1977 when there was a standoff between the police and students about a road closure on the campus of Pretoria University. The second was in the 1980s when opera singer Mimi Coertse, an SABC board member, intervened to prevent my story from being broadcast about how she abused her National Party influence to build a multi-storey building on the Bloubergstrand plot where she had a beach cottage. My broadcast story was a follow-up to a Cape Argus article – it was a reputable newspaper before the Sekunjalo takeover. Coertse’s three-story edifice cut off the sea view of the house behind her where a badly physically and mentally handicapped child lived. She refused to be interviewed on the matter and intervened to prevent the story being broadcast. (I registered an objection when potential board members were being interviewed for the post-1990 SABC board and, as a consequence, she did not make the cut).
From 1998 when Jeffrey Mzukisi Twala, a close friend of ANC politicians like Ngconde Balfour and Mcebisi Skwatsha, was appointed as regional news editor in the Western Cape, reporters like myself simply became pawns in a political game which had as its raison d’etre the denigration of the Democratic Alliance, the promotion of the ANC and the suppression of any news inimical to it.
I experienced this process at its most surreal between 2003 and 2005 when I asked for early retirement because of the pervasive news and general corruption, the abusive way in which staff were treated at the SABC and the determination of the state broadcaster to ignore these concerns which were repeatedly raised by unions. This was the period when the National Party and the ANC linked up through the floor-crossing Marthinus van Schalkwyk to gain control of the province and the municipality. Senior white managers were paid to leave, the loss of their institutional knowledge and expertise costing tax and ratepayers R60 million in retrenchment packages. Tender meetings were suddenly closed to the public and minutes were no longer taken. Billions of rands were looted from Cape Town’s municipal and provincial coffers through tender scams – the normal ANC modus operandi. Each day, at the morning news conference the SABC news staff in Sea Point would sit with front page leads in the Cape Times and Die Burger about the latest ANC tender scandal – which we were not allowed to cover because these scandals reflected badly on the ANC.
In my article ‘Death of a Dream’, I outlined my growing realisation that the promises the ANC made about the SABC in the early 1990s were a pack of lies and that the glorious National Democratic Revolution was a chimera designed to deceive the electorate and enrich the ANC elite – as happened in all the communist countries.
I felt the need, back then, to document this for posterity from an SABC perspective and that documentation process – a defining distillation of ANC evil in the mass communication field – can be found on this website. Copy and paste it onto your computer hard drive because it is sure to be hacked.
As the senior court reporter in Sea Point news office I was routinely prevented from covering trials that created sympathy for whites – such as farm murders – or hearings that might be embarrassing for the dominant faction of the ANC.
26 April 2005 – Cyril Ramaphosa testifies in the Cape Town High Court in the R2.5 billion land claim by the Richtersveld community against the state-owned Alexkor’s mining operations. Ramaphosa is feared by Mbeki who believes he has presidential aspirations. Furthermore the management contract for Alexkor had been awarded in 1999 to a company owned by billionaire Brigitte Radebe, the wife of senior ANC member Jeff, in an extraordinary sweetheart deal.
My request to cover the opening evidence in this court case when Ramaphosa testified was accordingly and unsurprisingly refused.
Mutually beneficial alliance
Another example: In 2003 I was allowed to cover the testimony of Peter Marais (who was acquitted) when he was co-accused with David Malatsi (who was found guilty) in the Roodefontain Golf Estate bribery hearing. I was, however, not allowed to cover the testimony of Marthinus van Schalkwyk for fear that his evidence might be incriminating and damage the ANC with whom he was then, and subsequently, in a happy and mutually beneficial alliance because the National Party and ANC policies are so similar. And, if you question that statement, have a look at the amendments to the South African Schools Act which the Basic Education Department is now proposing which will negate the powers of school governing bodies, thus denying communities a say in their children’s education. Pure apartheid evil – so ANC.
Twala routinely forbade footage of already-filmed news inserts which did not reflect well on the ANC being fed from Cape Town to the Auckland Park television news studios.
In September 2005 the personal assistant to Cape Town mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo, the late Blackman Ngoro, published an article on his website headlined Why Africans and Coloureds are on the throat of the other (sic) in the Western Cape and Cape Town”.
The article described coloured people in the city and the province as innate sots who would die in the gutter unless they adopted the mores of black people like himself.
There was outrage and the story dominated the headlines for weeks but was only reflected on the SABC once – when Mfeketo called a press conference to announce that he was being fired. (What she did not mention in that interview was the fact that Ngoro, with whom she had a close personal relationship, was kept on the municipal payroll for another six months).
I managed, without telling Twala, to track down Ngoro and interview him but when Twala heard about this he ordered that the interview not be fed to Johannesburg.
This was not an isolated occurrence.
In 2008 Nick Whitely, who had previously been news editor at the Natal Witness, joined the Sea Point news office of the SABC.
He only lasted a few weeks and he told me later that he had never previously suffered the sort of verbal abuse he experienced from Twala – I have his resignation email.
The catalyst for Whitely’s departure occurred in July that year when deep divisions and constant scandals within the Western Cape ANC saw the briber of journalists, Premier Ebrahim Rasool replaced by Lynne Brown. Rasool, having ticked all the ANC’s due diligence boxes and having proved that he lived up to ANC ideals, was then deployed as our ambassador in Washington. He left behind his co-conspirator in the journalist bribing/ money laundering endeavour, the #Me too offender and fervently anti-Semitic Marius Fransman, to continue the good work.
The SABC’s Morning Live programme requested Helen Zille’s comment on the dismissal of Rasool as Western Cape Premier and Whitely did the video interview with her. He told me later that when Twala heard about this interview, he flew into a rage and instructed that it not be fed to Johannesburg because positive coverage for the DA was anathema to him. This and the abusive behaviour towards staff which Whitely witnessed and experienced in the SABC’s Sea Point news office prompted his resignation – even though this left him unemployed.
The denouement came when the Zuptoid enforcers at the SABC, such as Dr Ben Ngubane, were held to account last year in televised parliamentary hearings which, unsurprisingly, exposed them as liars. Nothing unusual there – this the African National Congress after all.
In summary then, just two personal experiences of censorship in my time with the SABC in the apartheid era – roughly one every ten years – and daily censorship in my last seven years at the SABC when the Sea Point news office was under the effective control of the ANC and its unscrupulous enforcers.
More recently this culminated in the experiences of the SABC8 and the death of Suna Venter – all part of the ANC’s ‘Good story to tell’.
Corruption in all its facets, the Tsunami of Sleaze, proceeds apace and if you have not realised that there is no evil from which the ANC will recoil, then you have not been paying attention. Ask Makhosi Khoza, she’ll tell you.
This was, as the anchor quote points out, a consequence of white South Africans voluntarily ceding political power while still retaining control of the police and the South African Defence Force – something without precedent in the history of humankind.
Their hopes and the world’s hopes were never going to be realised – we just didn’t comprehend that at the time.
- Ed Herbst is a retired veteran journalist who writes in his own capacity
Cyril Ramaphosa: The Audio Biography
Listen to the story of Cyril Ramaphosa's rise to presidential power, narrated by our very own Alec Hogg.