South Africa’s media received a rare praise from President Jacob Zuma Friday (April 8, 2011), when he described it as playing a pivotal role in the strengthening of the country’s democracy and in the process enhancing the country’s status in the international community.
Speaking in Nelson Mandela Bay where he was on a campaign trail to strengthen the ANC’s position ahead of the local government elections in about a month’s time, Zuma who is also ANC president, told a large group of businesspeople and professionals gathered for the meeting that South Africa’s media was making a “huge contribution” in efforts to strengthen the country’s young democracy.
In a rather bizarre about-turn that could be best described as being much against the run of play in the light of the ANC general views on the country’s media in recent years, Zuma told the audience gathered at Port Elizabeth’s City Hall that: “We have a different type of news media in South Africa that you won’t find anywhere else in the world, a news media that is not afraid to tell things, and criticize. It is not afraid to write bad stories.”
This, according to Zuma; bolstered the country’s image abroad. Zuma’s rather rare positive overture towards the country’s media was met with stunned silence by especially ANC members and local officials among whom was local regional chairman, Nceba Faku who is currently embroiled in a bitter war with The Herald over publication a week ago of allegations covering a wide range of municipal related issues, including possible corruption.
ANC Mandela Bay region chairman, Nceba Faku
Seated in an elevated row of seats immediately behind Faku who in turn sat next to Eastern Cape Premier, Noxolo Kiviet; Zuma said South Africa’s news media contribution to strengthening the country’s democracy had helped build the country’s current high reputation abroad – a matter he described as highly significant.
According to Zuma whose company during the visit included Rural Development and Land Reform Minister, Gugile Nkwinti and SACP Eastern Cape chairman and MEC for Finance and Provincial Planning, Phumulo Masaulle; news media elsewhere in the world acted in a manner perceived by some as ‘patriotic’ as it chose not to write anything negative about its respective countries. He cited as an example a visit to Argentina while he was still deputy president of South Africa.
Zuma said: “When I got there, there was talk about areas that were no go-areas because of crime. So I asked why this did not appear in the media, and I was told that the media in that country did not write about bad things that would reflect the country in a bad light as this would affect tourism. The media there only write good things about its country. In South Africa, our media writes about everything, including bad things that happen here.”
However, there was no escaping linking Zuma’s apparent warmth towards the news country’s media at this time with the forthcoming national local government elections, in a metropolitan area (Nelson Mandela Bay) long controlled by the ANC but about which some now suggest a likely fierce contest with the opposition parties, specifically the Democratic Alliance and whose leader, Helen Zille had visited the city a week ago.
Zuma’s visit Friday to Port Elizabeth for electioneering purposes came in the wake of a spate of damning reports about some officials of the ANC in the region, including Faku; amidst news reports also of intensifying internal fighting within the organisation over election lists. Only two days before his arrival, ANC Youth League president Julius Malema – also on a campaign trail here – wasreportedly confronted by throngs of disgruntled ANC members complaining about the management process of, and inclusion of unwanted candidates in the organisation’s elections lists.
*Meanwhile, the absence of Nelson Mandela mayor Zanoxolo Wayile at the meeting in City Hall had a few tongues waging Friday evening, even as the ANC at the meeting sought to explain his absence as “due to other prior commitments.”
Few observers, including yours truly; felt that City Hall is the seat of local government and with the president of both the ruling party and government visiting and meeting high profile local business people and professionals, it made no sense that the city’s Citizen No.1 was absent, except for ill-health.
For some of those attending the meeting officially designated as ‘for business leaders and professionals’ to meet the president, the anticipation and plan was to meet the president of the country regardless of his rank and position within the ANC. It was therefore incumbent upon the city’s Mayor to lead them in that meeting with the president of the country.