/ 18 January 2008

Zuma gives up Mbeki’s weekly online column

Having taken it over last week from his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, newly elected leader of the African National Congress (ANC) Jacob Zuma is giving up his weekly pulpit in the ANC’s online newsletter, ANC Today.

The weekly sermon was an opportunity, much prized by Mbeki, to deliver often literary admonishments to individuals or organisations that had crossed him in the previous week.

He laced his lectures with long quotations from sources evidently gleaned from his late-night internet surfing sessions. People who smarted under this online barrage included Archbishop Tutu and rape-survivor-turned-campaigner Charlene Smith.

Zuma plainly does not have the same literary instincts and announced on Friday in what was only his second online column that he was giving it up in favour of weekly contributions from ANC officials and national executive committee members.

“The letter from the president will now be published on special occasions only, dealing with important themes and events during the course of the year,” he explained. “The intention is to open up the journal to a diversity of voices articulating ANC positions.”

Zuma’s last weekly offering is essentially a long assault on the country’s media. He repeated what was said in the very first edition of ANC Today: “We are faced with the virtually unique situation that, among the democracies, the overwhelmingly dominant tendency in South African politics, represented by the ANC, has no representation whatsoever in the mass media.

“We therefore have to contend with the situation that what masquerades as ‘public opinion’, as reflected in the bulk of our media, is in fact minority opinion informed by the historic social and political position occupied by this minority.”

Zuma himself comments: “Every day brings fresh instances of a media that, in general terms, is politically and ideologically out of synch with the society in which it exists. This is one of the reasons why, though there may be plenty of newspapers and magazines on our newsstands, and a multitude of radio and TV stations occupying our airwaves, the overall orientation of South African media is politically conservative.

“There are few, if any, mainstream media outlets that articulate a progressive left perspective — which is endorsed at each election by the majority of South Africans and represented by the ANC, its allies and the broader democratic movement.”

Zuma promises that over the next five years this will change. “It was to answer this deficiency that the 52nd national conference called for the movement to develop its own media platforms, making use of available technology, to articulate its positions and perspectives directly to the people,” Zuma said.

“This needs to take place alongside the effort to transform the South African media environment so that it becomes more representative of the diversity of views and interests in society, more accessible to the majority of the people and less beholden to commercial interests.”

During the course of the next five years, he said, “as has been mandated by the conference, we will pursue the development of these media platforms. We will also continue to develop ANC Today as a credible, popular and vibrant expression of the views and perspectives of the African National Congress. The journal will remain at the heart of the ANC’s contribution to the battle of ideas.” — I-Net Bridge