'What did Zuma say behind closed doors?'

The in-camera conference African National Congress president Jacob Zuma gave to the Forum of Black Journalists was similar to the off-the-record briefing given to black editors by Bulelani Ngcuka, the former national director of public prosecutions, which Zuma at that time protested as a “character assassination exercise”, the Democratic Alliance (DA) said on Sunday.

Dene Smuts, DA spokesperson on communications, said while the party acknowledged the right of black journalists to revive a racially exclusive organisation, the forum and its organiser, Abbey Makoe, had to explain the reasons for the revival to the public.

Makoe is the political editor of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

“The need for an explanation is all the more urgent because Mr Jacob Zuma was the guest of the forum at its closed meeting.”

Bulelani Ngcuka had an off-the-record briefing in July 2003 with black editors when Zuma was first being investigated.

“This was no ordinary media briefing, it was a character assassination exercise,” Zuma said in a complaint to the Public Protector at the time, arguing that Ngcuka was abusing his position and not acting in good faith, Smuts said.

“It is to Zuma’s credit that he held a non-racial press conference immediately after the event. But what did he say behind closed doors? What questions did the black journalists feel they could only ask in-camera? What is the agenda?” Smuts said.

These questions, Smuts said, were inevitable and that was what makes the racially-exclusive forum problematic.

“In the case of the SABC it is not just problematic, it is unacceptable.”

The SABC had been called this week to report to the Parliamentary Communications Committee on the aftermath of the blacklisting report.

“A whole new set of questions on the subject of exclusion and censorship now arise as a result of its political editor’s actions,” said Smuts.

White journalists fume

White journalists expressed their dismay after they were denied access to the “hottest news ticket in town”.

The ANC president himself saw nothing wrong with white journalists being denied entry to the event.

“I saw nothing wrong,” said Zuma when asked whether he approved of the exclusion of white journalists.
“All of us as South Africans in the 13 years of democracy come from different backgrounds ... there are experiences that people would have that they may want to share.”

The ANC president’s arrival at the forum after midday spurred white journalists, waiting in the wings outside, into action. He was questioned about why he would address a gathering that excluded journalists on the basis of race.

He declined to comment immediately but, after delivering his address to the forum, he agreed to a five-minute press briefing with all the media—including white journalists—to explain himself.

Zuma said he has been invited to speak in many different forums and is currently considering an invitation from the Black Management Forum.

Asked whether he thought it was constitutionally correct to bar white journalists, Zuma said this was a question for the forum.

Earlier, reporter Ben Said from e.tv was denied entry to the room. Talk Radio 702’s Stephen Grootes was asked to leave after having gained entry.

Grootes said he was all for an organisation comprising only black journalists. “The forum should exist, I understand the need for it ... for me the issue was Zuma,” he said.

When asked why he had entered the venue knowing it was for blacks only, he said: “I didn’t think they would go through with it ... it was wrong for them to deny us access to the hottest news ticket in town because of race.” - Sapa

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