/ 3 January 2014

ANC heavyweights Manuel, Mjongile clash over Dasnois dismissal

Planning Minister Trevor Manuel.
Planning Minister Trevor Manuel.

The dismissal of Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois by the Independent Newspapers's new owner last month, has led to an ugly public spat between two senior ANC members.

Provincial secretary of the ANC in the Western Cape Songezo Mjongile and Trevor Manuel, the minister in the presidency for planning, have taken opposing positions on the matter, and have been airing their views in the letters' pages of newspapers.

In the Western Cape ANC's politics, Manuel is perceived to be a supporter of provincial chairperson Marius Fransman, who is involved in an alleged factional battle with Mjongile.

The last time senior ANC leaders Max Ozinsky and Ebrahim Rasool were involved in a public spat similar to this one, the Western Cape ANC suspended them from the party, saying they could have addressed their differences privately, rather than in newspaper pages.

But the exchange of views has become personal, with each questioning the other's agenda.

In an article published in the Cape Times on December 23, Mjongile wrote: "Unsurprisingly, the proposed redeployment of the Cape Times editor, Alide Dasnois, by the management of the Independent group, to another position in the group, was met with suspicion, scorn and even attempts to create a scandal where clearly none exists.

"There was no doubt that some inside and outside the Independent group would object to the acquisition of the group by a black consortium and the subsequent transformation that needs to take place.

"In particular, the Cape Times, which has traditionally been a mouthpiece for neo-liberal fascists, would find this transformation particularly difficult."

Manuel's response
Mjongile went on saying: "When we wish to advance transformation in the media, we are accused of limiting freedom of expression, among other things."

He said the freedoms of expression in media and the press could not be separated from the question of diversity.

"The diversity of our city and province must be reflected through these freedoms of expression, media and press."

Manuel responded to Mjongile's article four days later, saying Mjongile's accusations against the Cape Times were devoid of the truth.

He questioned why Mjongile, as the ANC's provincial secretary, was dragging the ANC into the dispute at Independent, "in so unseemly a manner", and declared that it was "not in my name".

Manuel said he was completely comfortable with a statement by the South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) on December 9 that read: "Sanef condemns any interference with the independence of editors and journalists when carrying out their duties. We call on Sekunjalo Holdings to clarify the issues relating to Dasnois's sudden dismissal without delay and to desist from making threats against staffers." 

"I believe that the executive chairman of Sekunjalo Holdings has an obligation to the national editors' forum that he has yet to discharge," Manuel wrote.

Questioning Mjongile
Manuel also seemed to question Mjongile's knowledge of the history of the Cape Times.

Manuel wrote: "I really don't know where Mr Mjongile was when Mr Tony Weaver broke remarkable stories that exposed the barbarism of the apartheid regime against our MK cadres. Mr Weaver was criminally charged for his part in breaking the story of the Gugulethu 7, but he stood his ground. I also do not know where Mr Mjongile was when the then-editor of the Cape Times, Mr Tony Heard, published a lengthy interview with ANC president Oliver Tambo while the ANC was a banned organisation.

"This brave journalism, in the face of the repressive laws of the time and angry media owners, is what some of us still refer to as high-quality, informative and transformational journalism. But, seemingly these are the efforts of 'neo-liberal fascists' according to Mr Mjongile."

Mjongile on Thursday penned a response to Manuel, which he sent to the Mail &Guardian, accusing Manuel of misleading the public. He insists that transformation in the media is urgently needed and ends the letter with the question: "So, Minister Manuel what is it that must be done in your name?"