Last week, we published a front-page story that did not mention the words ANC, Zuma or Gupta. Instead, it showed the prospect of an apartheid-era deal coming back to haunt one of the country’s largest banks.
The absence of the words ANC, Zuma or, indeed, Gupta appeared to have confused many. Suddenly, those who prefer to call us the “Mail & Garbage” appeared to be pointing us out as the sole bastion of truth-telling in South Africa. Our social media producers were taken aback by the effusive display of love and respect given to the story – the kind of feeling seldom expressed about our exposés that do include the words ANC, Zuma or Gupta. Meanwhile, some of our colleagues in the media either tried to rewrite the headlines to include Gupta and Zuma, and others bluntly aired their concern that the Mail & Guardian had now been “captured” by specific interests and that’s why we ran the story.
This is the product of people always reading such stories through the lens of their political allegiances, and making assumptions about the media’s role in producing what is essentially propaganda for one side or the other. Insofar as last week’s bank bailout story took attention away from Gupta-Zuma-ANC state capture stories, it was seen as an ideological choice to publish it.
In this space last week, we said that whatever action materialises from this report will ultimately be up to President Jacob Zuma. But this story is not about the president. And it certainly is not about the Guptas.
The revelations in our pages, taken from the interim report into the matter by the public protector, ought to drive home the need for urgent investigation into apartheid-era crimes, such as the looting of the state. Very little has been done to probe this.
Documents from that era are shrouded in secrecy and the conduct of successive ANC governments in this regard has been odd. The SABC commissioned a documentary about apartheid-era looting, Spear of the Nation, and then refused to show it.
The M&G is not bound to any preconceived narrative. Our work in these pages and on other platforms is to find and uncover the real story, the real facts that are often elided in the various simple narratives produced for political ends. Of course, the publication of any such article is a political act, in that powerful people may be accused of malfeasance and because issues such as corruption are inextricably tied up with governance and political power.
But it’s not about taking sides in a political battle or producing ammunition for one faction to use against another. It’s about digging up truths that have often been hidden by powerful forces because they undermine their power. It is about holding to account these powerful figures, so many of whom claim to act in the public interest and to adhere to the highest standards of probity. We need to know, and it is the public’s right to know, whether they are really acting according to those values.