Media links Gupta emails to the corrupted – it's not fake news

MKMVA demonstration outside the M&G offices last month. (Paul Botes, M&G)

MKMVA demonstration outside the M&G offices last month. (Paul Botes, M&G)


Be very clear about this fact, and it’s fact, not fake: the reason some people (President Jacob Zuma’s faction and the Gupta family) are asking for authentication of the leaked emails is they’re playing for time. They hope they can set up a judicial commission of inquiry, which will be a sham. Even asking a stupid question such as Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s: “How did they get the emails?” gives the game away – they know the emails are theirs.

We also know that the ANC communications document, titled The Battle for Ideas, with the wordy subtitle Towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Catalysing Economic Growth, Building an Inclusive Society & Advancing a Balanced Public Discourse, for its June 30 to July 5 national policy conference has nothing in it on fake news.

We also know that the ama­Bhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism has been uncovering the Gupta/Zuma patronage rot since the inception of the investigative unit in 2010.
It reminds me a bit of the Weekly Mail and Vrye Weekblad in the mid-to-late 1980s. Week after week those two papers extensively covered the murders of anti-apartheid activists by the Civil Co-operation Bureau. Yet in the 1990s, people said: “We didn’t know.” There was so much denialism; it took many years for it to all sink in.

The incredulity with which the Gupta emails have been received is not because no one knew but because no one knew the extent of how deep the corrupt patronage tentacles had dug into the government and attempts to control the news – even to the point of last week’s revelation that Oakbay Investment’s chief executive, Nazeem Howa, gave advice on how to buy the Mail & Guardian and hide who is buying it.

It may sound un-nuanced and superficial to say there is a good side and a bad side in South Africa right now, but that’s exactly what it is.

Recently, I have been tempted to say no to interviews as a media analyst for TV, radio shows and online videos. I am afraid I am not saying something original and, like everyone else, I’m not providing solutions to the problem of fake news. But I can’t say no because it’d be letting the good side down.

There is nothing on fake news in the ANC’s Battle for Ideas document. Some of the main items for discussion are old hat. Whoever wrote the document probably copied and pasted it from the previous version and then added in a paragraph on “radical economic transformation” to update the look and the zeitgeist of the ruling faction.

Some of the ANC’s discussions on communications at the national policy conference will be about:

  •  ICT and the fourth Industrial revolution;
  •  What to do about the SABC and its financial woes and content issues;
  • Print media and transformation;
  •  Ownership of the media;
  •  A media empowerment charter;
  • The need to align strategies with the National Development Plan (perhaps “radical economic transformation” has replaced the NDP because you seldom hear about it);
  •  Dissatisfaction with the co-regulation system of the Press Council; and
  •  Observations about social media surpassing traditional media.

The good part is that the mantra of “broadband access for all” is still in the policy document, but it still has not been implemented 20 years down the line.

It’s fascinating that a second good policy is “open access/open government”. This is ironic, given how the ruling faction is trying to pretend the Gupta emails have to be authenticated.

“The Battle of Ideas,” says the ANC, “is an important ideological tool. Within a space where a number of ideological positions struggle for supremacy – of class tensions within society – the ANC as a revolutionary movement cannot neglect the importance of mobilising society around a common vision that presents a credible political, social and economic narrative that is in itself an alternative to that of the dominant capitalist class. This is the Battle of Ideas.”

This point is indicative of how stuck is in the past the once glorious revolutionary movement is.

But nothing to say about today’s reality of fake news? That’s because the Zupta faction is involved in spreading fake news through its own news outlets, including The New Age and ANN7 TV. I don’t think anyone from the Zupta faction wrote the policy section on communications in The Battle of Ideas. It doesn’t have the same vitriol against the mainstream media or the investigative press.

The national policy conference is going to be a nail-biting one regarding which faction will win the day.

Is it possible that the Gupta emails rent asunder the corrupt and spoke to the consciences of those who are prevaricating? At last month’s ANC national executive committee meeting, we heard that it was a roughly 50/50 split with a slightly heavier number against corruption. But, in the end, only 18 spoke out against it.

The media is playing its part in trying to make the powerful and corrupt account to the people of South Africa.

Using the thousands of Gupta emails, it is linking the dots between the palace in Dubai; theft from the state-owned entities (power utility Eskom, weapons company Denel, rail, port and pipeline company Transnet, passenger railway company Prasa, airline company SAA and public broadcaster SABC); the Gupta Bollywood-style wedding, which used the Waterkloof Airforce Base and after which Sun City had to beg for payment; the dubious dealings of Brian Molefe, former chief executive of Eskom and frequenter of the Saxonwold shebeen; the tales of Gigaba, who was previously minister in two other departments – home affairs and of public enterprises; the president’s son who is in business with the Guptas and is kept by them (including paying off the woman who had his child); the fake intelligence report to oust, among others, Pravin Gordhan as finance minister; the bid to bribe former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas; the bags of money to bribe others …

How much more do we need to convince a faction of the ANC and its supporters? We have the formerly oppressed and presently corrupt denying their emails and looting.

As Frantz Fanon said: “Beware the obscene imitations and caricatures, humanity needs something other from us.”

Glenda Daniels is a senior lecturer in media studies at the University of the Witwatersrand

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