READERS may remember the controversy surrounding the banning and destruction of material published by Medialternatives. In particular the circumstances surrounding the elimination of my book review of A Secret Burden by none other than M&G editor Ferial Haffajee.
The book itself was a collection of prose and poetry “written anonymously by young, white South African conscripts deployed during the so-called ‘Border War”, and my review brought attention to the problem of embedded journalists, the manner in which the SADF had literally paid for material published by the former Argus Group and Naspers, in the process lavishing pro-War attention via Scope, Sarie and Huisgenoot.
It is telling that in the aftermath of the Winnie Stratcom revelations, that one Terry Bell, lately of Media24, another outlet responsible for the destruction of material, including photographic images, is defending the track record of journos implicated in dirty tricks, at the former Argus Group, whilst referring to a list of as yet unpublished names. According to Bell, the problem remains, that State operative, turned TRC witness, John Horak is also dead. We beg to differ, since the TRC report exists, alongside credible records still in the possession of the commission, entered into evidence but only referred to in passing by the final report.
Readers should therefore be reminded that the following testimony does appear in the TRC report into the media under apartheid. One can only hope the Minister of Justice will take the opportunity, presented by the passing of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to release evidence which are now classified documents. Information referred and alluded to in testimony to the general public, if only to set this matter straight. The group photo opportunities taken during the Border War, for which many journalists accepted junkets, will certainly make for interesting documentary and archival history on the subject, whilst providing all-important context:
“Williamson gave information about another STRATCOM-type operation which involved taking senior members of the media to Special Forces bases on the South African border for a bosberaad with the highest ranking officers of the military and intelligence agencies. The state’s relations with the media were, he said, seen as a “macro continuum” from the owners of the media, to the editors who controlled the newspaper, right down to the dustbin cleaners who cleaned the dustbins at night and stuffed material in an envelope to be collected by agents.” TRC Report Vol 4, Ch6, para 68, pg180
“Williamson also provided a photograph, taken on the Angolan border in July 1987, which contained virtually the entire general staff of the defence force, various government ministers and staff and Williamson himself, together with a number of highly placed journalists. The focus on that occasion was how South Africa and the newspapers would respond to what the Soviets were doing in Angola.” TRC Report Vol 4, Ch6, para 69, pg180
“State operative John Horak explained that there were four basic categories of media spies: agents, informers, sources, and ‘sleepers’. Craig Williamson confirmed this. An agent was a professional police officer with a job to do. Informers gave information either voluntarily or were recruited. He identified two categories of informers: those who were ideologically totally opposed to what the organisation was doing and those who did it for the money. There were also those who did it to get at colleagues for reasons such as competing for promotion. ‘Sleepers’ were long-term plants, people who knew things but would only provide information if their consciences were bothering them.” TRC Report Vol 4, Ch6, para 93, pg184
NOTE: In 2016 Naspers directors promised to investigate the whereabouts of several articles and images relating to South African jazz music history produced under my own byline but in their possession. At this time, the company has not responded. The items have in all likelihood been destroyed.
REVELATIONS that South Africa’s media were the targets of a dirty tricks operation at the behest of the apartheid government, named Operation Romulus, and that the victim was the late Winnie Mandela, were bound to cause a sensation. More so in the aftermath of her death. Embedded journalism is highly problematic. The least of which is the impact, it has had on several titles that may be implicated.
The untested claims attributed to Stratcom agent, Vic McPherson are all contained in the documentary on Winnie by Pascal Le Marche. The Citizen however, was forced to remove an article entitled “Stratcom Reporters at the Weekly Mail”, issuing an apology to then editor, Anton Harber, as did the Huffington Post.
Readers may remember the circumstances in which the apartheid government bought and paid for the Citizen in what became known as the Information Scandal, and the manner in which both South Press and Medialternatives itself were banned, the latter by none other than Mail & Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee, after yours truly exposed the problem of apartheid embedded journalism at the Independent Group (formerly Argus Group).
“We failed to seek out comment from Harber, Gqubule and Mathiane before publishing untested allegations. We are deeply sorry and apologise without reservation” wrote Huffpost editor-in-chief Pieter du Toit. A title, which is also the subject of some controversy surrounding its inclusion in the Naspers stable. An apartheid corporation, responsible for Stratcom and whose newsrooms until recently carried portraits of editors such as D F Malan and HF Verwoerd.
Thus it came as no surprise that Weekly Mail, along with its former racist bedmates, was now being implicated. After a sterling run as the bastion of progressive politics, the successor to the Weekly Mail, threw its lot in with 24.com, while the online version of the newspaper under Chris Roper, became the proving ground for former apartheid spies and journos.
Winnie Mandela repeats many of the claims in a recent interview conducted before her death. The result ended up in a takedown of posts at two media houses, both themselves implicated in the apartheid regime. The original Citizen article is only available as a cached page on google.
It may seem a little too convenient then, that Politicsweb, responsible for banning Medialternatives on Black Wednesday, rose to the defense of Harber, apparently quoting a 1995 Weekly Mail expose of Stratcom and thus the words of one Paul Erasmus
The article pictured to the left, by
embedded investigative journalist Stefaans Brummer, fails to examine the implications of a stratcom operation aimed at the Weekly Mail newsroom, and its NIA successors under the new regime.
Was Harber in fact also the target as many newsrooms were during the struggle? The full extent of Operation Romulus is only now becoming public record.
A fuller investigation into the many skeletons housed and embedded within South Africa’s press and their shortcomings during apartheid, is most certainly warranted. Declassifying documents may be the first step according to Open Secrets’ Hennie van Vuuren.
Watch eNCA below reflect on the media during this period.
THE New South Africa was founded as the culmination of a decades-long civil rights struggle. Dubbed the “Rainbow Nation” the country’s emergence from apartheid, was manifest evidence of the ability of both black and white to solve collective problems, to put aside history and to move forward into constitutional democracy. In recent years, the country has increasingly begun to look more like an apartheid bantustan, than the great society envisaged by founder Nelson Mandela.
After a boom period during the Mbeki era, remarkable for its reconciliation and promotion of black economic empowerment, the Polokwane-elected Jacob Zuma oversaw massive erosion of the economic base. For a decade Zuma effectively took the country down the road of kleptocracy, ethnicity and junk status.
One month after Cyril Ramaphosa became president, the former President and founder of Nkandla, was dethroned and charged last week, for a plethora of corruption violations, including fraud, money laundering and racketeering, moving commentators, to remark about a “Brazil Moment”
In 2017 Brazil’s President Michel Temer was similarly indicted on corruption-related charges for the second time, with prosecutors alleging he led a political corruption racket that generated R$587m in illicit funds over the past 11 years. Both South Africa and Brazil form part of the BRICS nations, three of which have received junk status in recent years.
While the formation of the African Union and its peer review mechanism was one of the hallmarks of the Mbeki Presidency, Ramaphosa has yet to chart a course in terms of the economy and to articulate a coherent foreign policy. The recent State of the Nation address merely hinted that corruption would be dealt with and that checks and balances would be reintroduced at the treasury, notwithstanding SOEs.
It will be difficult to undo the damage. Without so much as a mandate, Zuma catapulted South Africa, into a geographical alliance that has more to do with Oligarchs and Russian and Chinese money than historical ties. The BRICs and its many associated intrigues such as the Gupta scandal, dominated political discourse in recent years. While Ramaphosa is seen as more Pro-West and market-friendly, his ascendancy is not without its own scandals.
As non-executive director of Lonmin, a company implicated in the Marikana Massacre, Ramaphosa was forced to apologise to the victims for demanding that “concomitant action” be taken against the miners involved in wildcat strikes. It is within the context of a leftist break-away from the ruling ANC party that neo-fascist organisations and avowedly racist parties such as Black Land First and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have arisen.
It was thus the EFF, a quasi-Marxist party committed to “cutting the throat of whiteness” which tabled a motion in Parliament on the land question, in particular the adoption of “expropriation without compensation”, which would require an amendment to the property clauses in the Constitution.
The centre-right Democratic Alliance under Mmusi Maimane has also found itself campaigning on the issue of land reform, but significantly, in support of title-deeds and equal opportunity for all South Africans regardless of race. The former liberal party, eschews the notion of the abolition of private property and thus the policies punted by the ANC and EFF involving state custodianship of the land. Australia, a member of the Commonwealth, has offered to fast-track visas for white farmers in danger of losing their land to confiscation.
According to one report,”The rate of land reform in South Africa peaked in 2007, but has since come to a grinding halt. It has resulted in a change of ownership of only 5.46% of South Africa’s commercial agricultural land. Much of this land was transferred to the state, or to communal ownership groups.”
The figure is nothing to be sneezed at, the state has already given over an area twice the size of Swaziland to black tenant farmers. Instead of calling for a continuation of this process, the neo-fascist far-left has set its sights on state-ownership of the entire land mass of the Southern African continent, effectively calling for an exclusive Bantustan, where race not equal opportunity, is the determining factor, and where the state, not private citizens, are the drivers of production.
The plan is doomed to failure from the outset. Wholesale land confiscation would invariably result in a collapse of the credit and banking system. Not only would the confiscated land result in adverse ownership, but the many disputes which would arise, would invariably result in asset depreciation with the risk of major loan defaults, that central bankers are unlikely to underwrite.
Time can only tell whether or not the negotiated compromises of the Mandela era, which included property rights for all, and land reform within this context, will continue to define the country and its future trajectory, or whether it is really time to call it quits on the Rainbow Nation? A continuation of land reform within the constitutional framework is the only chance of success.
THIS Month’s issue of National Geographic is dedicated to debunking the myth of race.
These Twins, One Black and One White, Will Make You Rethink Race
Marcia and Millie Biggs say they’ve never been subjected to racism—just curiosity and surprise that twins could have such different skin colors.
“It’s been used to define and separate people for millennia. But the concept of race is not grounded in genetics.”
See National Geographics The Race Issue
Editor explains why an entire issue is devoted to race
IN 1978 Margaret Gardener won the Miss Universe beauty pageant. The event held in Acapulco was not without controversy. John Vorster was president of a white minority regime. Apartheid was in full sway. Nelson Mandela was in jail. The Miss South Africa competition was an all-white affair. I was in kindergarten. I still remember the fuss about Gardener’s black swimsuit, my first “sexual awakening”, and the many Scope covers and feature stories which followed, all written next to articles promoting the SADF, Rhodesia, and South Africa’s control of South West Africa.
On 26 November 2017 to our surprise, Demi-Leigh Nel Peters, a bubbly girl from Sedgefield, a small coastal town on South Africa’s east coast, won the Miss Universe for the second time in nearly four decades. Democracy is in full sway. Jacob Zuma is president. The crooks, not the democrats are all in jail. At least some of them are. If only our collective future looked as bright as Demi-Leigh.
If you thought this was going to be just another pageant, then, I’m afraid you got it all wrong. Not only is Demi-Leigh a youth ambassador for the nation, but she totally axed it, and flawed her hosts on several New York talk shows with her confidence and personality, and a reign which looks set to be all about surprises.
Yes, to her critics, she does not represent the majority perception of beauty in Africa nor is she black like Miss Haiti, nor a superpower like Melania Trump. What she has, is the kind of sass that you find in every small town Afrikaner girl in South Africa, a nation still coming to grips with its past, at the same time that we are marking the fourth anniversary of the death of Mandela, with the neck and neck race for president of the ANC, and a democratic process which has seen the rise of a brand new political party under Makhosi Khosa.
Our self-perception, could do with a bit of confidence and what Demi Leigh represents is the kind of bubbling eruption of opportunity which marked South Africa’s return to the free world in 1994. The Marie Claire fuss about her tan (take it from me, the colour of her skin is real), has no place in a non-racial society. It has even less place in the wider world. The Miss Universe pageant is anything but an all-white affair as suggested by activist critics.
Janelle “Penny” Commissiong was the first black woman to hold the Miss Universe title. She won the title in 1977 at the Miss Universe pageant held in the Dominican Republic.
A list of “black” titleholders compiled by Afropedia include:
Leila Lopes (2011), Angola
Mpule Kwelagobe (1999), Botswana
Wendy Fitzwilliam (1998), Trinidad and Tobago
Chelsi Smith (1995), USA
Janelle Commissiong(1977), Trinidad and Tobago
Time to put aside racial stigma and celebrate.
South Africa gave the world, Steven Bantu Biko, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Caster Semenya, Wayde van Niekerk, Elon Musk and Trevor Noah. Now is the right moment for Demi-Leigh Nel Peters.
TWO rationalist pieces, thoughtfully debunking the legs of Helen Zille’s argument in favour of ‘colonialism not being all that bad’, need to be seen alongside an incredible piece of sensationalist and irrationalist nonsense, authored by self-proclaimed saviour of the ‘black race’ one Andile Mngxitama. The embarrassing piece (compared below) merely demonstrates that when it comes to black opinion, and criticism of colonialism, there are better tools, than a racist free-for-all.
Reported on News24 , without any scientific evidence, Mngxitama claims that the recent Cape storms are all the ‘fault of white monopoly capital’. It is a crackpot thesis devoid of any merit — touting an unproven conspiracy theory whose achilles heel is the fact that China is the world’s second biggest emitter of CO2 — far from being an ‘all-white affair’, climate change is rather the result of a rampant consumer society, one occupied by black and white alike, for which anyone of any colour, utilising its benefits, needs to take responsibility.
One has merely to remark that it is the ‘black majority’ South African government, which commissioned two of the largest mega-coal projects on the continent this decade, and so far as Nature is concerned, the impacts will be felt by all, regardless of skin colour or pigmentation. What was once true of apartheid South Africa, and its skewed electrification policies, no longer holds. My own research published by the Panos Institute in 1991, alongside that of Mamphela Ramphele, reported the racial bias impacting upon a then output of 246 million tonnes of CO2 pa.
South Africa is currently the 13th largest emitting country based on 2008 fossil-fuel CO2 emissions and the largest emitting country in Africa. Saying: “the ecological disaster awaiting planet earth is a direct creation of white people,” is not just shoddy science, it is assuredly evidence of a racist political agenda. There is no data, to my knowledge, showing that skin colour has any impact on the behaviour of litter-bugs nor that of conspicuous consumption.
The only reason Mgnxitama gets published in the mainstream press is because of his vocal position as leader of the ‘Black First’ front. An organisation with much in common with Donald Trump’s America First movement, and thus deserving of similar criticism to that levelled against France’s Marine le Pen. Though he differs from these two politicos in at least recognising the existence of climate change, is no recommendation.
That Mngxitima’s writing is increasingly on the fringes of rationality and scientific argument, can be seen by the emergence of writers whose opinions are eminently more sensible and suited to the important issues of the day. Thus we turn to Tembeka Ngcukaitobi writing in the Conmag, for our guidance on Helen Zille, who correctly observes, that “neither England nor Holland can claim the same robust system of judicial supremacy that we do” and “the notion of an independent, fair and just legal system ‘which is not influenced by politics whatsoever’ first emerged in the writings, not of a lawyer, but a journalist: John Tengo Jabavu, the editor of the Xhosa newspaper, Imvo Zabantsundu, in the late 1890s.”
“Jabavu’s writings in a marginal Xhosa newspaper were unsurprisingly ignored by the colonial government of the day. But they found fertile ground in the organisation which he did not found, but whose foundations he clearly influenced – the South African Native National Congress.” Ngcukaitobi’s writing on legal history thus traces the emergence of the ruling party and our own constitution, before tackling the second of Zille’s claims “which draws a link between colonialism and the development of our transport infrastructure [which] is equally distortive of history.”
“It was an official policy of the colonial government,” he says, “to use prison labour for infrastructure. Large numbers of Xhosas imprisoned after the last frontier war in 1878 were taken to Cape Town and, on arrival, turned into unpaid labourers, in the development of the rail infrastructure.” This transportation and technology theme is given better treatment if not short thrift in a parallel piece published by a blogger known simply as VaPunungwe, who asks: “what model car was Cecil John Rhodes driving?”
The same question may well be asked of Jan van Riebeeck — what cellphone brand was he using? Technology is thus to be seen within its own context, not as some imported novelty, but rather as an historical construct, within a milieu as it were. It would thus behove persons such as Mngxitama to rather stick to writing on what one knows for certain, instead of punting racist theories and speculative rhetoric as easily debunked as that of Helen Zille’s.