Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Friday, September 03, 2004

The Travelgate shambles
It is with some relief for the state of our democracy that the Scorpions today confirmed that National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete was not under investigation for defrauding parliament.

However, this ongoing saga illustrates a weakness within the ANC in dealing with the media. The relationship between the ANC and the country's media has denegrated markedly in the last year, with Mbeki growing increasingly intolerant of media criticism. But the ANC has to take blame in this area. Here we have a situation where it was common knowledge that the media had the investigative list of the target MP's. By continually fighting for the quashing of the release of the report and castigating the media for discussing it, the ANC threw petrol on the media's flames, and created a groundswell of public interest in the listed names. When the list was released by ThisDay, and the overwhelming majority of those names belonged to ANC MP's the party immediately looked like a corrupt, guilty group who were surpressing the list's introduction for good reason, which may not have been the case.

The ANC has no rival in this country, as much as the DA would have it otherwise, but it is building a powerful nemesis. The media can be a steadfast friend, or a ferocious opponent, and many arrogant governments have been brought down by media focus. The ANC has to come to terms with the fact that it needs the media to carry its message to its voting base, and it cannot continue to treat them as a necessary evil. Crisis management has been one area that the ANC has failed to deliver upon, and I think that in the next few years, with the party's 'struggle star' waning, it may prove to be an Achilles heel.