A friend of mine, Xolani Dlamini (@xolani_bouga), said yesterday on Twitter: “SA media will criticise the second coming if Zuma made the announcement.” That’s how baffling the media’s response to Zuma’s firing of General Bheki Cele, the appointment of his replacement Mangwashi Victoria Phiyega, and the cabinet reshuffle necessitated by the passing of Minister Roy Padayachee is. What one cannot run away from is that the General was probably the most effective police commissioner we have ever seen. For the first time, we saw tangible reduction in crime which was not only evident in the statistics but was felt by ordinary citizens and in the media. This the General did on sheer passion and leadership as he did not possess any policing experience at all. Despite his impeccable performance and effectiveness on the job, the General was found to have acted improperly. While I don’t think the General should be crucified for the actual signing of the leases as these were the responsibility of public works, it is still clear that he influenced the process improperly and therefore has to face the music in that regard.
How I wish we could deal in such a decisive manner with other officials and politicians who are not even half as effective in their jobs as Cele was but continue to cost the state millions daily. No sooner had President Zuma done the right thing when the media and so-called ‘independent experts’ criticised his appointment of Cele’s replacement without even looking at her or giving her a chance. True, a career policeman at the helm is desirable but Cele proved to us that an outsider can do the job just as well, if not better. What Cele lacked in administrative capabilities, Phiyega seems to possess in abundance. Is it not about time to stop playing the man and tackle real issues?
Can’t we acknowledge when Zuma takes the right decisions, which we called for in the same instance? The response to the sacking of General Cele was the most baffling in that almost everyone expected it and it was clear for a long time that it was coming, but, in true SA media style, they had to find something wrong in how Zuma handled it. Zuma gives us a lot of dirt to play with; concentrate on that and stop harping on his person!
Another childhood friend of mine, Credo Mlaba (@mmeliwesizwe), said yesterday, after reading my Twitter timeline where I had a brief discussion with two senior journalists regarding the cabinet reshuffle, “SA media predicts the future by wishing it.” We saw the same wishful thinking in the media coverage during the run-up to Polokwane in 2007 when the Zuma faction was simply dismissed without actually interrogating facts. It’s almost like there is a newsroom consensus on issues (that is coincidentally almost always the same positions held by the DA and the White Inc). What will happen then is that any morsel of information they come across that reinforces that consensus is syndicated and run with blindly without actually interrogating it and looking for alternative information that might prove it wrong. The system runs like it’s almost synchronised. There will be ‘experts’ giving tons of senseless analyses, ‘independent commentators’ dishing out beautifully written columns and the Twitter cheerleaders cheering them on. When the actual events turn out to be the opposite, no one goes back and asks them howcome they didn’t see this one coming – and to deflect attention, they start on the next issue, which in this instance is how Phiyega is inexperienced in police work and how Lindiwe Sisulu has been demoted.
The media’s take on the reshuffle is almost laughable. Take the Lindiwe Sisulu move from defence to public administration. It is no secret that she found her previous portfolio a tad too daunting and the very same media in unison with the DA and ‘independent commentators’ have been calling for her removal for a while now. To say that the move to public administration is a demotion because of her declining support for Zuma is sheer ignorance. It is especially scary when even senior journalists who edit national newspapers and write prestigious columns are this ignorant on how to read ANC internal movements and processes, let alone strategic government positions.
In government terms, the ministry of public administration is a small and junior one, but in ANC terms it is a highly strategic one where a president of the country facing a potentially bruising party leadership battle will only deploy someone he implicitly trusts to. That department is responsible for civil servant administration and Zuma will most definitely send someone there who he trusts and who will make sure that Cosatu, who are unofficially the biggest voting block at the ANC conference, are not upset during wage negotiations. He will send someone with enough political clout to push through government proposals at negotiations as much as possible without upsetting Cosatu and, Lindiwe Sisulu, ladies and gentlemen, is that person. While it fits the newsroom consensus well that Lindiwe Sisulu was no longer in the Zuma corner, that is not entirely true and we will only know for sure which corners people have positioned themselves in much closer to the conference.
What we see now is just smoke and mirrors. Our media should really stop predicting the future by wishing it and feeding us such dung. They should get out there and get the South African public real stories and report them to us objectively.