When Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the 2015 government-SANEF Indaba on 21 November last year he told the assembled editors that the media have a singular role to play in communicating news about the government to the country’s citizens.
“South Africans expect the media to scrutinise the actions and policies of government,” he said. “They expect to know what government is doing, and what government is not doing.”
For that to happen, obviously, reporters need to be able to contact ANC politicians yet three weeks later, when ‘Nenegate’ exploded, all the most senior politicians involved instantly made themselves incommunicado. Here’s how News24 described it in one story:
Ministers and ANC politicians were on a communication lockdown on Thursday in the wake of the announcement that Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene had been axed.
Less than 24 hours after the announcement, speculation was rife that more ministers could soon be facing the chop.
According to a report, this included Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande.
Attempts by News24 to get hold of Radebe and Nzimande regarding the report were unsuccessful.
African National Congress leaders were also unreachable, with many of them turning their phones off.
It is a very effective way of muzzling the media. Whenever there is a political scandal which is clearly not part of the ANC’s ‘good story to tell’ the relevant politician or civil servant simply does not answer the phone and does not respond to the message left. Or they promise to respond in due course and then deliberately fail to do so.
What should be noted is that, in so doing – and it is an almost universal practice - they contravene section 16 of the Bill of Rights thus denying South African citizens their constitutional right of access to information which affects them. They are also faithfully implementing President Jacob Zuma’s edict of putting the interests of the ANC ahead of the interests of the country because, within the ANC, that edict is both paramount and an imperative.
I would be surprised if any ‘spokesperson’ – I call them the ‘silent spokespinners’ on the organisations listed below earns less than R50 000 a month. This is just one facet of a de facto and pervasive ANC patronage network and it has probably cost the country billions of rands in salaries and perquisites in the past two decades. Is this not just another form of service delivery failure which is causing growing resentment?
As newspaper readers will testify, not a day passes without a reporter dutifully noting that attempts to contact the relevant ANC member or deployed cadre about such matters has failed.
Those who put the interests of the party ahead of the interest of the country feel justified in doing so because their role models are people like Radebe and Nzimande who simply switched off their cellphones when the news broke that Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene had been axed.
To give a greater perspective of how this disturbing practice muzzles the media, I have listed a few of many examples, citing the quote pertaining to the mute official, the headline and a link to the relevant newspaper article. If no link is provided it is because the article, such as those quoting the Sunday Times, is behind a firewall.
They are in chronological order within their specific groups.
Mbalula did not reply to questions this week about whether the directive amounted to a cover-up and an attempt to hide evidence to which both the public and investigative authorities were entitled. Mail & Guardian 3/7/2015 Mbalula gagged 2010 World Cup LOC
City Press was this week unable to make any contact with Hanekom. Queries sent to the department were not responded to. City Press 5/7/2015. Visa rules may boost tourist visits
Cwele did not respond to detailed questions. Sunday Times 2/8/2015 How Cwele ‘protected’ Pule’s pals.
Attempts to contact Nhleko’s spokesman, Musa Zondi, for comment were unsuccessful on Sunday as his cellphone was off. The Mercury 3/8/2015 Nkandla: Thuli blasts Nhleko’s report
Jordaan has not responded to a request for comment and declined calls to his cellphone. Oliphant’s phone was switched off yesterday. City Press 14/8/2015 Safa’s explosive admission: There was no decision on $10m ‘donation’
The DA wrote to the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, in April on the many issues at the University. Despite the dire situation the Minister has not yet bothered to respond. There seems to be very little will, from anyone beside the DA, to remedy the problems at the University. Politicsweb 1/9/2015 Students go hungry as Fort Hare crumbles – Yusuf Cassim
The ANC was unavailable for comment yesterday. TimesLive 7/9/2015 Jitters over dual passport ban
Mbalula declined to comment. Mabudaphasi and Manana did not respond to requests for comment. Sunday Times 20//9/2015. VIP guards expose abusive ministers
Ramaphosa declined to answer questions. Mail & Guardian 9/19/2015 Cyril left red-faced as MTN tax havens exposed
The minister’s spokesperson had not replied to these queries at the time this report was published. City Press 4/11/2015 FBI gives SA the Fifa corruption charge sheet
Ms Muthambi’s spokesman, Mish Molakeng, did not respond to a request for comment. Business Day 3/12/2015 Motsoeneng hearing ‘looks like sham’
ANC spokesmen Zizi Kodwa and Zweli Mkhize were not available for comment on Monday morning. The Star 7/12/2014 Twitter reacts to king’s apartheid praise
Requests for comment made to the ANC were unanswered on Monday. The Star 15/12/2015 Zuma's other blunder
The Presidency issued a statement saying Ms Sisulu would hand over houses in Marikana and referred queries to her department, which had not replied by the time of publication. Business Day 7/1/2016 Zuma skips risky visit to Marikana
Parliament spokesman Luzoko Jacobs did not respond to questions from Business Day about her denial of the graffiti. Business Day 8/7/2015 Zuma makes me wet’ graffiti makes Parliament officials hot under collar
Nhleko's spokesperson, Musa Zondi, could not immediately be reached for comment. News24 27/7/2015 Farm attack victims 'pushed around' by police - AfriForum
Parliament failed to answer questions on the issue by the time of going to press yesterday. Daily Dispatch 31/7/2015 Parliament suspends security’s top officials
National police spokesperson Solomon Makgale could not be reached for comment. News24, 25/6/2015 Marikana reaction: Phiyega, Ramaphosa must face consequences
The Correctional Services Department yesterday failed to respond to e-mail and SMS requests for comment. Times Live 14/7/2015 23 hours a day in SA’s ‘cave’ of shame
The national police spokesperson, Brigadier Vish Naidoo, said he could not comment on the matter as it was after hours. Daily Voice 23/7/2015 Thieves rob SAPS crime intelligence unit
The NPA did not respond to questions. The Times 7/8/2015 NPA in murky waters
The department of public works did not respond to questions. Mail & Guardian 14/8/2015 Nkandla: Is Zuma finally off the hook?
However, at this stage it is unclear why the charges were dropped. At the time of writing NPA spokespersons were not reachable for comment. Fin24 4/9/2015 Telkom CEO puts fraud charges ‘behind him’
The national department of health failed to comment after a month of emails, phone calls, reminders and SMSes. City Press 12/10/2015 R3.5bn tender was not condomwise
The Media Online contacted head of communications for the police in the Western Cape, Brigadier Potelwa, to ask what, if any, actions would be taken against those who stormed the building and why the police allegedly did nothing to stop them. Photographs certainly show police presence, but no arrests were made. But there was no response from SAPS. The Media Online 21/1/2016 Cape Town, banners and billboards – and lots of huffing and puffing
The provincial education department had not responded to questions at the time of writing, though these were sent more than a week ago. Daily Dispatch 15/6/2015. Desperate parents build schools
eThekwini Metro Police spokesperson referred all comments to municipal spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa.
She could not immediately be reached for comment.
News24, 16/6/2015 Durban cops refuse charity for police dog
The provincial Department of Human Settlements could not be reached for comment on Friday afternoon. News24, 11/7/2015 DA's urgent application against human settlements dept fails
The co-operative governance department and municipality did not respond to questions about these contraventions.
Rand Water, which monitors water quality on behalf of water affairs, also avoided answering questions this week. The results of its research are given to local water forums. In most cases the levels in the dam exceed safe levels as prescribed by the World Health Organisation. Mail & Guardian 24/7/2014 Sewage in Gauteng's drinking water
The department (of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) has not responded to queries about the programme for several weeks. Sunday Times 6/9/2015 Storm brews over neglected harbours.
Kgamanyane’s phone went unanswered on Thursday. Mail & Guardian 4/9/2015 Bid to purge McBride associates
Calls to Peter’s cellphone were diverted to voicemail. Daily Dispatch 28/4/2015 Makana mayor flees hecklers under police guard
Johannesburg, Ekurheleni and Nelson Mandela Bay failed to respond to media queries. The Times 29/6/2015 Dying to be a councillor – Opposition gags on R400 000 spent on funerals – R98 million set aside for infrastructure diverted to burials
Questions sent to BCM spokesman Thandy Matebese were not answered at the time of writing. Daily Dispatch 21/7/2015 Fury over ‘firepool’ pothole
Despite repeated requests for comment, BCM had not responded to Daily Dispatch queries at the time of writing. Daily Dispatch 21/7/2015 Residents fed up as BCM lets Beacon Bay house fall apart
Persistent calls to the Makana Municipality went unanswered. Daily Maverick 30/7/2015 Op-Ed: Grahamstown – great festival, shame about the place
Nkangala District Municipality spokesperson David Masobuka did not respond to written questions from City Press requesting more information about the costs to the municipality of the order granted in favour of Makola. City Press 30 /8/2015 R9m tax bill for an ANC battle.
The Rosebank police station representative referred Fin24 to a provincial Saps spokesperson, who was not available at the time of writing. Fin24 7/9/2014 Charges against Telkom CEO dropped – for now
Gauteng Health Department spokesman, Steve Mabona failed to respond to questions. TimesLive, 2/11/2015. Health officials preparing to shut down facility.
Moffet Mofokeng, Prasa's spokesperson, did not respond to the newspaper's queries beyond stating in an e-mail that "you are at liberty to write what you want". Rapport 5/7/2015 SA's R600 million train blunder
Prasa spokesperson Moffet Mofokeng said Mtimkulu had a genuine PhD.
By Tuesday evening, Mofokeng had not responded to repeated queries about Mtimkulu’s Ecsa registration. He said Mtimkulu had been chairing a meeting since 14:00 that day.
In an sms sent around 18:00, Mtimkulu asked Beeld to call him later. His phone was then switched off. Webmail 5/7/2015 Prasa's chief engineer not registered
Prasa had not responded to requests for comment yesterday by the time of going to press. Business Day 14/7/2015 Prasa ‘failed to hedge’ on locomotives deal
On Monday Prasa had not provided comment by the time of publication. Business Day 21/7/2015 Prasa fails to ready depots for new fleet
Myeni this week failed to respond to questions seeking to establish, among other things, if she had in fact received a call from Zuma. She did not take calls or respond to messages. Sunday Times 26/7/2015 ‘Zuma called Myeni’ to torpedo SAA deal
The IDT did not respond to requests for comment. City Press 26/7/2015
R4.7m to build these broken toilets
Prasa and the Department of Transport could not provide comment. Business Day 4/8/2015 Fencing firm denies claim by former Prasa CEO
Eskom, which was not available for comment on Tuesday morning, has been seeking more money from government and consumers to cover the costs of running expensive diesel generators and buying from private contractors to keep the lights on when the baseload power stations break down. Business Report 4/8/2015 Glencore blames Eskom for money woes
SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago could not be reached for comment. City Press 6/9/2015 Overworked SABC editors go to the CCMA
SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday morning. TV with Thinus 21/9/2015 SABC paying Hlaudi Motsoeneng and Ellen Tshabala’s legal fees by submitting claims to the SABC’s insurance company
SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago didn't respond to a media enquiry on Wednesday asking about the SABC's Bokke T-shirts given to staff, workers' reaction and the Bemawu letter. TV with Thinus 23/9/2015 SABC staff upset over 'threat' that they must wear Boks T-shirts every Friday; 'gifts should not come with demands like this,' says SABC workers.
SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago could not be reached for comment. Business Day 3/12/2015 Motsoeneng hearing ‘looks like sham’
SAA has not responded to requests for comment. Moneyweb 18/12/2015 In the public interest: Victory for media houses in SAA legal tussle
Safa’s head of communication, Dominic Chimhavi, did not answer to written questions that were sent to him, and accused Media24 (in particular Beeld) of being on a “crusade to demonise African institutions”. News24 18/8/2015 We knew nothing: Ex-executive member speaks out on Safa’s $10m donation