The writer says manufactured outrage and sometimes even deliberately misleading misinformation is confusing newspaper readers. File picture: Flickr
Like the Time magazine article in which SA makes the top 10 list of countries that are the biggest threat to the world in 2017, writes Douglas Gibson.
People will have to be forgiven for not knowing who or what to believe. Recent headlines have been confusing, to say the least. They can’t all be true.
“God is on our side – Zuma says ANC will rule till Jesus comes back;” but “ANC riddled with corruption – Ramaphosa lays into the ANC’s rotting roots.”
Surely both these leaders cannot be right?
Leaving aside for the moment the utter arrogance and the blasphemy of President Zuma, who in the same speech equated the birth of Jesus Christ with the birthday of the ANC, saying “They are the same: no one can separate them,” people who are Christians may have some difficulty in reconciling the two views.
Clearly, Zuma has learnt nothing from the results of the local government elections in August last year, when many voters rejected the ANC, quite a few rejecting the presumptuousness of a politician with four wives who claims the Christian cloak when it suits him.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa seems to have taken some of the lessons of the election to heart. Somehow his heartfelt claim that the ANC is not for sale and that lifestyle audits of ANC leaders should be carried out to root out corruption among leaders and their families will gain approval outside but also inside his party.
In the case of these headlines, most careful readers will be able to sort out who they prefer to believe. But what of other confusing situations created by party and government spokespersons?
Over the Christmas/New Year period we had the enormous brouhaha about the visit by the mayor of Tshwane, Solly Msimanga, to Taiwan. He was attacked in blaring headlines by Clayson Monyela, a civil servant whose salary is paid by the taxpayer.
Monyela, spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco), declared that by travelling to Taiwan the mayor had violated the SA government’s One China policy.
The ANC in Tshwane waded in and accused the mayor of treason. When it appeared that our Department of Trade and Industry and the minister are constantly promoting ties with Taiwan and South Africa maintains a representative office in Taipei, an embassy in all but name, Monyela backtracked and said the objection was because the mayor had been awarded the freedom of Taipei by the mayor of that city.
This was laughable, and Monyela and the government have not yet been able to explain how on earth this could “violate” the One China policy.
As an aside, government policy is not the law of the land, and while it might bind the government and officials, it does not bind you and me.
It is this sort of manufactured outrage and sometimes even deliberately misleading misinformation that ends up confusing newspaper readers.
The absolute star of this in the bad old days was Pik Botha, then minister of foreign affairs, who could work himself into a manufactured rage in a moment or two, destroying his opponents in the process. It took a long while for the voters to see through him and his government, and I suspect – and hope – that a quarter of a century later, voters have become a little more discerning and able to recognise rubbish when they read it.
In this category might be the Time magazine article last week that identified the 10 biggest threats to the world this year.
Believe it or not, South Africa made the list.
The following was the headline: “Zuma’s South Africa is one of the biggest risks to the world in 2017.”
Reaching the top 10 in anything would normally be exciting, but being classified as one of the greatest threats to world markets is hardly the sort of accolade that induces pride (or promotes investment, growth and jobs). The list is interesting because it is headed by Donald Trump’s America and the unpredictability his election brings.
China is next with its possible over- reaction to Trump, and then follows the power vacuum in Europe; a possible pause in economic progress; technology disrupting the Middle East; politics interfering with central banks; the White House versus Silicon Valley; Turkey’s ongoing crackdown; North Korea’s sabre-rattling; and finally, “a struggling South Africa”.
We are there because “the deeply unpopular President Jacob Zuma, beset by corruption allegations, is afraid to pass power to someone he doesn’t trust.
“The resulting infighting over succession stalls any momentum towards crucial economic reform in the country and limits South Africa’s ability to offer leadership needed to stabilise conflicts inside neighbouring countries.”
It is tempting to say Time’s analysis of the South African situation is spot-on, which it is, but surely it is a gross exaggeration to rate us a greater risk to the world in 2017 than Isis, which does not feature, and international terrorism, which is not included either?
In The Economist, one of the world’s most influential publications, South Africa is rated as having the second worst education system (74 out of 76) in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
This article appeared on the same day that we had big headlines trumpeting the education progress made in our matric exams.
While being overjoyed at the success of many learners, one hopes that the public will not now settle back and accept that all is right with our education when, on the basis of an authoritative survey, not a thumb-suck or someone’s biased opinion, we have an unsatisfactory and unacceptably poor education system that does not deliver the constitutional promise to our young people.
I hope that in 2017, readers, viewers and listeners will be wary of misinformation, of propaganda and of manufactured outrage and will always try to get the real story.
* Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.