Wednesday, 29 June 2016

SABC Blues

There are a few fundamentals that underpin a healthy democracy. Safety, security and a robust opposition rank high among them. Perhaps the most important democratic bedfellow, however, is information. Shortly followed by access to information.

Cue Hlaudi: our resident see-no-evil extraordinaire.

Here is how you derail media freedom, Hlaudi style:

Step 1 – team up with pay-per-view media monolith DSTV owners to throw every possible spanner into the digital migration works. Encrypted set-top boxes are a no-brainer – they will lower the barriers to entry for up-and-coming media houses like e-TV, while simultaneously bringing down the prices charged by the incumbent monopolist providers. It is one of the undisputed areas of capitalist prowess. Competition is important.

Predictably, the SABC threw its weight in the opposite direction, after scoring an economically senseless deal with Multichoice for a little free airing on its dishy platform for a few years. This is after big boss shareholder, the ANC - through Parliamentary control - had already resolved to go the encrypted route.

Granted, the lack of digital migration has more to do with Hlaudi’s boss, Minister Faith Muthambi, than it has to do with him directly. It would seem highly unlikely however that we would not hear about his discontent, if there were any to be heard. So we must conclude that he is complicit by his silence.

Step 2 – pay yourself a shit-load. Then some more. Oh, and a little more after that. Because after you fake your qualifications and score the top job at a national broadcaster, the rational thing to do is to fill your pockets as fast as possible. How he managed to have control over his own salary is yet to be revealed, but our man H&M is styling on R1m more than he had in 2014, without adding much to the Mzanzi Magic so many South Africans hold dear. Even our favourite heroine, Thuli Madonsela, said she don’t like the smell of his pay-check, but like most Public Protector pronouncements this issue was merely swept under the rug.

Step 3 – throw down the gauntlet to your reporters’ independence by banning coverage of violent unrest around election time. Apparently we citizens are incapable of viewing the embers of our public amenities without rushing to the nearest Putco bus with fire-lighters in tow. Best you take your viewing rights over to free-to-air e-TV… Oh wait, Hlaudi’s nailing them as well.

The big question you keep tonging on the roof of your mouth? Who benefits...

Judging by the ANC manifesto launch, everything is fine and dandy. They will be running into the 2016 municipal elections with their “Good Story to Tell” record on repeat. It’s pretty hard to keep your eyes on the Good Story pamphlet while Tshwane is burning on the TV screen in front of you. So maybe we have our answer. After all, the world is as you propagandise it, is it not?

Step 3.1 – discipline reporters for telling the truth. Acting-CEO Jimi Matthews was having none of that (after years of having plenty of that) and tenders his public resignation, because he’s had it up to here with screwing people out of their own democracy.

Boom. Hlaudi-capture complete.  He’s King Joffrey with a bit more swag.

But who cares? I mean, no-one watches SABC anymore, right?


Generations just rebooted its entire cast faster than you can say “I hereby tender my resignation because Jeremy Corbyn is a dick”, and yet South Africans just keep eating it up. In fact, between Generations and Uzalo, the two shows have amassed around 8 million viewers apiece in 2016 (I wish I could add them together for effect, but I can’t guarantee Ma Ntuli isn’t watching SABC 1 from 8pm – 9pm, thereby getting her daily dose of both soapies).

Prior to the reboot, Generations was pulling even bigger numbers, with a whopping 10 million viewers religiously tuning in every evening to watch Tau, Zola and Karabo do their thing. Let’s add a little perspective to those figures: Egoli, at its prime during the Mnet Open Time era, drew roughly 1 million viewers per night. Yes, that’s right Egoli fans, you ain’t got nothin’ on Zola.

So here comes the democratic kicker.

People who watch SABC 1, vote.

Let that sink in for a second. The news is on just an hour before the 8pm soapies begin, and the news is where we get that thing they call “an informed electorate” from. If you don’t want to be like that grumpy Yorkshireman, waking up to Google what the “EU” is the day after spanking it out the front door, then you care about having an informed electorate.

If 8 million people are sitting in front of their TV sets when that familiar “dun-dun-da-da-dun” of the seven-o’clock news begins to play, that’s a pretty significant proportion of our 25 million registered voters figuring out who burnt what today in Tshwane. Assuming only half of those viewers can vote, of which only half do, that’s still 2 million crosses put next to their mayor of choice. Less than 2 million votes put the EFF in Parliament. Less than 2 million votes stood between Brexit and Bremain. Less than 2 million votes secured Gauteng for David Makhura and the ANC in the last municipal election. And in an election that looks to be the most tightly contested in this country’s democratic history, our Generations watching comrades could just be the King-Makers.

That’s why we care about Hlaudi’s self-censorship policies. In an age when thugs rule the roost, and the Security Cluster is controlled by patronage serving loyalists, we need that democratic lever they call “The Vote” to be cast knowledgably, knowingly. The national broadcaster is our tax-funded vehicle for that knowledge. You have a right to know what is going on in the country you live in. You have a responsibility to vote accordingly.

If our citizens are being pacified by the dulcet images of Hlaudi-ville, they will vote as if that were the truth. For anyone in need of a brief history lesson, Google “apartheid era media muzzling” to see the effects of putting whities to sleep in the midst of their country’s own anarchy. History has already judged them poorly for it. We cannot repeat that mistake.

Safety, security and a robust opposition are absolute prerequisites to a healthy democracy. Without them we simply cannot hold credible elections. So when someone starts tampering with your information, whispering sweet nothings in your ear about the state of your country, it’s time to get pissed. You have the right to know when Rome is Falling. You have the right to know who’s safety and security has been taken away. You have the right to know how angry the people of Tshwane really are. Because, when it comes down to it, you have the responsibility to vote for the future of your fellow man. And best that vote be informed, or else Hlaudi will hold the keys to the castle.

Put simply, Hlaudi can’t win, because if he does, you lose.


Monday, 6 June 2016

Transformation: One Gautrain ticket at a time

I love riding on the Gautrain. It looks, and feels, like progress. It’s a piece of infrastructure built on the African continent that appeases the capitalist gene hardwired into the left hemisphere of my brain. A physical manifestation of the Africa Rising rhetoric. Look Mom, we CAN look after ourselves!

But there is another, more important reason why I love the Gautrain. It has to do with community. In our strange (read desperate) post-apartheid geographic city set-up, where Black, White and Coloured live here, there and yonder, there is nothing quite like an arterial public transport route to stick everyone on the same escalator. There Gauteng, have a good hard look at yourself – albeit at a predominantly middle-class version thereof.

What else could have brought our pale males to the heart of town, out from their soft suburban shells, and sat them next to mama Theki who works in accounts in Midrand? Certainly not the next Lions fixture at Ellis Park (she’s probably a Bulls fan). No, this incredible feat of service delivery actually delivering a service has given us a chance to see what a microcosm of our country looks like, two decades after turning a newly democratic leaf.

And I’ll tell you what, for the Bryanston and Bedfordview boytjies it certainly has a slightly more colourful tinge than our weekend braai’s might suggest.

Thank goodness…

As if Operation Transformation could wait any longer. At a time when the news echoes stories of “blackface” and “Fuck white people”, it’s comforting to get out into the real world and find some perspective.

“Hello fellow South African. Would you look at that! I haven’t painted myself darker effectively spitting in the face of hundreds of years of your ancestral slavery. I’m also really glad you haven’t tried to dispossess me of my land on this train ride, under the guise of rectifying historically ill-begotten wealth. Isn’t it amazing how civil everyone seems when they’re not on the news?”
At least that’s how the conversation plays out in my head as I’m waiting for the next train to Park (a four cart train, departing in seven minutes, according to our train hostess over the intercom).

And then there’s the contrasting impression left by the disintegrating skyline of the Joburg CBD, superimposed on your subconscious as you emerge into the ever-rising vantage of Sandton. Dense, bustling streets of little retail versus the beating heart of big business in Africa. Yesterday and today. Today and tomorrow. Both accessible on an eight minute train ride via the hipster haven Rosebank. One can only imagine the possibilities of a Soweto stop wedged into that equation.

For the first time, everyday well-to-do South Africans can glimpse, in real time, the realities of urban decay, urban renewal and urban investment (read four sexy new Sandton structures for our local capitalist monoliths), not to mention the heaving aftereffects of rural-urban migration. Geography teachers everywhere get down on your knees and kiss the toes of your beloved deities – this is a lived case study of city demographic movement.

This is not a social solution to our every problem. Naiveté would suggest there is such a thing. And in many ways the viciously exclusionary pricing model of the service is acting as an economic barricade to the majority of our impoverished populace. It is simply a touch-point. An opportunity to rub shoulders (literally) and spend that one iota of extra time with people a little less like you. If your train rides are anything like mine, invariably you get to chatting about that witty magazine headline, or the shirt that says “I was shot in Joburg”. Or – if you’re really lucky – about the latest budget speech your fellow traveller delivered in Parliament and how they’re holding up against the Zuptanami (yes, Pravin travels Blue-Light-Brigadeless).

If I were the Captain of this Gauteng Ship, and I had to decide how best to spend our tax-payer’s money over the next five years, I’d budget for a few more stations, stretching further South, East and West. Let’s stir that melting pot.

I’d also install a Mugg & Bean On The Go at every exit. Coffee is important too.

Do yourself a favour. Take a trip to Park. Buy a ticket to anywhere. And who knows, you might just be lucky enough to lose a prejudice along the way.