Wouldn’t it be nice if politicians made laws that they would like to have in place even when they are not in power?
Former SABC board member and head of radio news Pippa Green advised the ANC to do just that in her reaction to Communications Minister Faith Muthambi’s proposed amendments to the Broadcasting Act.
The most troubling amendment is that nonexecutive members of the SABC board will no longer be appointed on the advice of Parliament, but by the minister of communications. In one fell swoop, the vital role that Parliament has played to at least try to ensure that the broadcaster is accountable to the public will be extinguished.
Not yet in power during the dying days of apartheid, the ANC was at the forefront of efforts to transform the all-mighty SABC from being a state propaganda tool. The need for an independent SABC was so pressing that the current Broadcasting Amendment Act was enacted in 1993 to enable free and credible elections to take place in April 1994.
Describing the uphill battle at the time, then ANC secretary-general Cyril Ramaphosa said in a 1992 speech that the National Party had been trying to convince negotiators that its SABC appointees, “many of them with links to the Broederbond and to the SA Defence Force’s Directorate of Military Intelligence”, had somehow transformed and were no longer propagandists.
Now, after more than 21 years in power, similar ruling-party arrogance has been displayed, this time by an ANC president who believes that the former liberation party will rule until Jesus comes back.
Although Cabinet – in its jittery and divided state – approved Muthambi’s Broadcasting Amendment Bill last month, tensions are evident, with alliance partner the SA Communist Party openly trashing it.
But if ANC MPs continue the pattern of closing ranks when the bill comes before Parliament next year, they will abandon yet another pledge from their glory years.
“The ANC is committed to public broadcasting which is independent of the government of the day, and which owes its loyalty not to any party, but to the population as a whole,” Ramaphosa said in 1992.
The current ANC leadership does not care to take advice from others, but you would think they would heed their own advice. Or perhaps Muthambi and her cohorts are too drunk with power to notice that in the party discussion documents for the National General Council 2015, there are repeated recommendations for the SABC to have “strengthened accountability to Parliament”.
But after this week, we can’t expect any common sense or for-the-greater-good advice to be taken into consideration.
So, after the foolhardy decision to axe Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, I won’t be holding my breath.
* This article first appeared in various Media 24 titles on 14 and 15 December 2015.