Duarte’s vile rant is par for the course in this groundhog nation
Whenever she is put in front of a camera she damages the ANC’s dwindling reputation as tolerant constitutionalists
Jessie Duarte, the ANC’s deputy secretary-general, started off sounding vaguely normal when she began a media conference at party HQ Luthuli House on Tuesday. The party’s list of candidates for the nine provincial legislatures and the national Assembly would be studied, she said, by the party’s integrity commission, which would make recommendations to the national executive committee on whether or not they should be on the list.
The integrity commission, Duarte explained, could not change the lists, which have already been submitted to the Independent Electoral Commission of SA. But then she said they could influence the list. Whatever.
But Duarte kept dropping little insults about the media. They only focused on three names on the list and were therefore “biased”. An eNCA reporter, Samkele Maseko, took offence when she mentioned eNCA by name, and told her. She kept her cool for a few minutes more (though stupidly tried to get eNCA to switch off its camera) and then turned on him to deliver easily the most painful tirade from a politician to a reporter that I have witnessed in 45 years in the trade.
She didn’t raise her voice. But you could almost touch the hatred in her. It was totally unwarranted.
The young man said later he was close to tears. And I keep on hearing this from reporters. The bullying out there is cruel and rampant and ubiquitous — in the ANC, the EFF (big time), the DA and others. For the most part, the politicians are adults and the journalists younger. Not always, but often.
As an editor you send a reporter to cover a political conference or a speech or a convention and they come back with tales of incredible harassment. Stand there. Move here. No cameras. No entry. No phones. No media. Fuck off.
I’m sure I have a clear memory of the moment Duarte was re-elected deputy secretary-general in December 2017. She walked up to Cyril Ramaphosa, they hugged and I heard her say: “Thank you, Mr President.” I’ve often wondered what she was thanking him for. She had beaten his candidate for the job, Zingiswa Losi, who was later in 2018 to become the first female leader of Cosatu, the ANC-aligned trade union umbrella.
Looking back now I wonder whether Ramaphosa might have somehow acquiesced to Jessie’s victory in return for her loyalty. She had, after all, been almost insanely loyal to Jacob Zuma. Perhaps she’s just loyal to everyone senior to her. And did Ramaphosa somehow engineer Losi’s ascension to the Cosatu leadership as consolation? Who knows? We all assume Ramaphosa is without guile. Perhaps we are wrong.
What we can be sure of though is that whenever Duarte is put in front of a camera she will do damage to the ANC’s dwindling reputation as a party of tolerant constitutionalists. Tuesday was no exception. Her attack on young Samkele was appalling. He is a diligent reporter, arguably the most knowledgeable in the media of the inter-relationships between people inside the ANC, an extremely rare skill in an extraordinarily complex political universe.
What was weird about the media conference is that the ANC submitted its election lists to the IEC and only then to its integrity commission. Obviously it has been stung by public outrage that so many compromised former state capture beneficiaries are on the lists. But what does it want to happen? There was an argument at the NEC meeting that preceded the media conference. The usual suspects objected to the integrity commission referral.
But Ramaphosa insisted. A small victory.
So we now have an official effort to get the commission to get the NEC to get some of the compromised people on the lists to perhaps consider removing themselves. It’s probably too late for that, though if I were Malusi Gigaba or Nomvula Mokonyane I’d take five years as ambassador to Uruguay over being whipped to death in the National Assembly any day.
Again, whatever. The fact is that sending the lists to the integrity commission is a public relations exercise. And instead of projecting it as a serious attempt by a serious party to do the right thing, Duarte stuffed it up royally by picking on an earnest, underpaid and sensitive young journalist when she should have stuck to her script. You had just one job, Jessie.
In the greater scheme of things it won’t matter. The ANC thinks the media treats it unfairly. The DA thinks the media treats it unfairly. The EFF has actual documented Stratcom evidence that the media colludes against it. No lies.
These people are mad. Outside of politics almost none of them owns little more than the impulse to get elected again. Few would survive as middle-class citizens, not even the lawyers among them. Politics is where they go to find a level playing field to eat off. Like preachers they persuade people to part with their money and join them. And like all believers, party “members” burn with a passionate intensity.
Fortunately, the election will soon be over and all will be known. Little will change (except maybe in Gauteng). I will have fewer friends. Duarte will find someone in the media to give her a respectful interview. Maseko will get stronger and even better at his job.
And the rest of us will wait and wait for the arrests to begin. It’s groundhog country this.
• Bruce is a former editor of Business Day and the Financial Mail.