Hysterical: South African press throws temper tantrum over new finance minister
South African press loses plot over finance change
President Zuma’s routine change of Minster of Finance meets with an embarrassing hysteria
For most countries, Cabinet re-shuffles are routine and are the prerogative of the elected leader.
Yet, the reaction of the South African press to President Jacob Zuma’s perfectly normal change of the Minister of Finance seems nothing less than sheer hysteria and crass unprofessionalism.
An impression was intentionally generated in the press of recklessness, that Zuma’s decision was un-announced and un-explained – even un-democratic. Yet, Zuma is constitutionally discharged to make such decisions and he promised detailed information to follow. A detailed statement was released two days later explaining the entire situation. But, by then, the media had already decided to use this decision as a pretext for what was essentially a farce – but one that was revealing.
The detailed press statement was not even mentioned in their hysteria – indeed, the hysteria could have been avoided if they had bothered to wait for more information ‘in due course.’ This is to act in a professional manner and wait for the statement of the president. Instead, they created a false event and disseminated a distortion of reality. Yet, this false event had real consequences which have damaged South Africa.
The Star led with “maelstrom of unreason’; News24: “No obligation for Zuma to tell Cabinet about new appointments – Presidency”; Mail and Guardian: “Nene’s firing: Who will stop the wrecking ball?”; Independent Online: “Zuma ‘out of control’”; Rand Daily Mail: “Welcome to the Jacob Zuma soap opera: Episode 4323;” Eyewitness News: “OPINION: Zuma’s ‘grotesquely irresponsible’ gamble with SA economy.” This is only a sample of the permanent smear economy is a 24-7, 7 days a week project. The private media is an echo chamber, creating its own schizophrenic world.
Strangely enough, as I have mentioned, the president released, amid the hysteria, as a promised follow-up to his initial statement of Nene’s re-deployment (not sacking) on 9 December, a very detailed press statement on the change at the Ministry which clearly stated that Mr. Nene would be South Africa’s candidate for the BRICS’ New Development Bank and details of the next few weeks. It is in this context of the historic FOCAC event in Johannesburg that Zuma announced a new finance minster. These events are intrinsically tied together: FOCAC, BRICS (which, as I have said, was not mentioned in the hysteria) and the new opportunity for Nene at the New Development Bank.
While it was clear to those focussed on the events in Johannesburg that Nene would have a direct role with the BRICS bank, the South African press lurched into high gear, not having the patience to simply allow the political process to unfold. In the detailed and lengthy press statement, Zuma detailed the ‘new deployment’ two days after his original announcement.
The urgency of the changes in the leadership of the National Treasury was occasioned by the need to send nominations to Shanghai, of the head of the African Regional Centre of the New Development Bank/BRICS Bank, to be based in Johannesburg. Mr Nene is our candidate for this position. (Press statement, South African Presidency, Dec. 11, 2015)
To underscore the normality of the situation, Zuma wrote later in the statement:
The economic cluster will meet on Tuesday, 15 December as announced by Minister Jeff Radebe to prepare for a special cabinet meeting on the economy, which will take place on Friday 18 December.
None of the newspapers in question could be bothered to wait for or when it did arrive even mention the president’s own statement, which is very clear on the meaning and the impact of his decision. Indeed, contrary to the “shock and bewilderment” expressed by some “commentators”, Zuma opened his statement with a note that a prudent fiscal policy will be maintained. He said:
His appointment as Minister of Finance does not signal a change in the government’s fiscal stance.
Government will not abandon the fiscal path that we have chosen in the last few years. Maintaining a prudent fiscal position remains one of government’s top priorities.
The new Minister will strengthen the path and continue to support all efforts aimed at improving the lives of ordinary South Africans.
The very fact that the president’s own timely statement is never mentioned (even in the many days following the ‘crisis’) is symptomatic of a radically biased media which has abandoned its right to be called journalism. The press exists to report news, not make news. Instead, the South African media created the impression of a crisis, and dominating the international news markets and search engine placements, disseminated the impression of a ‘crisis’ world-wide. Yet, there was no crisis, only an impatience with the reality of having to wait for elaboration from the leader of the government.
Moreover, the failure – was it intentional? – to make the connection between the historic Johannesburg FOCAC gathering and the change at the Ministry underlines the lack of interest of the South African press for facts and critical thinking. Such a lack is underscored by the cheer-leading exercise for a Twitter hastag #ZumaMustFall, which as the protests fell flat, clearly did not have the support of the vast majority of the population – outside the parochial shell of entrenched elites. Ironically, Julius Malema, the leader of the EFF – a favourite of the tabloids – even rejected the protests, called them a conspiracy of ‘white capitalists.’
To this extent, the South African press is not only failing its responsibility to enlighten the public, but has also shown itself to fail to understand the current geopolitical and domestic situation. Such “journalism” deserves its proper name: propaganda. It does not serve the people.
Indeed, as suggested, such mock over-reaction, exaggeration and outright hysteria is not a new event with the South African press. This is business as usual and these new sources understand their audience and their advertiser’s desires – right-wing extremism sold to a captive audience of people who throw temper tantrums since they are not in charge.
The shameful treatment of President Jacob Zuma by the privately owned media and its readers – a standing president who has four more years in his term and won with an overwhelming majority – is an embarrassment to South Africa in the face of the rest of the world.
Only America’s Fox News could applaud the bile of such “journalism”. Indeed, Fox has become a model for right-wing and Neo-liberal news organisations all over the world, representing privileged suburbanites and entrenched elites.
The failure of the South African privately owned media to contribute to a positive transformation of South Africa exposes its reactionary and merely negative character. It lives in denial, refusing to accept that it is no longer in charge.
Such was made possible, of course, by the de-regulation of media markets and the general Neo-liberal premise of the IMF controlled “democratic transition” in South Africa, one which has benefited the wealthy who are incidentally the primary consumers of the bile of the private media.
Yet, as Van Rooyen explained in his address at an appointment ceremony attended by the president, the focus of his tenure will be the expansion of opportunity to all South Africans, “not just the few”.
Such talk does not play well with the elites of South Africa, who hide behind their walls, never truly experiencing the utter deprivation of millions of their fellow citizens. Instead of visiting the townships and offering a helping hand, a kind word, they repeat the party line of faceless “commentators.”
Bordering on the brink of sedition, they pray at night for the perfect storm, one that will never come. In such a situation, a legislative introduction of a “Fairness Doctrine” would be appropriate for these private companies.
In the end, Zuma decided to calm the markets, their “animal spirits,” disturbed by the false crisis, one generated by the media, by replacing Van Rooyen with the former finance minister Pravin Ghordan. This decision, it is no surprise, has also been latched on by the press as a symptom of Zuma’s alleged indecisiveness. Yet, such ‘indecisiveness’ is as real as the ‘crisis’ generated by the media and is essentially the same. In fact, Zuma responded decisively to counter the mischief of the media and its fantasies of the fall of the ANC.
As Jackson Mthembu, National Spokesperson for the ANC, has outlined in his article on this fiasco, “Media lose its veneer of objectivity with #ZumaMustFall”, the architects of the crisis were the journalists and media outlets themselves. Their hysteria and opportunism is to blame for the persistent obstructionism of the new South Africa. Their journalism is merely propaganda.