NEWS & ANALYSIS

Business Day got it wrong on SA and the AU

Dr Eddy Maloka says newspaper's coverage based on a string of falsehoods

The recent African Union (AU) Summit, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, attracted wide media coverage, much of it based on the decision of SADC and the South African government to field the Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, as candidate for the position of Chairperson of the AU Commission.

Some in the media covered the matter in a fair and balanced manner, reflecting accurately on the precise circumstances under which the election ended inconclusively, with neither of the two candidates - Dr Dlamini Zuma and incumbent Dr Jean Ping - accumulating the two-thirds majority that is required by AU rules.

Others, like the Business Day as reflected in a front page article (SA's Africa diplomacy rocked by AU defeat in Addis, 31 January), based their coverage entirely on falsehoods, thereby misleading the readers and prompting uninformed commentary.  

Amongst other false claims was that: "SA's Africa policy lay in ruins after a bold and high-profile bid to lead the African Union (AU) ended abruptly, as Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma failed to win an election for the AU's top administrative post".   

The fact is that the elections were inconclusive. Part of Rule 42 of the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly of the AU reads: "If after three further ballots neither of the two candidates obtains the majority required, the candidate with fewer votes shall withdraw" and that "the remaining candidate shall proceed to the next round. If he/she fails to obtain the two-thirds majority required in that round, the Chairperson of the Assembly shall suspend the election". 

After neither of the two candidates could obtain two-thirds of the vote as required, the elections have been suspended and will resume at the mid-year Summit in Malawi. 

The article claimed further that: "The fiercely contested elections showed Ms Dlamini-Zuma got only 26 votes in the first round while the incumbent, Gabon's Jean Ping, received 27. In the second round, Ms Dlamini-Zuma emerged victorious with 27 votes to Mr Ping's 26. The third round saw Mr Ping getting 27 votes to Ms Dlamini-Zuma's 26". The actual results tell a different story, with the third round having gone 24 against 29 in favour of Dr Ping.

The outcome of the Summit was also misrepresented. "As there was no clear winner," we were told, the AU leaders discussed "a proposal to appoint a legal panel to look at the AU's constitution after it was not clear whether Mr Ping was eligible to continue in his post".

The idea was not to "appoint a legal panel" but to establish a committee of Heads of State and Government convened by the Chair of the African Union (Benin) and comprised of one representative from each of the five AU regions as well as the two countries that fielded the candidates.  Furthermore, the mandate of the committee is not to "look at the AU's constitution" but applicable Rules of Procedure, among other. 

The constitution of the AU is the Constitutive Act and it is not in dispute.  Its amendment requires a completely different process which includes ratification by Member States.  It is untrue, too, that part of the mandate of this committee includes investigating "whether Mr Ping was eligible to continue in his post". The term of office of the entire AU Commission, including Dr Ping, was extended up to the next Summit.

To say, under these circumstances, that our foreign policy lay in "ruins" is far-fetched and in fact suggests a serious crisis for our foreign policy. This is a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts and is intended to mislead the reader and is indeed a serious abuse of one's journalistic pen.

The Business Day article further contained an uncharacteristic, tabloid-type of a claim, saying: "In scenes reminiscent of SA's exit from football's African Nations Cup qualifiers last year, members of the South African delegation broke into applause and song after the vote at the AU's headquarters, under the mistaken impression that Ms Dlamini-Zuma had won".

The actual singing, led by a group of non-South African gender activists who had put their weight behind Dr Dlamini-Zuma's candidacy, was not "under the mistaken impression that Ms Dlamini-Zuma had won", but in response to the news that Dr Jean Ping had failed to secure the required two-third majority.

The article, which contains several other factually incorrect claims, claims in conclusion that: "Despite its economic might, SA has been regarded as a political lightweight on the continent under the Zuma government". 

The truth of the matter is that, with respect to the elections in question, some of the countries that voted against our candidate did so because they felt that South Africa is too strong, and getting stronger by the day - with the BRICS, G20 and so forth - and that its elevation to the Chairperson of the AU Commission would make the country even more stronger.

It remains a mystery how the Business Day could make such strongly worded claims which are clearly intended to influence the South Africa public negatively about our foreign policy. How this article found its way to the front-page of such a respectable paper, only the editor knows. 

Dr Eddy Maloka is Special Adviser to the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation.  He writes in his personal capacity.

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter