Jessie Duarte's extraordinary attack on the Sunday Times and one of their reporters demonstrates just how dangerous a Jacob Zuma government would be for media freedoms in South Africa.
Duarte's attitude towards the reporter in question, Philani Nombembe, is quite outrageous and she ought to publically apologise for the disgraceful manner in which she behaved.
When asked a perfectly legitimate question about online campaigning -- "Does the ANC president get to answer [blog posts]" -- Duarte launched a tirade of insults against Mr Nombembe. She told him to "get a life", that he was "racist", was "peddling a bad attitude", and completely invented a question that Mr Nombembe had never asked when lambasting him for "asking" whether Zuma could read.
The transcript of Duarte's conversation makes for alarming reading, and indicates that press freedoms under a Zuma government will be more strained than ever before. Duarte showed the ANC's true colours. That she, along with Carl Niehaus, should be the face of the ANC's media efforts during this campaign says a lot about how much the ANC values both shameless dishonesty and utter incompetence.
It is pertinent to recall that the 1998 Moerane Commission found that while acting as Gauteng Safety and Security MEC, Duarte had been guilty of mismanagement and maladministration, and that she had abused state funds by buying oversees air tickets for friends, had grossly overpaid an unqualified administrative assistant, and had used a state vehicle even though she had never even obtained a driver's licence. Her assistants then tried to cover up an accident she had while driving the vehicle.
Her shortcomings in government led the provincial ANC leadership to fire her, claiming that failing to do so would lead to the "possible paralysis if not complete collapse" of her department. That someone should have such a disastrous record in government, yet should rise through the ranks to become the party's national media spokesperson, says a great deal about the way the ANC governs. Now we face the prospect of people like Duarte undermining a free press under an increasingly dictatorial ANC.
A partial transcript of her conversation with Mr Nombembe reads as follows:
Nombembe: [Question about which leaders are interacting with voters on online platforms] ... Does the ANC president also get to answer to...
Duarte: [Interrupting] ... He has his own blog yes, you can write to him if you want to, it's 'ancpresident' (sic), in fact if you go 'ww' (sic), you link straight from there to any of our blogs. Ya, ya, he does read it, you know he does, you know he can actually read it, contrary to your opinion.
Nombembe: Okay, [Starts asking another question]
Duarte: [Interrupting] ... I mean, how can you ask me a question like that, "does the ANC president actually read?" Good God. Can you guys just get a life now. You must get a life, your newspaper must get a life, you're terribly classist, and if you were not black I would say you were a racist, but well I suppose you could be a racist even if you were black like me, but you've got a very bad attitude, your newspaper has, and seriously speaking now, this man whether you like it or not is going to be the next president of the country, and actually we're not so concerned about what The Times thinks. We know where you're coming from, and we know where you're going to. So yes Mr Zuma can read, and he reads his blog [...] I know who you work for. You guys, there's no salt that will wash a Times journalist in my eyes [...] If you are a South African who wants to see transformation then you need to join in the fight for it, not become part of the third force. But you all sound exactly the same, so there's no point.
Nombembe: Can I call you again?
Duarte: Yes you can, but if you insult my president, I will just cut the phone down on you. In fact how do I know you can read, you're probably one of those people who might be able to be a whizzkid on the internet, but maybe you can't read at all. So I don't ask you questions like that. I mean the fact that you're a journalist doesn't make you a genius. [Sniggers] You're just a journalist. Yes, you're welcome to call any time.
Statement issued by Ian Davidson MP, Democratic Alliance chief whip, April 19 2009
Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email service