Have some sympathy for Jessie Duarte

Jeremy Gordin says it should be no surprise that the ANC DSG is a trifle defensive and tetchy

The body politic, at least the chattering members thereof and/or those who can afford to watch eNCA, is much seized at the minute, veritably agog, with ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Yasmin Duarte for having – as some of us used to say in the 1970s – “lost her shxt” with eNCA journalist Samkele Maseko on Tuesday. She gave him, and eNCA, of which he’s the political reporter, a full-on – and not entirely rational – dressing-down.

But, look, rationality is little prized these days; consider POTUS Donald Trump, leader of the free world; and anyway, at least Duarte didn’t raise her voice. Given the oratorical volume of the EFF’s Julius “Little Julie” Malema, the BLF’s Andile Mngxitama, and even the DA’s Mmusi Maimane, those of us with Tinnitus or intimations thereof, as a result of playing too much lead guitar or just growing old, we are truly thankful.

Now then, I knew Duarte a little in the days when I was writing my (brilliant? lovely? notorious?) book about Jacob G Zuma. I recall being seated at the same table as she was in a tent at some major ANC celebration. I forget precisely which victory lunch it was; Zuma must just have triumphed in some regard; eheu fugaces labuntur anni (alas! the fleeting years slip by), as Horace remarked.

Notwithstanding the lousy grub (Bosasa?), icky wine, and terrible ruckus, Duarte was, especially after a tincture or two, rather pleasant company. I trust she won’t take umbrage at my recalling that she became even more charming as she grew ever more effervescent and struggled (wo)manfully, but not entirely successfully, to keep certain of her assets from achieving liberation. Is that a sexist thing to write and a giveaway of my age? I apologise, I mean no offence; my point is that there are all kinds of Struggles, and women have more of them with which to contend than the male of the species, let’s never forget that; and moreover, having ever been a liberationist, it can’t have been easy for Duarte.

Let’s also remember that, by way of apology or explanation, young Maseko kept saying something along the lines of respecting Duarte because she was as old as his granny. Goodness me, is no guidance given to young journalists these days? Surely the way to a woman’s heart does not include banging on in front of the cameras about how she reminds you of your granny. I think someone in management should have a word with the young chap.

An additional irony, if that’s the word I want, is that I recall my friends Moe and Yunis Shaik also being seated at the same table. Yunis is now, of course, a board member of eNCA’s holding company – a point to which we must return.

I did however think it was a low blow for Duarte to say to Maseko that he had a cheek for continually setting himself up as a champion of freedom of speech whereas he hadn’t even fought for it. Besides being mean to young people, was she suggesting that freedom of speech is reserved solely for those who fought in the (main) Struggle? This would mean that we must heed only the words and strictures of those warriors who have a track record fighting for it, such as Zuma, Gwede Mantashe, Peter Bruce, Ronnie Kasrils, Bathabile Dlamini, Max du Preez, and so on. Oy.

Far more worrisome is that Duarte’s on-camera attack had the almost immediate result – and it ain’t over yet – of interviews with fine folk such as William “Willy” Bird of Media Monitoring Africa. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Willy to bits, I really do. But he seems to believe (or pretends to, anyway, it’s what he said) that Duarte should not level accusations (e.g., “eNCA favours the DA”) without “presenting evidence” – because unless she can present such evidence, it’s going to have a negative effect on potential ANC voters. Aw, c’mon Willy; you’re old enough now to know better.

What’s more, said our Jessie, she was going to tell on Maseko, as we Seffricans would say; she was going to snitch to mommy and daddy; i.e., she planned to hold a meeting with SANEF (the SA National Editors’ Forum) and to report Maseko to the press ombudsperson – from April Fools’ Day, another “old” china of mine and Jessie’s, Pippa Green. Poor Pippa; only two days on the job. As for SANEF, you know what this means, don’t you? Another long and po-faced communication about the necessity for everyone to love one another and to sing Kumbaya as often as possible. Again: Oy.

Notwithstanding all the above, I do have some sympathy for Duarte. First, it’s easy (for me) to check what my response should be to situations such as Duarte’s “attack”. Just see what Eusebius McKaiser has tweeted. And, according to the feed of Twitter highlights I get on this machinke, McKaiser tweeted as follows: “Jessie who the hell do you think you are? You are ridiculous, says Eusebius.” There you are then; if Eusebius says she’s ridiculous, obviously she can’t (entirely) be.

Second, I presume you’re familiar with Oscar Wilde’s saying about fox-hunting: “The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable!” So, spare a thought for Jessie. Although she certainly does NOT remind me of my granny, let’s face it, she’s no spring chicken (who is?) – yet she has somehow had, for years and years, for decades, to find a way to defend the indefensible. Can you imagine? She had to find a way, for example, to make Zuma palatable – and not only him but the stuff he did: firing Pravin Gordhan, calling in “weekend special” Des Van Rooyen ...and so on and so on and so on.

Now she’s got to do the same for Elias Sekgobelo “Ace” Magashule. By all accounts – and I’m in the middle right now of Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book – Ace ain’t no sweetheart. And not only does Duarte have to put a gloss on lovelies such as Dlamini, Nomvula Mokonyane and various others on the ANC’s election candidates list, she’s also got to cover for the ANC’s ace in the hole. Are you surprised she’s a trifle defensive and tetchy? 

(By the way, according to P-L Myburgh – and I knew this but had forgotten it – one person who had barrels and barrels of trouble from/with Magashule in the old days was one Mosiuoa “Terror” Lekota. Do you think we might hear something outspoken and exciting from the Cope leader or do you think he’s keeping mum since his exciting parliamentary attack on Cyril Ramaphosa?)

But here’s the thing. You can giggle as much as you like at Duarte – but don’t underestimate her. Ask yourselves this, my dears: isn’t her bizarre little outburst going to have an effect? Of course it is. She’s put it out there: eNCA, and the rest of the vershtunkende media, are against us; they’re asking questions about our valiant leaders; how dare they?

So, all the members of the media, being human, are going to think twice about what they write and what they ask. And what about the top-top boss people at eNCA? They too are human and Yunis Shaik and the main man, Johnny Copelyn, are for obvious reasons not unsympathetic to the ANC. What might they do?

STOP PRESS: Late on Wednesday afternoon, eNCA “top management” [sic] and editorial leaders and the ANC announced that they’d met, had the usual “robust” but “constructive” discussion, and decided to let Saigons be Saigons and move on. Also, one noticed that from midday-ish onwards the Duarte/ Maseko footage, which had previously played over and over ad nauseamdisappeared. Viva freedom of speech!