Why do I have to listen to this?

Jeremy Gordin writes on some of the abuse directed against FW de Klerk over at eNCA

Just a small tale about Seffrica (and me).

About five years ago, having reached a point at which it was clear that I was unemployable on a permanent basis by any, er, respectable company, I worked as a “contract” subeditor at The Star newspaper, the one owned by (the medical doctor) Iqbal Survé.

I know, I know – but a fellow’s got to eat. Also, I wasn’t required to have any contact with the Great Man and the group’s production editor was (perhaps still is) a kind and helpful person. One shift I generally worked was on a Sunday evening/night; it was understood to be part of my “job description” to be available at times during which permanent or semi-permanent staffers preferred not to be.

And one of my duties of a Sunday evening was to edit the column of one Onkgopotse JJ Tabane, which appeared on Mondays and was called, if I remember correctly, “Speaking Frankly”.

Readers will know that I am a trifle eccentric and love words. Consequently, I always felt some small affection for Tabane – because (no disrespect intended) his name Onkgopotse is remarkably similar to the Yiddish word “oysgeputst,” which means “dressed up to the nines”. How could I not like someone referred to in the privacy of my mind as Oysgeputst JJ Tabane?

Editing Tabane was not, however, for the faint-hearted. His copy, presumably dictated over the phone (which didn’t help), was not, how shall I say, exactly the most pristine work I’d ever come across. I spent many long hours trying to fix inaccuracies and to straighten out some unfortunate confusions. Everything else aside, submitting such sloppy “work” suggested a species of contempt – “here’s my mess, have someone else clean it up, I’m far too busy and important”. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

No big deal. Someone might have blundered but, to borrow Alfred Tennyson’s words, it’s not the job of a sub-editor to reason why; our job was but to do and die; or rather, to do what we could and soldier on.

Besides, those not in the newspaper game might be surprised to discover just how many of those journalists they might admire do not have an easy way with the Queen’s English or anyone’s English for that matter (and presumably Tabane’s mother tongue is not English) [i]. This is why we have (or used to have) subeditors.

Tabane moved on and upward in the world (mazel tov to him) – inter alia earning himself a doctorate in media studies at Wits, of which he is very proud. Oh well, there’s no law against hiring an editor for your PhD.

As a result, Tabane is now known as Doctor JJ Tabane (don’t forget the doctor part, whatever you do) and has a programme on eNCA TV channel 403 called “Power to Truth” (geddit?). It’s not just any programme though. Tabane has been given prime time slots – he appears (if I have this right) for an hour twice a week at about 8.30pm and, during eNCA’s coverage of local government elections, he was ubiquitous.

I avoid Tabane as much as I can because I find him crass, loud, squeaky, offensive, and self-righteous – though, in fairness to him, he has in the recent few months been mostly rude about the ANC and to its members, which I haven’t minded at all [ii]. But Tabane is not so easy to overlook; as I said, he’s pretty ubiquitous on eNCA.

Now then, some 13 days ago I went into hospital for a laminectomy – this is when the surgeon panel beats parts of your spine, taking out some icky stuff, which goes to the matron’s cat, and it’s quite sore. I managed to escape from the tender care of the nursing staff by about three days later, but I was still hors de combat on November 11 when former president FW de Klerk died. I was (and am) also to some extent a captive in front of whichever channel the TV is set on, i.e., it’s not all that comfortable for me to stretch out and grab the remote control.

It was some days after this – I am not certain precisely when, though it seems to have been November 16 – I can’t find the footage anywhere, other than on someone’s tweet (sifiso(@abelsquito) / Twitter), perhaps because eNCA is embarrassed by it (it ought to be) – it was on November 16 then, let’s say, that Tabane had a(nother) giant rant [iii].

Kicking off by mentioning the news that somebody in Soweto had allegedly dismembered his girlfriend and put some of her body parts into his fridge (which was reported on November 15, but never mind), Tabane lamented that SA is a violent society in need of healing, with which we all presumably agree, then segued into the “issue” of De Klerk’s death and his final video message.

He suggested that it was De Klerk (whom he kept calling De Klark) who was responsible for the violent society in which we live.

Tabane then continued – at this point shouting and waving his hands about – that De Klerk “couldn’t just deny us” [he meant that De Klerk shouldn’t deny people] the details of what happened to the Pebco four (I believe there were three [iv]) and the Cradock four [v]. Tabane added in Michael Lapsley, whom he seems to have once met, screaming “that Lapsley wants to know” why he was sent a parcel bomb in 1990, three months after Nelson Mandela's release from prison; Lapsley lost both hands and the sight in one eye, and was seriously burnt.

“Don’t tell me,” he screamed even more loudly (full-on Malema and Mogoeng style), “to fly my flag at half-mast for De Klark. We are a violent society, not healed, and part of the reason for the failure of the TRC is all the lies ... and everyone is laughing at the indomitable priest [Lapsley]. I am not flying my flag at half-mast for a regime [sic] based on lies ...”

Do I need to point out (for the record?) that De Klerk’s election as National Party leader and then President represented something of a civilian countercoup against the securocrats and their militarisation of the state. He moved relatively quickly – at least in terms of “ANC-time” – to clip the securocrats’ wings and to abolish the security legislation and organisational structures on which their power had rested.

The National Intelligence Service was also instructed to find out what the covert units of the police and the SADF had been up to. The Goldstone Commission investigations, in which NIS played a crucial role, ultimately led to the prosecution of Eugene de Kock, Wouter Basson and others, immediately after 1994. Much of what we know about the ‘third force’ comes from these De Klerk era initiated investigations and prosecutions.

Those who killed the Pebco three and the Cradock four and those who sent Lapsley a letter bomb have all been identified. Have some of those indirectly involved not been charged, as they ought to have been?

According to family members, this answer is yes. But then talk to ANC leaders, the Justice dept., and NPA, who and which agreed not to pursue these charges. Also read Inside Quatro by Paul Trewhela (2009) if you’d care to know about blatant human rights abuses on “the other side”.

Did De Klerk know who was behind these murders, at the time they were committed? I don’t know but, like the rest of us, presumably he had his suspicions. It is common cause that during that period many security “organs” acted on a need-to-know basis, which would have included ensuring that those outside of the binnekring were not to be told certain things.

On the other hand, some people, such as erstwhile Vlakplaas commander Eugene de Kock, have said that of course De Klerk knew what the “security forces” were doing, though De Kock was never able to provide any proof of this.

But let’s for argument’s sake assume that De Klerk did know, for certain, what was going on. Does it matter? The two sides, the ANC and the Nationalists, then believed they were at war. Up until the point at which the NP forced PW Botha out of office in 1989, De Klerk was both out of the loop and in no position to do anything about it.

As John Kane-Berman noted in a fine piece, De Klerk’s subsequent “[political] actions nevertheless required immense political courage ...”. What’s more, De Klerk didn’t just dismantle the remaining legislative edifice of apartheid but he actually apologised for it – not a good idea in my view, because when you apologise to bullies, they see it as weakness.

So why then do I have to listen to – on an ostensibly respectable and serious TV station – such a pile of illogical, illiterate, misinformed, and disrespectful horse manure? I don’t have to listen, you will reply. If I can get to the remote control, I can switch it off.

Thing is, though: shouldn’t someone be taking responsibility for who they’re putting on prime time TV – or, for that matter, all the other gunge that is spewed forth on and in many other media, day after day?


[i] It feels like sacrilege to mention the two in the same breath, but anyway the joke among subeditors about the famous and rightly revered political journalist JHP Serfontein used to be: “Hennie’s a great journalist but he can’t spell ‘the’.”

[ii] Though Tabane had best be warned that not for nothing is eNCA known by some as eANC – be aware, maibru, biting the hand that feeds you doesn’t always go down so well with the owner of the hand.

[iii] I find now that Tabane did a previous re-run – almost the same words – on Newzroom Afrika on February 17, 2020, in support of the EFF complaining about FW de Klerk having been invited to parliament. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sl9poMIktrs

[iv] Sipho Hashe, Champion Galela and Qaqawuli Godolozi, members of the Port Elizabeth Black Civic Organisation (PEBCO), an affiliate of the UDF, were abducted on 8 May 1985 by members of the Port Elizabeth Security Branch, taken to Post Chalmers and killed.

[v] On 27 June 1985, Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlauli, were detained by the security police outside Port Elizabeth. The South African security police murdered them and burned their bodies.