What exactly does the ANC want with the SABC?
The secretary general of the African National Congress (ANC), Gwede Mantashe, has deftly put himself on the side of the angels. "An ignorant society cannot be a democratic society. Someone should whisper in the ears of the people at the SABC that they cannot behave like bulls in a china shop," he proclaims. In so doing, he echoes outrage at the axing of journalists, the suppressing of news of public violence, and all the other antics of the current apparently untouchable regime at the SABC.
It is tempting to dismiss the spectacle provided by the battle between the SABC and the ANC - or at least part of the latter organisation - as our very own Circus Maximus. But there is more at stake than public entertainment, enjoyable though that certainly is.
The SABC is not your average state-owned enterprise to pack with comrades and loot for personal or party-political gain, although it naturally fills that role too. Nearly 80% of adults watch its main television channel, while listeners to its radio stations far outnumber those of commercial and community stations. Some 85% of people whose home language is Zulu listen to the main Zulu station. In the case of Xhosas, the equivalent figure is 81%.
There are few "centres of power" as easy and enticing to capture, especially if you need to win the "battle of ideas" against "neo-liberalism" on the one hand and "ultra-leftism" on the other. These are key objectives of the National Democratic Revolution to which the ANC regularly reaffirms its commitment.
They are, of course, incompatible with the notion of an independent and politically neutral public broadcasting service. But nobody can accuse the chief operations officer of the SABC, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, of being a slouch in doing his duty by the National Democratic Revolution. If he can be faulted, it is for not employing the necessary dissimulation and finesse that the National Democratic Revolution enjoins in its "strategy and tactics" documents so as not to frighten the horses - or, as Mr Mantashe counsels, smash too much china.