If a group of people was able to cause this much violence, damage and death with no consequences, there will be nothing to stop it from doing so again.

ANC Crimes With No Punishment point the way to a failed state, Stephen Grootes, Daily Maverick, 4/8/2021

A senior cabinet minister has laid the blame on some ANC ministers who support Jacob Zuma for the attempted “insurrection” that led to the loss of more than 300 lives in Kwa-Zulu-Natal and Gauteng.

Pro-Zuma ring behind looting says Mchunu, Sunday Times, 8/8/2021

In an interview with the Sunday Times on 8 August, ANC cabinet minister, Senzo Mchunu, said that party members who were part of the pro-Zuma faction within the party had planned and coordinated last month’s riots.

What role did the media play in in the period prior to the riots in creating the pro-Zuma/anti-Ramaphosa/Gordhan climate which defined the riots and were there any commonalities and parallels between the 2016 Fees Must Fall riots and the riots of mid-July this year?

The 2016 Fees Must Fall riots show disturbing similarities with those that occurred in Durban and Johannesburg last month.

The 2016 Fees Must Fall campaign, fuelled by ethnic hatred and encouraged by Dr Iqbal Survé, saw one man die, another beaten to a pulp, several attempted murder cases,  UCT Vice Chancellor Max Price assaulted, caused campus damage – in which arson was a pervasive element – that would cost in excess of a billion rand to repair, saw private vehicles torched both on and off-campus during the riots, pervasive theft, the media threatened and culminated in the death by his own hand of revered cardiologist Professor Bongani Mayosi – see here and here.

A passive police force did nothing of consequence to counter the 2016 riots and, given the scale of the damage, the prosecution rate was risible.

Of the thousands of Fallist rioters – with an abundance of witness accounts and video evidence shared online – only two have been jailed.

Kanya Cekeshe served two years of a five-year sentence for setting a police vehicle alight.

Monwabisi Matinise was arrested after the historic St Mark’s Anglican Church on the District Six campus of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) was set alight in 2017. He was sentenced to five years in jail.

This absence of police deterrence in the Fallist riots in 2016 and any significant sanction by the state thereafter of those responsible would obviously have served as motivation and encouragement for those who rampaged through Durban and Johannesburg last month in an orgy of theft, sabotage, and savagery so devastating that it could be seen from space

As William Saunderson-Meyer trenchantly observes, teargas and water cannon are, throughout the world, the primary police countermeasures to rioting but they were not used during the recent riots and neither was razor wire.

Melanie Veness, head of the Pietermaritzburg Business Chamber stressed this point in a Biznews interview:

 ‘… there was no attempt to use any form of tear gas – it just didn’t happen. For me, the only answer is that there was complicity and that absolutely destroys one.’

It is to be hoped that opposition parties will raise this matter in parliament.

The Sekunjalo newspapers – Isolezwe, The Star, Cape Times, Cape Argus, The Mercury, Daily News, Pretoria News, Diamond Fields Advertiser, Daily Voice, Business Report, Sunday Tribune,  Sunday Independent, and the IOL website – probably reach several hundred thousand people a day with their owner-dictated anti-Ramaphosa articles and this has continued without pause since Ramaphosa became president in May 2019.

‘Kill the ANC’

Whether this incentivised some of those who participated the mid-July riots, is an open question but Sekunjalo Independent Media’s campaign against the  reformist CR17 faction and the suggestion by ‘Tembisa Ten’ reporter Piet Rampedi, that Ramaphosa and his supporters wanted to ‘kill the ANC’ would certainly not have discouraged them.

Just as he used the Cape Times as a proxy in his vendetta against the University of Cape Town in general and its former Vice Chancellor, Dr Max Price in particular, Iqbal Survé has used his newspapers as proxy for his vendetta against the CR17 faction in general – see here  and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here  and here and here and here and here and here  and here and  here  and here and here  and Pravin Gordhan in particular.

The clear intent of these articles is turn public opinion against Ramaphosa and Pravin Gordhan who were the focus of antipathy in the recent riots. (The ‘evidence’ which Survé claimed he had against Gordhan two years ago, has yet to be revealed.)

Survé has always been a Zuma supporter:

  • Among the first people he hired after the Sekunjalo takeover in 2013 were Karima Brown and Vukani Mde and this occurred a year after they wrote an article in defence of Jacob Zuma. A purge of ethical journalists started immediately after they were hired but both subsequently resigned from Sekunjalo Independent Media like so many others;
  • In August 2016, when Steve Motale was still editor The Citizen, Survé reposted Motale’s letter of apology to and support for Jacob Zuma, something without precedent in South African newspaper history. He subsequently hired Motale whose efforts to portray Ramaphosa as a predatory womaniser just prior to the 2017 Nasrec presidential election  ended in failure; and
  • Former Cape Times political editor, Dougie Oakes, provides significant evidence of Survé’s support for the Zuma faction of the ANC and its allies:

In the first few weeks in my new position, Survé called me virtually every day with ‘suggestions’ of who to interview: Brian Molefe, Kebby Maphatsoe and Carl Niehaus were among the political glitterati he thought should appear in Indy newspapers. With most of the people he suggested being soaked in scandal, I said: ‘Thanks, I’ll think about it,’ and never did.

Just before the important ANC conferences at the end of 2017, Survé sent out an instruction to all the editors ‘not to take sides’.

But by this time he had already appointed a pro-Zuma acolyte, Steve Motale, as editor of the Sunday Independent.

Motale quickly showed his true colours, carrying a front page story about marital infidelity which was designed to inflict maximum damage to Cyril Ramaphosa’s chances of becoming the next ANC president.

Significantly, given the fact that prior to the ANC’s elective conference, when the race between Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was regarded as neck-and-neck, Survé also invited Dlamini Zuma to Independent Media’s offices in Cape Town for a chat. All editors were instructed to attend.

Then, even before the new ANC president was chosen at the elective conference, Motale carried a front-page story that Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma had won the election for the top post.

In the anchor quote to this article Stephen Grootes states: ‘If a group of people was able to cause this much violence, damage and death with no consequences, there will be nothing to stop it from doing so again.’

The Fallist riots five years ago provided a reliable portent of police inaction in last month’s plunder, sabotage and murder in Durban and Johannesburg and the state failure to seek juridical retribution against those responsible in 2016 will have encouraged the members of the ANC inner circle behind this year’s riots.

The role of mass media bias and manipulation in both events needs to be researched as a matter of compelling public interest.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Ed Herbst is an author and veteran journalist.