Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Online Letter
Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
How do you know me? Let me count the ways; you know me from The Star as "a dictator", from the Business Day as a "violent man", from The Daily News as clinging to power, from The Witness as "emotional" in the face of an "anti-Shenge rebellion", from The Sowetan as the "grizzled" and "vulnerable" leader of a "moribund party", from The Citizen as a "stumbling block" to progress, from The Mercury as comparable to Mugabe and Malema, and from the City Press as neglectful of my family.
These are the attributes that have been laid at my door by the media in the last few weeks. It would be difficult not to take it personally, as the attacks have certainly become personal. They have hurt members of my family more deeply than they have hurt my own feelings. My pain is that this kind of gutter journalism hurts my family.
I was appalled by the City Press article this weekend alleging that my family is locked in a feud over my grandson, allegedly because I spend my time fighting for my political career at the expense of my family. Besides being utterly untrue, it is insulting to have a journalist write so freely about the internal dynamics of my family as though he knows us or anything about us.
Quoting what is called "a member of the family" on the basis of anonymity is cruel to all members of my family who are then tarred with the same brush as though they have discussed me and issues concerning the family with the media. But the journalist concerned and the newspaper that published his calumny have had a running vendetta against me and the IFP for several decades.
With the media, it is really a case of damned if you do and damned if you don't. Whenever I or any IFP leader responds to misrepresentations, we have to fight, usually unsuccessfully, to be published. We have a right to reply, particularly when lies are published which damage our reputation in the public arena. But even when we bring matters of public interest to the attention of journalists, the information is simply ignored. This problem is somehow worse among our Zulu newspapers where brown envelope journalism rules the day.
It is good for our media to expose corruption in the public life of South Africa, particularly that which involves us as public representatives.
However, the exposé of what went on in the Western Cape involving a Political Editor and a Premier has highlighted what I mentioned to Sir Anthony O'Reilly, the owner of Independent Newspapers, about what is going on in some of these newspapers. The Mail & Guardian drew attention to these journalists' shenanigans earlier this year. The media needs to be introspective in order that they should retain their credibility when they write about corruption.
While we have to fight to be heard, if I fail to speak on an issue, all hell breaks loose. The Mercury and Ilanga have claimed that President Zuma asked me to step down from the Presidency of the IFP, and they allege this made me angry. Where they conjured up this, is beyond me. My meeting with President Zuma was a private discussion and neither I nor the President's office is prepared to publicise the contents of our discussion.
The discussion we had was amicable from beginning to end. Even when we disagreed on some aspects of the matters we discussed, we did so without being disagreeable. It is grossly irresponsible for a journalist to suck from his thumb that I was angry with the President, when that never occurred at any stage of our discussions. I am not going to break confidence at this stage.
Apparently that annoys the media, as the IFP has now received a threat that one Editor of a certain newspaper will stop publishing any of our letters unless I give them an exclusive interview. This far oversteps the bounds of ethical journalism and is nothing less than abuse of power.
It is within the media's power to shape public opinion, whether that is done through repeated small slip ups – like the Financial Mail and others claiming that I unilaterally decided to postpone the IFP's conference – or through quoting the so-called "analysts" that routinely make baseless statements. Some of these analysts have been well-known activists of the ruling Party for several decades.
When a leading and prestigious magazine such as the Financial Mail writes that I postponed the conference, anyone reading this would not be blamed for thinking that I decide things unilaterally in the IFP, not as a member of the structures of the Party in which I serve like anyone else. This decision was taken collectively by our National Council, not by me.
The idea is to portray me as some kind of dictator. This constantly reminds me of how well Dr Anthea Jeffrey exposes how the media treated me and the IFP during the low intensity civil war that cost us 20,000 black lives. But all these things do not diminish the respect I have for the role our media played during the apartheid era, when our media spoke so eloquently for the downtrodden and oppressed.
But one would never believe that this is the same media that gave me such accolades during that era. In 1973, I was awarded by the South African Society of Journalists the accolade "Newsmaker of the Year". In 1985, the Pretoria Press Club likewise awarded me the accolade of "Newsmaker of the Year". In 1986, the Financial Mail declared me "The Financial Mail's Man of the Year". Not even the current concerted vilification of me can wipe away that history!
But the so-called analysts continue to make their baseless statements. Take for instance the absurd remark that traditionalists finally have a leader they can identify with, because of President Zuma's polygamy, when I have been an Inkosi for more than half a century and have been the Chairperson of the House of Traditional Leaders in KwaZulu Natal and am still the Chairperson of the Zululand District Local House of Traditional Leaders.
These are not positions I simply gave myself. They were bestowed by these same "traditionalists".
This week, the Cape Argus and The Post purportedly quote from one of my online newsletters. But try as I might, I cannot find a newsletter or even a speech in which I penned those words. It is not the substance of what they claim I said that is the problem, but the fact that words can so casually be put in my mouth.
One favourite way of putting words in my mouth is through cartoon caricatures. I have had more space on the cartoons page of Isolezwe this year than any other public figure, and a new series of cartoons mocking me and the Party has just been launched. There is no denying that I have been singled out as Isolezwe's target for ridicule. But the Press Ombudsman has dismissed our complaints on this matter.
For all its bark, the Press Ombudsman seems to have no bite. This leaves public figures without any form of protection from unscrupulous newsmen, and forces us to turn to legal action whenever we need to set the record straight. When I decide to do so, some in the same media complain that Buthelezi is the most litigious politician in South Africa. What choice do I have in these circumstances?
But legal action is time consuming and costly, and should not be necessary in our democratic dispensation where rights are so comprehensively enshrined in the Constitution.
It seems every paper is intent on blackening my name. But if I dare rise in protest, I will no doubt be called reactionary, a curmudgeon or self-obsessed. How can anyone win this war with the media? I thank God that there are still people who know me, not from what they read in the papers, but from what they have seen and heard and experienced throughout my 57 years in politics.
No matter how many detractors I accumulate, my friends remind me to press forward.
Yours in the service of the nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Ms Liezl van der Merwe,
Press Secretary to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP, 082 729 2510.