Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Online Letter
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Last July America's fabled National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) news anchorman, Walter Cronkite, passed away. He was 92. Cronkite was to me, like millions of Americans and people around the world of my generation who remember when radios were called wirelesses (and before we went wireless!), a familiar face. He was already a well-known face when I spent a couple of weeks in Chicago, during my first visit to the US, in 1963. Later I had the pleasure too of being interviewed by him: a real gentleman
Cronkite pioneered and then mastered the role of television news anchorman with such plain-spoken grace that he was called the most trusted man in America. He was, as the New York Times put it, "a nightly presence in American homes and always a reassuring one, guiding viewers through national triumphs and tragedies alike, from moonwalks to war, in an era when network news was central to many people's lives. "He became something of a national institution, with an unflappable delivery, a distinctively avuncular voice and a daily benediction: "And that's the way it is." He was Uncle Walter to many: respected, liked and listened to."
Cronkite, also (and I want you dear reader, for a moment if you will, to think laterally and insert HIV-Aids or the arms deal in SA here) like Robert F. Kennedy, spoke a language critical of U.S. policy in Vietnam that appealed to the middle class. They could get away with harshly criticising Johnson's war in Vietnam without worrying about being told they were "unAmerican", although their political enemies tried. In those times, integrity was all. Why do I recount this? I am writing about the need, as I see it, to 'home-grow' our own super-class of genuine and independent political-cum-current affairs analysts: a new calibre of South African Cronkites and Sir Richard and Jonathan Dimblebys.
I am amazed when I open the newspapers or watch television at the sheer ubiquity of so-called political analysts; we might have more political analysts per ratio than doctors! I am sure we have some very fine minds, but, with all due respect, there is a dearth of genuine bona fide independent political analysts who are not sympathetic to or are blatantly in the pocket of the ANC: men or women who could credibly say "And that's the way it is." I am obviously not speaking of political science graduates who conduct research for political parties and think-tanks, but individuals who by dint of their mastery of detail and the unmistakable power of their impartiality are conduits of the news.
Refining this question further, we can clearly see the dilatory impact of the absence of such a gold standard class of political analysts upon the dire and partial coverage of South African politics. The party I lead, the Inkatha Freedom Party, has long been sidelined by the media and my political obituary must be the longest leave-partaking note in the history of humanity. Political analysts have long predicted the demise of the IFP without any serious evaluation of why people, at the last election, in the words of one academic, "voted for the IFP, despite the Zuma factor and the method of politics by which the IFP sets itself apart from other parties continue to resonate with and to reflect the opinions of more than 800, 000 people. If Zuma could not capture these votes from the IFP, who possibly can?" Indeed. The Zunami was going to sweep the IFP from the face of the earth, remember?
As an aside, it is worth noting that while President Zuma seeks to promote reconciliation between the ANC and the IFP, one prominent political analyst, as Anthea Jeffery's book People's War reveals, was a leading member of Umkhonto we Sizwe and was then, as now, a fierce opponent of the IFP.
Last week, the IFP won three by-elections in KwaZulu-Natal. The result, especially the previously contested ward three in Imbabazane (the Electoral Court declared the results of the March by-election invalid after the ANC formally objected), received scant coverage. I would have thought that this might have been interesting to a political analyst worth their salt and, perhaps, could have merited an interpolation with recent trends or even a rough projection for the 2011 local government election result. What I am sure of is if we had lost two of the by-elections, there would have been rather more coverage along the lines of "IFP in freefall" or 'Buthelezi's last stand" etc. Did you see how much coverage Cope received when they recently won the Thembisa by-election, despite a litany of by-election disasters before that? Where is the serious analysis?
Then there was the much vaunted launch of the presidential hotline '17737' the week before last. I thought I better go to demonstrate that the opposition supported worthy - if a bit gimmicky - initiatives. Alas, I was only to be joined by my colleagues from the ACDP and the PAC. Maybe, just maybe, our other colleagues knew something we did not or, like the DA apparently, were just trying to get connected to the hotline only to be disconnected after thirty minutes or so. SABC television interviewed me about the hotline. I said something along the lines of: "I welcome this because at last government has awoken from its slumber and wants to hear from real people about their concerns about issues like HIV-Aids and crime." To put this in context, you might recall that a few years ago the ANC benches in parliament and then Deputy-President Zuma rocked with mirth when the former ANC Chief Whip Mr Mbulelo Goniwe mocked me for suggesting that every South African had been affected by crime.
So, with this in mind, 'Yours Truly' also dutifully gave the same comment in isiZulu after the English recording. My comments did not appear on the news in either language and, I suppose, anyone watching the news might think my colleagues' and I had gone along to merely support the government as opposition cheerleaders and chew the fat with the President. As if! What is clear as a fish rots from the head downwards, the lacuna of a gold standard class of political analysts is "dumbing down" our entire political discourse, and inhibiting the style of national conversation which democracies like America and Britain have long enjoyed.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP