The SABC in years

This SABC timeline has been compiled by friends of the SABC.

During the Codesa negotiations the ANC was all too aware of the enormous reach of the SABC and moved swiftly to take control.

Initially it made all the right noises and committed itself to creating a new, neutral and objective public broadcaster which would finally cast of the shackles of its restrictive apartheid past.

It quickly became clear however that the ANC’s unstated intention was to suborn the SABC by making it not the public broadcaster of integrity that we were promised in 1994 but a Stalinist instrument of control, a means of covering up party corruption through a policy of censorship by omission, a means of undermining opposition parties, silencing dissenting voices and a means of fighting internecine battles.

The basis of this approach was openly articulated in the ANC’s stated objective of gaining controls of all “levers of power” in South African society and the means of achieving this was through cadre deployment – as the SABC boards in the Mbeki era and thereafter illustrate.

Here is how Gareth van Onselen, then Director of Communications with the Democratic Alliance but now a columnist for Business Day, described these origins in a paper, “His Master’s Voice - The SABC as Propaganda Arm of the ANC” published in June 2006

‘ANC spokesperson Joel Netshitenzhe, writing in the ANC publication Umrabulo in 1997, defined transformation as ‘extending the power of the ‘National Liberation Movement’ over all levers of power: the army, the police, the bureaucracy, intelligence structures, the judiciary, parastatal, and agencies such as regulatory bodies, the public broadcaster, the central bank and so on.

‘The ANC offered a progress report on its goal of controlling the SABC in its 1999 document ‘Accelerating Change: Assessing the Balance of Forces in 1999’ It states: ‘The transformation of the SABC did take much longer than we thought and more needs to be done at middle management level. With regards to the print media, the ownership structures remain a problem.’

In gaining control of the SABC, Cyril Ramaphosa, one of the chief ANC Codesa negotiators sought to allay what, in retrospect, were entirely justifiable fears.

This is what he said in 1992:

The ANC believes that unquestioning loyalty by a public broadcaster to a ruling party is incompatible with democracy – whether or not the ruling party enjoys the support of the majority of the population.

When the ANC wins the electoral support of the majority of South Africans, it will not seek to replace the National Party as the subject of the SABC’s slavish loyalty. And we want to establish both the principle and practice of that independence now.

The ANC is committed to public broadcasting which is independent of the government of the day, and which owes its loyalty not to any party, but to the population as a whole. In other words, we propose a broadcast service committed to providing full and accurate information to all South Africans, and one which is protected from interference by any special interests – be they political, economic or cultural.

We are not asking for equal time. However, we do insist that the public be informed of all views fully and fairly through a public broadcaster’s loyalty to serving a total audience with integrity.

Today we face an immediate and urgent problem. We cannot afford to wait for the achievement of democracy to change the SABC. As the major information source, the SABC in its current form misuses its position to skew public perceptions. The result is that during this crucial transition period we have a public subjected to misinformation and disinformation because of narrow party political manipulation.

If the SABC is to play a constructive role ahead of our country’s first experience with democracy, informing the electorate rather than attempting to persuade them to vote for a particular political party, it is necessary to replace those who currently control the SABC with others who are committed to democracy and to an electorate empowered by accurate and impartial information.

This timeline starts in 1995 when Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who was to play a singularly corrupt and oppressive role thereafter, started working for the SABC.

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