MEDIA MISTAKES AND MANIPULATION
"If you don't know where you are going, you might end up somewhere else." - Former US Democratic Party chairman, Paul G. Kirk.
SOMEDAY, perhaps ten years from now, some historian will sit down and, fascinated, appalled, begin writing the history of SA's political press. For, squirm as they now may, every single section of SA's mainline press, English and Afrikaans alike, must be held responsible for the present SA tragedy: what General Viljoen describes as "this crisis of chaos."
I pondered this, reading the furious attacks by Nasionale Pers's flagship papers, Die Burger, circulation 98 000, and Beeld, 118 000, on former State President F W de Klerk for his recent admission in London that he had surrendered SA to the ANC/SACP. A confession greatly compounded by the accepted fact that, as Die Burger and Beeld were at pains to point out, that his sadsack lieutenant, Roelf Meyer, had equally surrendered Afrikaner power without any form of quid pro quo in constitutional negotiations at Kempton Park in 1993. A DP spokesman summed that up when he said: "The NP spent its time negotiating on its knees."
Belated as it may be, there is ample room for Afrikaner rage and rancour. One paper equates the De Klerk debacle with the defeat of the Boer forces in the SA War. Maybe it is worse. On the whole, the Brits proved magnanimous victors. That is not proving the case with the ANC and its White and Indian mentors of the SA Communist Party.
This latest debate, specially coming from Nasionale Pers, looks like nailing the lid on the Nat coffin. Perhaps it is in the best interests of the country that it does close shop and disband: the sooner the better.
Studying what's going on inside Nasionale Pers, puzzled English speakers ask: "Why did it take these papers so long to catch on that the Afrikaners had been sold out?" After all APN, among many others, warned of precisely this after "Red Friday," 2.2.90, when De Klerk, without warning and without mandate, lifted all restrictions on the ANC/SACP and other revolutionary groups, inviting their return to a SA totally unprepared to handle them.
"Why so long?" indeed. The answer is simple. Because - despite all the present sound and fury - Nasionale Pers (Naspers) helped write the script. It played a major role in bringing De Klerk to power in 1989 - this in very ugly circumstances - just as it played its role in installing John Vorster and even more so P W Botha, each in turn (with full Naspers complicity) duly overthrown when their leadership actions ran counter to the wishes of the Cape liberal Establishment.
To their friends, the Afrikaners have always been a frustrating enigma. Tough, hardy, God-fearing, remarkable nation builders, yet with a most lugubrious political history, riddled with infighting and intrigue, obdurately ruthless, remorseless and brutally destructive. Far too often, the interests of the country and their own people have been relegated to second place behind the political pugilism.
When historians finally come to assess the rise and fall of Afrikaner power, they will have to reserve special chapters for the role of the so-called verligte ("enlightened") Afrikaans media. And here we look directly at Nasionale Pers.
Their relationship with the National Party has been long and decisive, dating back to Die Burger's first appearance on July 6, 1915, under the editorship of Dr D F Malan, a theologian with a deep sense of Afrikaner destiny. In the decades to come, Die Burger vigorously promoted the Afrikaner cause, becoming widely trusted and extremely influential.
In 1948 Die Burger helped chalk up a great Afrikaner victory, playing a key role in the sensational defeat of General Smuts and installing in power Dr Malan, by then leader of the Cape Nationalist Party. It supported his two successors, Strijdom and Swart, but had grave reservations about Dr Verwoerd. He was too dominating a figure for them to attempt to control.
Vorster, likewise, was a headache, this because he had been a Chief General in the clandestine Ossewa Brandwag in WW2, and joined the NP only during the 1950s. Nevertheless, they climbed reluctantly on the Vorster election bandwagon. It paid off. Where Verwoerd, a former editor of Die Transvaler, had forcefully opposed the entry of Nasionale Pers into the big Transvaal print market, Vorster opened the way for a breakthrough when he agreed that Perskor's Sunday paper, Dagbreek, disappear, then re-appear in joint ownership with Naspers as Rapport.
The next few years saw a titanic battle for the northern market, destined eventually to sound the death knell of the Perskor stable, Die Transvaler and Vaderland in Johannesburg, Oggendblad in Pretoria and Oosterlig in Bloemfontein. The Naspers daily, Beeld, established at huge cost, now become the official NP mouthpiece in the north.
In 1977/78 Die Burger began sniping at Vorster, a lead eagerly taken up in the Oppenheimer-owned press of the time: papers stuffed full of political activists pretending to be journalists. This precipitated the disgraceful "Info scandal," which was a lot less of a scandal than a conspiracy masterminded by Pik Botha, appointed as Foreign Minister by Vorster in 1977 but now with his eye on the Presidency.
The campaign was designed to force the abdication of Vorster and his Crown Prince, Connie Mulder. It succeeded. Put through political purgatory, both died broken men, victims of one of the worst frauds ever perpetrated against the SA people. The damage done to the country was mind boggling. Many would say that SA, as a First World, White-ruled country was doomed from that time on.
Now, once again, Die Burger played a prime role as kingmaker, in appointing P W Botha as State President. Before too long Botha, no fool, began to understand the true aims of the US, backed by Britain's MI-6: to establish Black majority rule in SA. To counter this, PW moved to establish around him a powerful State security apparatus, together with a military establishment destined to become the best equipped and most effective in Africa.
This defensive stance was pretty accurately described as "total strategy." But he, too, fell foul of the Cape liberals, backed by Nasionale Pers. The Cape group turned squarely on the hapless President: and the political assassins, cold-blooded and calculating men, moved in.
Very soon PW was hustled out of public life, the new NP leadership, headed by De Klerk, telling him that if he tried to hang on to power, he would not get the party nomination: and, more cruelly, that his membership of the party he had faithfully served for more than 50 years would be terminated.
In April 1989, humiliated and rejected, PW agreed to stand down. Again, Pik Botha was high among the hatchet men. And the country was left more vulnerable than it should ever have been. Did none of these men, so busy gutting SA and the Afrikaner cause, understand the gravity of their mischief?
Quite early on in the first De Klerk year hordes of political prisoners were unleashed into the streets. Beeld editorialised: "Afrikaners mustn't be afraid that their language and culture will, in a future SA, disappear. Cultural rights will be maintained through the application of a Bill of Rights." No doubt they believed this tosh. Many others didn't.
Initially, though he was a Northerner, the Naspers papers were enraptured with De Klerk. Largely, it would seem, because he was regarded as a man without any particular viewpoint or convictions, a man who could be manipulated. Even more conveniently, he was heavily under the influence of his arch-verligte brother, the well-named Wimpie.
Now elevated to the ranks of the Angels, De Klerk was entrusted to manage the shift to power sharing, a power-sharing hedged about with all manner of safeguards. His declared policies were as close to those of the Democratic Party (Suzman's DP) as anyone could get, short of resigning and crossing the floor of the House.
Britain's man in Pretoria during the early negotiating years was Sir Robin Renwick, handpicked by Mrs Thatcher for the task not only of monitoring but guiding the risky power shift. But De Klerk was too slippery for him. Surprised and dismayed at how much De Klerk's people were giving away, Renwick reportedly was soon expressing his concerns to London.
Similar anxiety was reported in Washington. While both powers wanted a Black majority government, both recognised the importance of power sharing, with a Black elite thinking along Western lines, with all manner of built-in checks and balances. What went wrong?
General assumption is that De Klerk, a weak and singularly vain man, was so overwhelmed by the international fuss focused on him, by being granted a Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Mandela, that he largely left the Nat negotiators to their own devices. Such a failure in good sense is easily recognised, if one remembers how fame went to the head of Chris Barnard.
Early on, the chief Nat negotiator was Dr Tertius Delport. However, after the collapse of the first CODESA, when Delport began warning that the ANC/SACP alliance was planning to grab absolute power, the liberal media, Die Burger and Beeld high among them, began complaining that he was "too inflexible."
Delport departed, to be replaced by Roelf Meyer, another arch-verligte, a junior minister with no known talents or accomplishments. In the event, Cyril Ramaphosa, a much tougher individual with negotiating skills honed in the gritty field of trade unionism, simply led him by the nose.
Of great concern to many (but apparently not De Klerk) Meyer repeatedly made it appear that he had far more in common (in what way is still far from clear) with his ANC counterparts, particularly Ramaphosa, than with many of his own colleagues. Effectively, the NP, unprincipled and singularly incompetent, became the captives and, finally, the pawns of the ANC/SACP. Afrikaner interests took a hell of a flogging.
The NP did nothing to safeguard minority rights, language rights or any other significant rights either at CODESA, at Kempton Park or the Constitutional Assembly. Moreover, it failed to protect Afrikaans-medium schools, to retain the lock-out clause in the constitution or to protect owners from land grabs in the name of "land reform."
Above all, it entirely abandoned its proclaimed adherence to the principle of federalism. Some think that De Klerk simply did not understand the meaning of federalism!
What Meyer and Ramaphosa achieved was majority rule in a centralised state with provincial powers firmly in the hands of the central authority, a system with few checks and balances, one that could very loosely be described as a "liberal democracy," but lending itself extremely well to the creation of a one-party majority tyranny.
Meyer's role in all this was, by any standards, extremely fishy. Of the night when the ANC/SACP takeover was finally wrapped up, Alec Russell wrote in the London Daily Telegraph, 19.11.93: " remaining staff at the World Trade Centre negotiations forum were the privileged spectators of an extraordinary scene. Arm-in-arm and grinning, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC Secretary General, and Mr Roelf Meyer, the (NP) government's chief negotiator, were twisting and jiving to the latest hit rhythms." With each other, no less!
Other sources reported, accurately or not, that Ramaphosa said to Meyer: "I don't know that I would be so happy had I just signed away my people's birthright."
No one can believe that the NP, up to and including De Klerk, knowingly sought the present tragedy. But the developing dangers, particularly under De Klerk, should have been obvious to all. Now, in the wisdom of hindsight, Naspers and the Afrikaner Establishment realise that in De Klerk they chose the wrong man and (understandably) are deeply fearful of what the future holds. Above all, their present stance shows just how bitter, treacherous and wounding Afrikaner politics can be.
To get the informed Afrikaner viewpoint, I have been talking to some of their insiders and academics, to see how they see the future. Boiled down, their response is: "All indications are that within the foreseeable future we will see the end of the so-called 'democratic revolution,' together with the so-called 'nation building programme' based on the so-called 'rainbow nation.' Slowly it becomes clear that the 'rainbow' is only one colour. Black. And that we are now entering the second phase of the socialist revolution, with communists exerting ever-greater influence on the triangular ANC/SACP/COSATU alliance.
"In conjunction with COSATU, the hardline Marxists will gradually start purging the moderates and nationalists in the alliance, people already being blamed as the main cause of 'non-delivery' on the RDP and for not having unseated those Whites still holding command positions in the economy. We shall probably see a small elitist SACP group, predominantly White and Indian, consolidating their position and rising to supreme power by manipulation of the still largely only semi-literate Black masses - proud, in their sublime ignorance, to call themselves 'socialists.'
"Mandela's successor, irrespective of who that is or even of what he thinks he believes, will if he wishes to consolidate his power base, have no alternative but to conclude some kind of deal with the SACP and the populists. Remember, that is exactly what Mandela was obliged to do.
"That will mean a compromise with socialist policies, with a further decline in the economy and further breakdown in law and order, together with an accelerating White brain drain. But not all Whites will be prepared to abandon the country of their birth. When that sticking point is reached, the possibility of a protracted Third War of Afrikaner Independence opens up.
"The situation, generally, bristles with danger. The Cape Coloureds, mainstay of the Western Cape National Party, already feel deeply threatened by the tremendous and ongoing influx of Xhosas to their territory (said to be 10 000 a week) ostensibly to seek jobs, but many suspect with the intention of ejecting the Coloureds from all forms of power in 1999.
"The Coloureds already protest that the huge armies of squatters are depriving them of their jobs. That is clearly true, and Coloured misery mounts daily. Concern about Coloured opinion is now ironically the reason that Die Burger is trying to put as much distance between itself and De Klerk as possible: for the simple reason that any campaign for Black support for the NP will drive out Cape Coloured support.
"In his recent proposed reorganisation of the NP, Roelf Meyer apparently visualised an impossibly broad church, a veritable UN of a political party, reaching out to young Black intellectuals (mostly socialists), to Muslims, to Afrikaners, to liberals as well as to conservatives. Not to mention Zulus, the English and the Africanists. In other words, catering to so many diverse and contradictory elements that it would be virtually impossible for any such "new look" NP to come out on any issue without tearing itself to pieces."
As The Citizen commented, 21.2.97, on this latest NP struggle to survive: "The shake up in the party appears to be those of a panic measure, forced on it by falling support and party division, than a cool reappraisal of the party's future and organisational needs."
The Citizen also pointed out that there is speculation that Roelf Meyer would succeed De Klerk: "but the Afrikaner newspaper poll in which 15 542 respondents (59,03%) were in favour of De Klerk remaining in power gave Meyer only 605 votes as successor." In short, De Klerk has become a leader without a party, Meyer runs a party, but leads no one. That is exactly how the United Party met its Waterloo under Strauss. What an irony!
Rather than a jumbled-up old National Party - and if we are truly to break the hegemony of the ANC/SACP - what is needed, and urgently, is a completely new Afrikaner movement, based not on any of the old lines, but transcending all political lines, under a dynamic and charismatic leader. They say the crisis produces the man. The crisis is certainly here. Where is the man?
Summing up, we suggest that the SA media, and this includes Nasionale Pers, has not acted honourably over these recent critical years, that by acting as political wheeler-dealers, they have betrayed their readers and, above all, SA. It is the greatest pity that Naspers in particular did not study the law of unintended consequences. One wonders, what will be the role of these papers now?
|Cycad Web Works Sun Feb 23 00:22:54 EST 2020
: # 1 : last modified 8/4/97 |
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