Rhoda Kadalie
3 minute read
10 Mar 2017
5:31 am

ANC-led govt in no position to call for social media to be regulated

Rhoda Kadalie

When ruling parties fail to get their message to the public, they opt to suppress the media instead of becoming more adept at using it influence the public.

In 1994, queues snaked around the country as citizens voted in South Africa’s first democratic election. Today, we see similar queues of indigent citizens on crutches, with walking sticks, and old and frail people hanging on to younger relatives not to vote, but to claim what their votes promised.

It is a sad situation created by a ruling party that has come to undermine what 1994 symbolised.

Listening to the fumbling and defiant minister, Bathabile Dlamini, supported by the equally defiant and pathological President Jacob Zuma, oblivious to what this crisis is causing, reminds me of the Treatment Action Campaign’s plea to former president Thabo Mbeki to provide antiretrovirals to the thousands dying of Aids.

After more than 20 years of democracy, how far have the mighty fallen from the dreams and visions Mandela had for his country? Shrouded in oppression for 46 years, victoriously emerging from prison in 1990, he ushered in hope for the masses of disenfranchised people. Mbeki and Zuma, to a greater extent, departed from that vision and today we are reaping the fruits of that awful era.

With every act of ruling party corruption, the public gets hurt. And when the public rebels, supported by vocal media outlets, government tries to silence those voices.

It is not enough that the SABC has been thoroughly smashed by ruling party dominance, left with a debt of R10 billion, or that the Independent Group is owned by a government lackey, or that ANN7 is owned by the Guptas, now Minister of State Security David Mahlobo threatens to clamp down on social media through additional regulations when both Facebook and Twitter already exercise self-regulation.

It is not only media freedom we should be worried about, but state intervention would directly interfere in the livelihoods of people, many of whom depend on social media for their working lives.

China tried to shut down Google, but soon realised that in an age of globalisation it was handicapping its own progress. It reversed its censorship and relaxed some controls.

The ANC should know by now that, as wisely stated by John Barlow, “the internet treats censorship as a malfunction and routes around it”.

It is one thing for a competent government to threaten to regulate social media; it is quite another for a grossly incompetent government to even go there when they don’t understand the basics of social media.

If they did, they would have used it to grow their support base. Instead, the party lost a sizeable portion of its urban base where the intelligentsia is most concentrated.

When ruling parties fail to communicate with the public, they suppress the media instead of becoming more adept at using the media to influence the public.

With a view to the 2019 elections, the rationale will be that the more we are kept in the dark, the more desperate the manipulation of voters will be.

That explains why SA voted in unison with the world’s worst despots against the UN Human Rights Council’s declaration that access to the internet is a human right. In 1915, Judge Potter Stewart wisely commented that, “censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself”.

Strange, when we should have been the definitive democracy in Africa.

FILE PICTURE: Rhoda Kadalie, anti-apartheid activist, making a speech in Athlone.

FILE PICTURE: Rhoda Kadalie, anti-apartheid activist, making a speech in Athlone.

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