Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2003-09-30 Reporter: Matshiqi

Take Care with Spy Allegations



Business Day

Date 2003-09-30



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The way the 1994 elections defied all predictions of political mayhem and won international respect for our country has made us develop a penchant for miracles. This time the country is engaged in an exercise that may prove more impressive than walking on water.

There can be no miracle greater than finding the truth in the cloak-and-dagger world of arms deals and spies even if the Springboks win the Rugby World Cup in Australia. Since we know that the arms industry and intelligence agencies are not always paragons of morality, would it not make better sense to abandon all hope that the protagonists in the Jacob Zuma-Bulelani Ngcuka saga will quench our people's thirst for the truth?

No, we cannot allow the soul of our democracy to be corroded by the base but potent instinct of political selfpreservation that seems to influence the conduct of some key actors in this sordid affair. In defence of our democracy we must be critical and vigilant about allegations of spying levelled at Ngcuka. As a journalist has become a casualty of the Zuma-Ngcuka debacle it is time for the media to do some introspection about how it has covered this complex story.

There is no doubt that the first words from the media about the arms deal came from a strategic leak. When political self-preservation of senior ANC leaders looms so large over the arms imbroglio, we must sound the alarm about the dangers of the media becoming an instrument of Orwellian manipulation.

The danger exists that relationships between politicians and some in the media may compromise editorial independence. With the brawl between ANC leaders comes the need to make sure that sections of the fourth estate are not duped into playing the role of cheerleaders at the expense of what is in the public and national interest.

So I believe the seven editors who were in the now not-so-secret meeting with Ngcuka must decide whose interests they are serving by keeping mum over what the head of the national prosecuting authority had to say.

Whatever they decide, they must bear in mind that the media may suffer collateral damage from the Zuma-Ngcuka spat if the wrong decisions are made.

Another challenge is the propensity of sections of the media to enthusiastically feed perceptions of guilt and innocence instead of showing the required humility and wisdom of accepting that we always have partial access to any given reality.

By so doing, the media can demonstrate to the public why it is difficult to confirm or deny spying allegations unless incontrovertible evidence is presented. Spying allegations are made for many reasons. We can assume that some names on the spy list were put there because people were apartheid spies. Others were wrongly accused because of political competition in the ANC.

This would be a category of individuals who may have threatened the political ambitions of their peers.

There are those whose names were provided by apartheid intelligence to neutralise them or sow seeds of division within the liberation movement. The existence of a reference number linking a former activist to apartheid intelligence and security proves nothing because one did not have to be a spy for apartheid operatives to generate such a number.

In the absence of a reliable instrument of verification, the media must, without resorting to self-censorship, be less incautious about perceptions that such allegations may spawn as there was a direct link between spying for the apartheid regime and the destruction of people's lives.

The matter is further complicated by what may be happening in the ANC today. We cannot preclude the possibility that there are some in the ANC who believing that political power in the party has become centralised in a manner militating against conventional means of political competition are left with no choice but to undermine cherished traditions to advance their political careers.

The ANC's apparent impotence in dealing with the matter may be explained in terms of a lack of leadership and wisdom. Not only does the ruling party have to cope with a changing political context and membership profile, there is also no Oliver Tambo, or Walter Sisulu, to prevail on those whose conduct may be harmful to its culture and tradition.

This is an ANC of equals with no single leader commanding the respect of a Nelson Mandela and his predecessors.

In this climate it is difficult for the centre to hold.

We may see hidden hierarchies and nonformal structures of leadership play a greater role in determining the ANC's direction between now and the end of Mbeki's second term as president.

This is no longer about Zuma and Ngcuka but about whether the ANC will survive and, if it does, in what form.

The media will be affected by decisions of key players as they try to influence the outcome. All media practitioners will have to seek shelter in the pursuit of truth and ideals that brought us the democracy we enjoy today.

Matshiqi is an independent political analyst.

With acknowledgements to Matshiqi and the Business Day.