|Thanks to Zapiro and the Mail and Guardian|
FOR some time I’ve felt like we’ve been facing a dam wall on the whole Zuma issue. Every time Zuma critics have opened their mouths they’ve been flooded with bizarre conspiracy theories on social media platforms. Recently, as in the Ahmed Kathrada memorial in KwaZulu Natal, the ANC bully-boys have been called in to crush public dissent.
Zuma’s irrational firing of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, on the basis of an “intelligence” report has only increased the social-media volume. Riddled with schoolboy errors, the much-vaunted report seems to have been typed on an android phone with predictive text and then pasted, without editing, on to an official letterhead.
I have often wondered who conjured up the document that supplies no supporting evidence for its allegations of Gordhan and Jonas plotting against the state (in other words, not unfreezing Gupta bank accounts and not approving the Russian nuclear deal). Was it texted hurriedly from within the Gupta compound to the presidency?
Prominent ANC figureheads and members have all expressed misgivings about the viability of Zuma staying in office. What is it that holds him to the Guptas? These are damning indictments of an amoral politician who not only faces over 780 corruption charges, but the censure of the Constitutional Court.
This is a president who cannot appear in public without being booed. This is a president who caused even the middle-class to come out in the streets. This is an economically illiterate president who went from being the lap-dog of the Shaikhs to becoming the poodle of the Guptas.
Compromised from day one, President Zuma has had to spend huge energies on ensuring he stays out of a prison cell. But not only that, he has plundered the Treasury on behalf of his family, friends and an army of worshipping acolytes inside and outside the cabinet.
These are the hard facts of a feeble presidency, marked more by dissipation and nepotism than leadership. This is a presidency that has plunged the country into crisis and the ANC, Africa’s proudest organisation, into a terminal decline. Granted, some of the rot was evident during President Thabo Mbeki’s tenure, but nothing that could not have been remedied after Polokwane.
All of the above is well-known to every single thinking South African who has not been sucked into the blind vortex of Zuma incorporated. Perhaps what is not publicised enough, though, is that last year Zuma officially entered the world of fake news. A 21st century phenomenon, fake news is difficult to counter because of its relentless social media onslaught.
Taking on Goebbels’ famous axiom that if you repeat something enough it becomes truth, a measure of this is that in the US today there are nearly five PR practitioners for every journalist. In Great Britain there are said to be about 60, 000 journalists to 83,000 PR practitioners. I haven’t been able to crunch the numbers for South Africa, but there are hundreds more PR agencies than media outlets, or journalists.
In February 2016 (and this has been reported by The Daily Maverick, the Citizen, the Business Day and the Sunday Times) Gupta-hireling Duduzane Zuma and Fana Hlongwane – he of the arms deal – paid a PR company, Bell-Pottinger, to spin for the Guptas.
This was after Zuma had approached Durban PR specialist, Vuyo Mkhize, to manage the Nene-gate fall-out. According to the Sunday Times, Mkhize fell out of favour when he recommended that Zuma dump the Guptas. Ironically, Bell-Pottinger had in turn been dumped by luxury brand company, Richemont, after its CEO Johan Rupert had become a Zuma-Gupta fall-boy for white capital.
According to former founding member Tim Bell – who subsequently resigned – Bell-Pottinger is being paid over R 1, 7 million (100,000 pounds) a month for its services. This allegedly happened with the blessing of Zuma, who met representatives of the company, asking it to protect his son’s reputation.
The Citizen reported (http://citizen.co.za/news/news-national/1476840/read-alleged-report-bell-pottingers-gupta-pr-plan/) that one of the agreed strategies was to drive a social media narrative that “white monopoly capital”, the SA Communist Party and National Treasury had been standing in the way of transforming the South African economy.
Bell-Pottinger, which earned over R 7 billion (540 million US dollars) in Iraq from 2007-2011, has bolstered the election campaigns of politicians in Zambia, Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria – and in its early years via Tim Bell – courted clients such as Margaret Thatcher and FW de Klerk. It has also represented the arms deal company BAE Systems, Oscar Pistorius and the scurrilous News of the World editor, Rebekah Brooks.
Back home, the Bell-Pottinger narrative has been echoed, literally, by the Zuma-Gupta camp ad-nauseam. To this effect, Bell-Pottinger has evidently used fake bloggers, fake commentary and unsubstantiated conspiracy to try and take the heat off the Zuma-Guptas.
During November last year, a Daily Maverick investigation revealed over 100 bogus twitter profiles concerning Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela’s State Capture Report (https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2016-11-10-paid-twitter-manufacturing-dissent-helping-guptas/#.WOtVftJ97c). “Suspicious tweets” linked to Mzwanele (Jimmy) Manyi and Esethu Hasane, spokesperson in the Sports and Recreation Ministry, were tracked and led to a trail of bogus accounts.
Gupta “fronts” allegedly funded, or aided in their founding by Bell-Pottinger or Gupta money, are Black First Land First (BFLF) and Manyi’s Decolonisation Foundation. The BFLF, headed by activist and former EFF parliamentarian, Andile Mngxitima, was officially launched in 2016.
Investigators note that since April 2016, Mngxitima – a regular guest on the Gupta-owned ANN7 channel – started attacking industrialist, Johan Rupert, a white capital target of the Bell-Pottinger campaign. Manyi threatened to sue the Sunday Times (http://www.timeslive.co.za/sundaytimes/stnews/2017/03/19/White-monopoly-capital-chosen-distraction-in-PR-strategy-to-clear-Guptas1), denying links to the Guptas or Bell-Pottinger.
In the meantime, decent South Africans – rich and poor and black and white – relive the final scene in George Orwell’s iconic Animal Farm, where the farmyard animals – having overthrown the oppressive humans – have to suffer the indignity of watching the hogs cavort and party at the expense of the farmyard just like the humans did before they were toppled.