The slugging match that happened this week between Adv Dali Mpofu and Pravin Gordhan, while on its surface about Tom Moyane and his disastrous time at SARS, was about much more: it was an attempt to resurrect the Rogue Unit narrative from its eternal grave.
First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
It was also possibly the culmination of a three-year project to attempt to make us somehow forget what happened during the Zuma years and accept that all we learnt about the depth and extent of State Capture was not true, a lie by the ungodly few and perpetuated by the corrupt media.
That the reality of Zuma’s disastrous reign happens to be completely the opposite means nothing to them.
In the early post-Zuma resignation days, I was wrong when I thought Jacob’s willing executioners would scram. I expected them, wrongly, to feel ashamed for being corrupt shills. Yet it never happened. Apart from their ultimate bosses, the Guptas, they stayed in the country to fight back. And fought back viciously they did.
It is not easy to define precisely why these, let’s call them loosely RET forces, are fighting back this way, but it is probably a combination of:
Not seeing that they did anything wrong in the Zuma years;
Knowing that what they were doing was wrong, but hey, shame is so last century; and
Understanding that in SA, truth doesn’t matter any more, but a balance of power within the leading structures of the ANC does matter. So, should they manage to fight back that way, the Gupta Christmas and Duduzane Easter will come early next year.
It is difficult to estimate how directly connected or directed the RET soldiers are and how streamlined their individual interests are – it is extremely unlikely that Ace Magashule, Julius Malema and Iqbal Survé, for example, would be aligned in their views and desired outcomes.
But what is clear even to the outsiders is that the RET army is fighting like hell to make South Africans forget what happened during Zuma’s years.
They lie, they attack, they obfuscate, they confuse. They sometimes do the trolling themselves, like Matshela Koko (he of “I didn’t know Eskom gave my stepdaughter hundreds of millions in contracts” fame), Tony “I love expensive cars” Yengeni, Mzwandile “my friend Malema is right” Masina, the entire leadership of the EFF, Iqbal “everyone who criticises me is racist and I was Mandela’s doctor” Survé, prominent “journalists” who just a few years back were used as attack dogs while working for large media organisations, and too many others to list here.
These real individuals are also helped by an army of bots permanently unleashed to smear their opponents, fog the SA people’s memories and push a new, reworked version of SA’s recent history. The one where troubles only started with Cyril Ramaphosa, where Eskom, TransNet, Denel, and every other SoE or government department was run like clockwork when Zuma was the president and the Guptas were business “leaders”.
In the real world, these departments were run more like a clockwork orange, bound to explode in the near future.
They are all counting on the fact that public amnesia is definitely a thing and that it could happen in South Africa too. And they have a lot of encouraging examples to point to, like the US forgetting Trump’s many bankruptcies (moral and financial), India not remembering the role Narendra Modi played in the 2002 Gujarat riots that left thousands dead, and countries in Eastern Europe repeatedly voting back into power communists/socialists, even as they were intensely hated as Russian puppets just a few election cycles earlier.
And that’s where one of our main roles, as the media, lies in this turbulent time/space: we cannot let the people of South Africa forget what Zuma and his cohort represent. We must remind this brutalised country why we’re here and why, instead of having the strong economy that we deserve when we’re facing the pandemic, the government’s coffers are bare and their capacity to act is seriously diminished. We have to keep talking about the damage to morale and the warping of the value system of the entire country that was inflicted by Zuma’s army of know-nothings. We must continue uncovering corruption and incompetence.
Ours is and will continue to be a torturous and sometimes soul-destroying job. Sometimes it is not easy to face the flood of disinformation that’s fortified by the frontal attack from the real-life villains. But if you’ve chosen to serve your country as part of the media, you cannot ever allow yourself to be tired or demoralised. We’re fighting for truth, yes. But fighting for truth in times of chaos and discord is also fighting for the very survival of South Africa as a modern democracy. By accepting this mandate, we also accept the responsibility like no other. DM168
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