MPHO A NDABA: Why the SABC needs to be more radical
Black(ness) in South Africa comes with natal alienation, gratuitous violence, and general dishonor. And as comrades of Afro-pessimism often remind us, these experiences render black people socially dead. For Frank Wilderson, “social death describes the experience of slavery as it has appeared across time and space - a slave is not merely an exploited person but someone robbed of his or her personhood.” While it is the case that the ontology of blackness already sets the terms for black people’s existence in this country, one can argue that in addition to the impact of settler colonialism and apartheid, the governing African National Congress (ANC) too has been central in the maintenance of apartheid’s afterlives. This does not come as a surprise; Franz Fanon in the Pitfalls of National Consciousness makes a prophecy about the behavior of political elites in post-colonial states. Thinking of what Fanon argues and goes on to invite what Wilderson makes of blackness in the world, that we exist outside of a realm of the human, there is indication that despite this ontological crisis, the political elite in South Africa have engaged in acts with which anti-blackness is targeted at those who are not adjacent to them.
The past number of years - from around 2007 - have laid bare how and what the ANC makes of black lives. This is more the case when we look at the party’s relationship with public interest media, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). Of course, the country’s path to neoliberal-capitalism, in so far as development policies are concerned, already set the tone for post-apartheid living in the 1990s. These were the signs. However, when read the failures of public institutions in relation to the financialisation, and political interference, we begin seeing how the corporatisation of the state has not only been limited within the binary relationship of a state and big corporates. The ANC, like a snake self-mutilating, as seen through political interference, has gone on to undo the very avenues with which black it was meant to improve black lives.
I am particularly interested in the SABC and thinking about black people because there is history around how this organisation was used to advance white Afrikaner nationhood: a denial of black intellectual thought and being. Considering of this history, the expectation is that the ANC-led government in the new dispensation, would foreground efforts with which the aim is to ensure that instances of this nature never find expression. However, the opposite has been the case, as was evidenced in political meddling during Thabo Mbeki’s administration. Additionally, there was Faith Muthambi, under whose leadership as a Minister of what today known as the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, for example, the SABC archive was licensed to MultiChoice. As well as Hlaudi Motsoeneng who stifled critical debates when he oversaw the implementation of harmful editorial decisions in 2016.
Grappling with the black condition in 2021, during a time when, for example, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies is currently undertaking public presentations around the SABC Bill, the central question I am interested in is to think about how the SABC’s critical role ought to account for contemporary struggles – more so when we consider South Africa’s political economy, the neoliberal and capitalist environment within which we exist as a country, as well as instances of factional political interference. I am wondering as to how this policy and legislative process can account for the experiences of black, poor, unemployed, and working-class people. Beyond anti-blackness as expressed in our socio-economic status, other forms of suffering find expression in patriarchal violence, targeted at women, children and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Additionally, we have seen targeted violence aimed largely at black migrants from various parts of the African continent. This is the type of violence that are markers of citizenship, belonging and blackness. Of course, other social groups too have been targeted and killed, however, my point is that there are particular experiences limited to black migrants. While these are the realities of living black in South Africa, there also exists the threat of climate change, often disproportionately affecting black people who are systemically rendered poor.
While in the 1990s the heavy focus from policy point of view was to operate from a place where various actors were seeking to use the SABC as a vehicle for social change, its contribution to the democratic project, a more radical approach is needed. It cannot be that the biggest organisation in our media landscape is not responsive enough to critical social and political questions. My sense is that the SABC Bill is super monumental when it comes to ensuring that this organisation is capacitated to respond to questions of our time.
One of the ways this can be achieved is by resolving the long-standing question around the funding of the SABC. This can potentially shift the organisation away from its over-reliance on advertising for revenue, leading to a complete fulfillment of its public mandate. Beyond funding, it cannot be that organisations such as the Daily Maverick and Amabhungane Center for Investigative Journalism are the only ones central to unearthing government corruption, while the SABC accounts for the most staff headcount and overall penetration. The same can be said about how New Frame is one of the few publications taking a working-class approach when it comes to the coverage of key debates about climate change, poverty, food, and hunger crisis, among others. The SABC has to be at the centre of this important work, one way or the other.