Monday, August 30, 2010

Orwell's South Africa

Some reent developoments in South Africa re-affirms that the State exists to be the mouth-piece of the capitalist class.In recent years South Africa's press has been increasingly occupied by the rise of the "tenderpreneurs" – a new, wealthy elite who use their political connections to benefit from state contracts through the largely discredited Black Economic Empowerment programme that was meant to improve the lot of disadvantaged blacks but has helped to create a new, narrow elite. A company headed by Jacob Zuma's 28-year-old son Duduzane was shown to have received more than £80m in shares from Arcelor-Mittal. The company said the stake in the South African arm of the steel giant was allocated for "strategic assistance" with meeting its BEE requirements. Other beneficiaries included the reported girlfriend of the deputy president and an "empowerment advisory counsel" to the President. ANC Youth League Julius Malema boasts about his lavish lifestyle and links to firms that have earned millions of pounds in state contracts.

The South African government has been accused of resorting to censorship policies reminiscent of the Apartheid era in a bid to silence its critics in the media. The ruling African National Congress is pushing a series of measures which would, opponents say, undermine freedom of speech, criminalise investigative reporting and threaten whistleblowers in the civil service with lengthy prison sentences. The Protection of Information Bill, currently before parliament, where the ANC holds a two-thirds majority, is part of two-pronged effort to bring the media under closer control. The second stage is a proposed Media Tribunal which would make South Africa's press – often accused by the government of being anti-ANC – answerable to parliament.The information bill would give the power to heads of government agencies to classify whole swathes of information on the grounds that it was in the "national interest". This would then make disclosure of related information a criminal offence punishable with up to 25 years in prison. Lawyers are concerned with the vague language employed in the current draft with the national interest defined in terms such as "the survival and security of the state". The country's leading legal body, the General Council of the Bar, said several provisions of the bill were "plainly contrary" to freedoms enshrined in its constitution.

A petition of writers whose work was banned under the Apartheid regime drafted by Gordimer, André Brink, Njabulo Ndebele, John Kani and Achmat Dangor explain that "We are threatened again, now with a gag over the word processor." The writers described the tribunal as the "descent of a shutter over the dialogue of the arts" and the creation of the "Word Police". Critics accuse the ANC of exhibiting a paranoid tendency in response to legitimate journalistic criticism of abuses of power.

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