Monday, May 23, 2016

R2K demands an end to SABC censorship!

The South Gauteng High Court hears the case and counter-application from 23 to 26 May of the SABC's banning of Project Spear, a documentary by filmmaker Sylvia van Vollenhoven about massive corruption in the run-up to the 1994 elections. [Blogger note: ironically it was commissioned and scheduled to be aired by SABC in 2012]

Despite being of significant public interest, our public broadcaster, which has a duty to deliver critical public interest coverage, has not only refused to show the Project Spear but has also stubbornly refused to sell the rights to the material gathered by Vollenhoven in preparing Project Spear for the series Truth Be Told.

The film traces the alleged siphoning off through corruption of R30 billion in the dying days of apartheid, helping to uncover grand scale theft of the sort we've seen after apartheid, such as the Arms Deal and Nkandla. But despite its extent, there has been a stone-cold silence around corruption and collusion between white capital and the Afrikaner Nationalist government, and while our transition to democracy and the TRC process revealed gross human rights violations and exposed the regime's brutality, little was said about the economic crimes of apartheid. Corruption greased the wheels of the secretive apartheid system, at times allowing the government to side-step sanctions and making some fabulously wealthy in the process.

Vollenhoven's documentary and other exposés give lie to the widely held but absurd idea that systematic corruption began with the ANC. But the government of democratic South Africa has not only been remarkably unwilling to look into the economic crimes of apartheid, it has even actively blocked attempts to do so, as in the case of Khulumani and their long struggle for reparations from corporate beneficiaries of apartheid.

The country's transition left in tact the social and economic power and privileges of the old elite and brought to power new business partners who move between the government and private sector - their interests are intertwined, both are beneficiaries of the status quo, and nobody is willing to rock the boat by looking into the ugly past. 

Meanwhile, the SABC has played its role in concealing the truth. This, of course, is not the first time the SABC has canned programming that is critical of the establishment. In two well-known recent examples of self-censorship, the broadcaster refused to screen a critically-acclaimed documentary about the Marikana massacre, Miners Shot Down, and pulled the hard-hitting current affairs talk show The Big Debate. SABC news has taken on an increasingly obvious pro-ANC bias, and in yet another recent controversy it was announced earlier this year that SABC radio would ban listener call-ins around election time.

The SABC has been hamstrung by mismanagement and political interference. Its notoriously incompetent COO, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who was plucked from obscurity to pander to those above him, shows only contempt for journalists and media workers under him and has gone so far as to demand 70 percent good news. It is in this sort of thing, and in the banning of films like Project Spear, that we see the SABC's slide from public broadcaster to state broadcaster and propaganda machine.


As Right2Know, we salute FXI, Khulumani and the Legal Resource Centre in their support for Vollenhoven's important case. We urge the public to support our demand - one we have consistently made over the years - that the SABC serves the public's right to know. We want critical, public interest journalism that holds power to account, not sweetheart journalism! 

We also urge the public to watch this important documentary here:  

For more information contact:
Micah Reddy, Right2Know Media Freedom & Diversity Organiser: 083 297 3444
Busi Mtabane, R2K National Communicator: 083 329 7844

Online version: