In some countries, the police are referred to as the “thin blue line” between civilisation and anarchy. Obviously, that doesn’t apply in South Africa. For a start, given the massive girth and low IQ of many of our law enforcers, thick rather than thin would be a more accurate descriptor. Also, a line implies a solid barrier that can’t be easily crossed without there being serious consequences. When it comes to the police, the line here is more like a chaotic series of dots and dashes which, in Morse code, might spell out, “We don’t know what we are doing please send help.” Sadly, while that impassive Easter Island head remains in charge of the police, help will not be on its way any time soon.
The courts do a far better job than the police of standing between us and chaos. Apart from the odd lawyer, magistrate or judge who is either on the take, listens only to God or is easily swayed by death threats, our judiciary is independent and can generally be relied upon to perform as expected. Notwithstanding, of course, an infuriating tendency to repeatedly postpone matters that could and should be wrapped up a lot sooner.
But the real frontline guardians are the media. You’re thinking I would say that because I’m one of them, but you’d be wrong. I owe no unswerving loyalty to this disreputable tribe of hacks, scribes and scribblers, even though I have drunk with them, slept with them and even married some of them.
Proper journalists – the ones who don’t invent stories about decuplets – are fearless, dogged and slightly hungover. They are terriers of truth hunting down political rats who, in the diseased world of the ANC, always somehow scrabble their way to the top.
But there aren’t many of them. The Fourth Estate is the thinnest, most fragile of lines. Offhand, I can think of maybe a dozen or so journalists who are truly committed to tossing grenades into state sewers, sifting through the debris and showing us what’s really going on. And even though the NPA keeps dropping the ball, deliberately in some cases, these heroic men and women of the pen keep on tossing those grenades.
To the ANC’s credit, they have never imposed restrictions on the media. I guess PW Botha ruined that option for them. Anyway, it’s too late now, of course. Journalists have supped for too long and too deeply on the nectar of liberty and only a dangerously reckless president would choose this moment to call time in the Freedom of Expression Arms. Then again, the wings on each side of the political stage are currently jammed with fools and fascists of every stripe, slavering at the prospect of getting their rapacious claws on the levers of power, so anything could still happen.
Hold on, what’s this? Gwede Mantashe’s department of mineral resources and energy has issued a tender for a “service provider” who can monitor and analyse the media for the next two years. You’d think he might have more important things on his mind.
Comrade Gwede is an old-school communist. He’d like nothing more than to see the media being controlled by the state for the good of the state.
In terms you might expect to hear whispered in darkened rooms in the Kremlin, the tender says “this is an early warning system by which the provider alerts clients via SMS/ WhatsApp, of incoming media-launched attacks on the department”.
So if, for example, the energy department receives a query about the environmental department rejecting Karpowership’s EIA application, the service provider will go to Defcon 1 and immediately warn the Turkish power mongers of an incoming media-launched attack.
“Karpowership, Karpowership. This is not a drill. Awkward questions have been asked and are heading your way. Take evasive action immediately.”
Old King Coal’s department stipulates: “With the current ‘information overload’ that departments are faced with on a daily basis, the department requires a service provider who will extract the information we require and deliver it to the departmental desktop.”
That the energy department might have only one desktop computer doesn’t surprise me. It’s the reference to “information overload”. This suggests there are people in the department who actually follow the news. Not Gwede, obviously, because the only publication he subscribes to is Pravda and it usually arrives a month late anyway.
The spies, I beg your pardon, service provider, will also have to collect the names of journalists writing about the department and monitor the “tone” of their reports. There was a time in East Germany when people would disappear for using the wrong tone in casual conversations about pretty much anything.
Gwede clearly hasn’t heard of Google Alerts. You tell it to look out for stories that use words like, for instance, “mining kickbacks” or “fossil fuel forever” or “paranoid socialist throwback”, and it will scour the web and email those very stories to you. A lot cheaper than keeping a bunch of snoops on the payroll for two years. In fact, it’s free.