Business as usual for South African media

In the aftermath of a long and traumatic history, there is still censorship in South Africa. Not censorship by the state, but a rather more indirect, insidious and hence virulent form of censorship – self-censorship by the mainstream media. Their message is clear: South Africans are not to be trusted to know what’s going on or to make up their own minds about it, nor should business confidence become eroded by the painful business of truth.

Consider for instance the case of 11 alleged rightwing terrorists, including three senior military officers, currently awaiting trial in Pretoria on charges of high treason. Their recent appearance in court received scant mention in mainstream media, ownership of which continues to be dominated by a handful of business conglomerates. The few brief reports that did somehow manage to surface were carefully tailored to make it appear the alleged conspirators were crackpots from the lunatic fringe, and thus not to be taken seriously. But the evidence suggests otherwise.

A document submitted to the court by state prosecutors details plans by the accused to establish a rebel army of about 4 500 to overthrow the government and replace it with a military regime run entirely by white supremacists. The document, discovered by investigators, outlines plans by the alleged plotters to unleash chaos in the country to cover the rebel army’s movements. A 50-man death squad would meanwhile eliminate “traitors” and blame the actions on black people. The white supremacists, to “restore order”, would then impose a 10-day electricity blackout under cover of which airports would be closed, aircraft grounded, and arms depots and combat vehicles seized. A final stage would be the inauguration of a military government.

These disclosures, particularly the alleged involvement of top military officers presently serving in the armed forces, so studiously overlooked by the media, follow a series of serious incidents similarly swept under the carpet by mainstream media apparently eager not to offend the business confidence of advertisers and foreign investors.

Foremost among such incidents are the still unsolved cases of two senior army men who were attacked separately two years ago in mysterious circumstances allegedly involving arms thefts and rightwing mercenary recruitment. In the first incident, Sergeant-Major Moses Mongalo, while investigating the disappearance of 2 000 AK-47 assault rifles from an armoury, was beaten into a coma by an unidentified assailant or assailants.

In a further incident, army intelligence officer Brigadier Amos Lingisi was identically attacked. He was said by colleagues to have uncovered a right-wing mercenary recruitment operation being conducted clandestinely within the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

There is no hard evidence to suggest the recent arrival in South Africa of a contingent of British Army paratroopers for “combined exercises” might in fact be to reinforce the SANDF if necessary in the aftermath of the alleged military take-over plot by the white supremacists including dissident SANDF officers. At a recent bail application hearing of the arrested plotters, however, it was disclosed in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court that the plotters had “many supporters” and not all the plotters had yet been arrested.

Certainly, no one in his right senses would like to see a return to the wave of neo-Nazi terrorism that marred political negotiations in the run-up to South Africa’s first democratic elections eight years ago, and which forced the liberation movement to adopt policies it might not otherwise have contemplated, were it not for the threat of right-wing terrorism.

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