This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
01 Dec 1993: Akhalwaya, Ameen
POM First of all, Ameen, it's been quite a change in your own position since we saw you last year. Last year the paper was in trouble and you were thinking of folding it up and you say since then you have managed to sell it and you've moved and become part of the establishment, working from within. Could you just go through the sequence of events and how that happened and how you were appointed to the Board and what your functions on the Board are?
AA As you know we had planned to sell the newspaper some time ago and finally the ANC came to see us and persuaded us not to sell the paper on the basis that they have little support in terms of the print media, obviously they have no support, and they felt that if newspapers that were sympathetic to the liberation movement were allowed to go into hands that were not sympathetic to the liberation movement it would just make things more difficult for them. We agreed to that and finally what happened is that earlier this year a group of journalists together with ... of Germany, I think the BBC has something to do with it, the United Nations and the Canadian Embassy decided to institute a training programme mainly for print journalists in order to prepare them for the new TV set up and prepare them for jobs especially. So it was an extensive two-month course that we went into, mostly done by Canadian trainers in Johannesburg and there were people also from America, we had somebody from the BBC as well. During the course, part of it was placed outside, half our group went to Canada and the other half went to Britain. I was placed in Britain with the BBC and I was at BBC Wales for most of the time looking at the dual language function.
While I was away I was nominated to the SABC Board which was the first time the Board was going to be elected. Previously they had been elected by the government and for the first time it was going to be a panel of jurists, judges and lawyers who were going to select this panel. Just when I arrived back from the overseas trip I found that I was on the short list so they called me for an interview, I was the first one to be interviewed. They told me it was in alphabetical order which it clearly wasn't, I was one of about 85 on the short list and I think about 20 or 25 people, I'm not sure now, so I think by the time they got to 85 they had quite clearly forgotten me, I had made no impression. But at the same time before the hearings had started while we were on our training course the SABC had approached me about a job. They had approached me about two years ago as well and I had shown no interest because as far as I was concerned it was still a National Party tool, a propaganda tool, and I did make it clear to them during our training programme that by the time the machinery had been set in motion for the election of the Board, I told them until a new Board is democratically elected I wouldn't even consider a job. So as soon as the Board hearings were over and I didn't get the job they actually approached me again and this is the job and after long negotiations I took this particular job.
POM Yet de Klerk did interfere with the process?
AA Yes he did.
POM Was it an immediate cause of alarm?
AA It was and I think if you look at the ANC's reaction which wasn't really hysterical, I think they also probably saw a little gap [and the whole process goes through] the precedent had been set, so a lot of posturing at the time. Before I accepted the job, because there was still this controversy over the Board, I consulted people right across the spectrum, including all the political organisations, trade unions, media organisations, colleagues of mine. It was just unanimous that I should actually go in because the argument was at what point does the change then start being implemented and they felt that the Board is going to be in place, it's not to everybody's satisfaction but at least the machinery has been there and we are now coming up to elections and if you are going to start making changes now or the changes are going to be implemented we might as well start now, you can't wait until the whole Board thing has been clarified.
POM And the Director/General was reappointed?
AA That's right.
POM Which again is not a very good, very satisfactory measure in terms of movement towards change.
AA It wasn't but I think the reality is that they really had no choice. It's a highly, highly specialised job and to have got somebody just from the outside who didn't know the workings of the SABC, being the huge corporation that it is, it would have created problems and I think the transition then wouldn't have been that easy in the run up to elections. The fact that he had himself committed, gone on record as being for change and was willing to change I think that was in his favour as well. So I think it's a matter of quibbling whether they should have given him a year's extension to his contract or just six months but I think that's neither here nor there. The important thing is that they wanted him to be in position until after the elections. The reason I say they really had no choice is when I came in here I was told by people from the outside that the job I am taking shouldn't be the one I should be taking, I should be taking something higher up but being new to the industry, also not knowing the inner workings of the SABC, I actually felt that the people who are in the jobs at the moment are actually the people who are best suited to the job so long as they are prepared to change and after long discussions with them before I even joined, discussing what they were intending to do, what they had done already I was satisfied that they are prepared to implement those changes.
POM Are employees under the interim constitution, are their jobs entrenched, right? Or can people be fired or laid off?
AA No they can't. In fact in terms of the agreements with the unions there's no way they can be fired. Although some are asking about whether they can't get early retirement or retrenchment packages, golden handshakes that hasn't been accepted yet.
PAT That hasn't to do with the constitution, it has to do with the contracts with the unions?
AA It's more with the contracts with the unions, and the law itself, the Industrial Relations Act. You can't just go round firing people. You could start moving people around within the corporation but you just can't fire people.
POM One example, and I've been watching, whenever we can get it, the SABC to look for change, to see what change there is and I think we were astonished the morning after the interim constitution that the lead off item on the news was the Olympics, the controversy over the Olympic symbol for 2004.
AA On the morning TV?
POM Yes. That was the feature story and the constitution kind of got second place.
AA It got no feature story and had second place mention in the news.
POM It was extensively covered live, it was on live and on both current affairs programmes on both channels as well at night until all hours of the morning. I'm not defending that decision but I suppose that may have been the reason behind it.
POM If jobs are so entrenched, Nahum Gorelich in Namibia brought this to our attention one time, he said when he took over and they brought in some of their own people that essentially what you had was those on the staff who were willing to change, those who were not willing to change and those who had just come in and trying to strike a balance between all three sides was a very, very difficult task. So in an organisation like this, the size of the organisation will have to be increased. In fact if black reporters or executives are in fact brought in they will have to go through probably maybe twenty courses beforehand for senior positions. When one looks at the plans you are making in the short run up to election date and in the longer run, what is being done to, the use the most used phrase in South Africa, to level the playing fields and what role will the SABC play in terms of the access the various parties will have to it?
AA I think in terms of immediate, in terms of staffing there's a whole series of training programmes that have already taken place and are continuing at this moment and there are more planned in the new year. The aim is that all the 600 odd people that are part of the television news production team, news and current affairs, will take part in some course or the other. Those courses are being conducted again by the Canadians, Australians, we have people from the BBC here at present, somebody from Denmark has been here, so it's quite an extensive range starting from basically the present one is for Executive Producers. I think there's another one planned for editors as managers. Those are all in-house. There are some on the outside as well where SABC people with people from the outside are taking part in those courses. That's what's taking place to level the playing fields but not quick enough to my mind, it really isn't, but I think we have to look at the problem of resources and my department is completely depleted because quite a few of the people are still on training programmes and also because of the time of the year it is now with Christmas coming up, people going on holiday and that, so we really have serious staff problems. I think in the longer term they will have to set up training, there has to be a commitment and I think the Board, as far as I know, it has taken a decision that training will be a very important part of TNP, television news productions, it has also taken a decision that training will enjoy a high priority, operating skills of people inside.
POM How is the Board going to deal with the eleven official languages. Does that mean we'll get the news in English once every two weeks? On the twelfth day of Christmas?
AA Seven news bulletins a night. What they probably may end up doing is what's happening with TV now, is that one channel shares English and Afrikaans and the two essentially black channels will share the two major language groupings, Nguni and Sotho and the whole idea would be to have regional stations. One of the problems with getting regional stations started is the fact that the negotiators haven't come up with the regions so you can't commit resources until you know exactly where these regions are and how they are going to be handled.
POM This is like the BBC model covering where they have four different, in fact BBC is covering four different regions.
AA Yes, except it will probably be closer to the Canadian model, especially in the North Western Territory.
PAT Where the programming comes out of the region?
AA Yes. Our suggestion from here, from TNP, has been that you have a national news bulletin which essentially is in English and then you can have it in one of the African languages. If you want to alternate that's fine between English/Afrikaans or Nguni/Sotho but then your regional news will break away. Like in Natal obviously we'll have more Zulu and Xhosa in the Transkei.
PAT Do you do radio that way now?
AA Radio is a curious set up, we've got various languages, yes. We've got Radio Zulu and Radio Sesotho, and Radio Lotus for Indians and then the English service, the Afrikaans service and then commercial services as well.
PAT But are there regional facilities from which they broadcast?
AA Yes. Some of the smaller stations, like Radio Highveld for example, Radio Cape of Good Hope, Oranje and Jacaranda in Pretoria, those are regional because of the FM transmitters, they have a limited range so they are for that region. Most of them are English in any case, English or Afrikaans. Not the African languages so much except for Radio Zulu.
POM Coming back to the elections, has the Board been formulating any policies on how the elections will be covered, how time and resources will be devoted to various political parties, whether they will sponsor debates between maybe de Klerk and Mandela or whatever, and what time they will make available to each political party, whether there will be paid advertising, political advertising or free time given of an equal duration given to each party?
AA OK that's not a Board decision. That decision will have to come out from the negotiations, the Independent Broadcast Authority, the Independent Electoral Commission, all of those, so the Board will be bound by those decisions for the coming elections. As far as I gather they are not going to allow political advertising, party political advertising on TV, but each of the parties will be given equal time and access, but again it's still all in the theoretical stage, nothing has been spelled out and until that comes we ourselves haven't planned election coverage or how it's going to be done, who's going to be handling it, whether my programme Agenda, for example, is going to be devoted mostly to election issues. We have suggested that we still remain a current affairs programme independent of the election. There should be a separate election coverage team and we will still take the issues up on a professional level. So those things are very much up in the air. What resources are committed to now is voter education. There are about forty four organisations that are all involved in voter education who come together with a sub-committee of the Board and one or two staffers from here, they're putting a programme together so time has been allocated on all the channels ranging from thirty seconds to 15/20 minutes about voter education.
POM Will this be increased in intensity in the run up to elections?
AA I think the first shorts, thirty second spots, were put on air about two weeks ago for the first time. We're actually planning what time, which language they will go out on which channel, that still has to be done.
POM In a poll we looked at recently it showed that most people get their information from television, in fact that more people watch television than people who have electricity. How do you square that?
AA They go to other people's houses.
POM Do you see it as that kind of medium that in terms of the election it will be the dominant medium rather than say radio?
AA I think among the general population of South Africa it will be the dominant medium, among those who have electricity but I think amongst the illiterate or semi-literate people who don't own TV sets, especially in the rural areas, who still rely on radio for news, radio will obviously be dominant in those area. I think in all the major centres it's going to be television all the way.
POM I may have missed this because we move around quite a bit and don't always catch programmes so I'll just ask the question and you can tell me I'm wrong. It struck me, at least that after the interim constitution was passed, there was no programme devoted to a thoroughgoing analysis of what had happened, what the package deals were, what the implications of the deals were, and I ask that question because we have asked some of the people who were involved in the negotiations what was the six-pack deal? And they don't know. They can get to two and then they are lost for the other four. I have a great feeling that people don't know what happened other than some kind of interim constitution was passed and there was an election but what the nuts and bolts of that package are seem not to be very clear to anyone who we have talked to and these are supposed to be the people who are the elites.
AA You're right and I think one of the excuses or reasons we have is that we have a crazy set up in the SABC with being a public broadcaster with being under-pinned by commercialism, so you have got advertising. Now generally what is supposed to be the main current affairs programme has, after the ads, 24 minutes and in 24 minutes there is no way you can get the panels to discuss these things. The other restriction is we have to do it alternative days in English and Afrikaans. You are effectively left with 64 minutes of programme in a week for English and 64 minutes for Afrikaans and then you have to look at other developing issues as well and not get bogged down in this type of thing. One of the problems that we had the day after, for example, when we wanted to do a much more thorough analysis, we had actually planned it on that particular day but because the negotiators themselves hadn't come to an agreement, we were told the agreement was going to be signed by two o'clock in the afternoon and we would take the rest of it and as you know it was only signed in the early hours of the next morning so we just couldn't analyse what was really happening because nobody seemed to know except those who were sitting inside.
The next day when we put a package together there was nobody available because people were absolutely exhausted, they just wouldn't come on air and so we put on a panel of journalists and talked more about the atmosphere which was the Thursday. By Friday there is no Agenda, by Saturday there is no Agenda and Sunday we had a pre-planned programme which was an investigation we had done into something else [one of the ... and so forth] which we had to put out because we were in competition with one of the foreign stations whose journalists were also doing the same programme and because we were also planning to see this programme abroad we wanted to flight it as quickly as possible before the Germans got in, which then left us with the following week and all the consequences of what had happened that particular week with the Freedom Alliance not taking part and we got swept away with that type of thing. So you're right. The reason I'm giving all these excuses is just that we have this very severe limitation in terms of being analytical.
POM As I say, some of the negotiators themselves don't know what the deal was. Let's go back to the constitution for a minute. I've been asking this since last Wednesday of everybody, on a scale of one to ten how satisfied are you with the constitution and the package of arrangements that has emerged from the World Trade Centre? One would be great dissatisfaction and ten would be lots of satisfaction. In what range would you find yourself?
AA Personally I would put it, on a purely personal emotional level, at something like three. If I look at the practical implications I would probably put it at about seven. I can understand why this has become necessary but I would still think that the entire struggle was not to keep those who have been the oppressors all these years suddenly now waving the flag of democracy, that these people are to be part of government. That is on the emotional level. On the practical level you have to have them part of government otherwise if you are going to stop the anarchy and chaos, if you have a government of national unity ...
POM Or even to make institutions like this work. If you had an ANC government that took over on its own and you had a broadcasting authority that was hostile to it and they brought in people who didn't know the inner workings of the organisation it would take a long time for things to change.
AA In a way yes, but I think that you could still have a coalition government or a government of national unity. My real problem why I leave it at seven and not go fully with it is the fact that they want to entrench it for five years and I think that's unhealthy and I think that they should actually leave room for some opposition as well.
POM Do you think it would be healthy if the ANC in the election got two thirds or more of the vote or that it would be better for the country as whole if they got less than that so that they have to negotiate and make trade-offs? I ask that in the light of what Moses Tjitendero, the Speaker of the House in Namibia, said that they were hoping to get as high as 70%/75% and they didn't, they got about 60% but in the long run that was better for the country because they had to re-draw positions and you had to wheel and deal and make compromises and make trade-offs and they didn't always get things their own way. In this situation could you differentiate which might be good for the ANC and which might be good for the country?
AA I've got mixed feelings on that. I'm really not very clear on that. I've thought about it. I think the advantage of course if the ANC does have the two thirds majority it can implement the changes much more quickly, much more swiftly and it also gives the ANC less room to cover up or to make excuses if it is not able to implement policies, but it's got reasonably full control. I think we do need strong opposition. I think in any democracy we have to have strong opposition. Our problem is that our opposition isn't very clearly defined at the moment so you don't really know who would oppose the ANC and on what basis. The actual ideological lines are so thin now except on economic issues and I think on social issues there is much consensus on things that need to be done. So I don't think whether the ANC has two thirds majority or not is going to affect the type of change it wants to implement. My fear is that if this type of coalition doesn't get two thirds, that if it does indulge in more trade offs it can always use it as an excuse when things don't actually go its way. They can say we want to go ahead but now we have to make compromises. What also worries me is that the amount of compromises the ANC has made in the entire negotiating process. I think they gave away too much and if that is what is going to happen again in terms of a national government then, again, it is going to be a problem. So in that case I would prefer on balance that it gets a two thirds majority so it can implement its own programmes and then be judged after five years on its own record rather than be in a position to blame anybody else.
POM What would you point to as the particular items they gave away that amounted to too much? Are there specific things?
AA Well I think in terms of power sharing, that was a major one to give in on that particular basis, to give in in terms of the demands that were being made by the right wing in terms of regional powers. I also support strong regions but I think that initially in the transition phase we needed strong government to be able to implement those policies as quickly as possible without being over-ridden or obstructed by regions that have their own little motives. I think things like that. They have also given away on things like control of the armed forces, the police. Again, I can understand the reasoning behind it. I still think it's going to be used an excuse in the long run when things don't work out.
POM Two items in particular that caught us by surprise in the way the ANC handled them, one was the Constitutional Court and the other on the single ballot and I've yet to hear a convincing argument particularly for the single ballot but it seems to me that the ANC for all of its history has been so dedicated to the ideals of democracy that suddenly to strike a quick bargain in the middle of the night where if you have to pack the Constitutional Court it was patently undermining the basis of the constitution itself and yet they continue to defend it and that kind of upset me because I put a question mark beside the values they attach to democracy. And the single ballot one constricts people's choice to such an extent that it too is undemocratic.
AA I think in theory you are absolutely right and I also support two ballot papers but I think in practice, especially in the first election people are going to vote more on an emotional basis rather than on any form basis so they say this is what each party stands for and this is why we're going to vote for that party. There is going to be emotion, they are going to take sides and I think that's why the ANC is going to carry the day in any case. So it's not going to make much difference at the regional level. I think they should have looked at it and even more where they are holding back, nothing much has been done, is at local government level. When I say they are giving away so much this is one of the things. They have agreed interim measures that the present councils plus civics and others are going to form interim councils. You've got some of the biggest scoundrels sitting around, as they are in the World Trade Centre as well, political scoundrels and crooks as well, are now still going to be part of the transitional government at local level and that is where your choice really is for the ordinary person. OK you can vote, the national government is not going to affect your daily life much but it is going to be affected at local level and that's where the question of tactical voting would come and there is no choice, even backed by the ANC because a lot of people, for example in our area, may know people who the ANC would put up on its list who would not be acceptable to people in this area for one reason or another and somebody from another party is known in the community and we know that he or she is committed to community work so people would vote for that person. You aren't going to be allowed that choice either. I think this has been rushed through, they haven't really worried about local government and regional government much apart from spelling of powers and so forth but not actual structures.
POM The unfortunate thing is that the temporary has a habit of becoming permanent.
AA Exactly, that's a fear. Just one other point I would like to make, when I talked about giving too much away, I think this whole question of the Vice President being drawn from the second largest party, which I think is a ludicrous situation. If the President dies what becomes of his successor? Will he come from a minority party, a majority party, on what basis do you do that and is that merely just a ceremonial token position rather than something substantial?
POM In the United States all the Vice President does is go to funerals.
AA If you get someone like de Klerk, assuming he is going to the first Deputy President, de Klerk has much to contribute. In a ceremonial role he's absolutely useless to himself and to the country.
PAT In spite of Padraig's question about the democratic values, is it your belief that the ANC's approach to government is truly more democratic than these examples would illustrate? My feeling about that is that I wouldn't be very sure of that. It would make a lot of sense, I would say these decisions really reflect what is the political philosophy of a lot of people in the ANC in decision making in the ANC and the party and that maybe it could conceivably be more of a vision of the future. What inclines one to say, no, that's not the way they go, they are really more along the sort of liberal nature of western democracies where choice is very much a part of the role for people in a democratic process.
AA I'm not sure of the question. Are you saying that the way they govern is really more democratic?
PAT Do you think that the ANC's real under-pinnings are more democratic and these particular decisions in going on with it were more for expedience sake? But it seems in your answer to the question you seem to think that it was more for expedience sake because this is a transition process and that that would then suggest that there are much stronger foundations, more traditional democratic foundations in the ANC where it will lead the country in the future.
AA In the long term I think all these decisions that have been taken now, they have been taken at top level, they have tried to create the impression that they have always been consulting people right down to grassroots level, which isn't true. I know for a fact that people at grassroots level are called to meetings and asked to give some input into various decisions that may affect them and of course after they give something nothing really goes back up to the top to the negotiators and something else is announced the following day, which is the reason why we have found in the last few months, I think it is probably right across the country, where ANC branch meetings have been very poorly attended simply because people are getting fed up with this type of thing, that they were just going through the exercises rather than having proper consultation. I think there hasn't been any outcry from the grassroots for the simple reason that what people just want to see is the transition taking place, we want our elections, thereafter we will fight over the nitty gritty in the longer term and they have given the ANC the mandate to negotiate, to do the best possible. In that way it is democratic, in the sense that they have got the mandate, but it's not good for grassroots democracy if this pattern carries on. As I mentioned earlier it becomes a habit.
POM This is interesting because when CODESA broke down there were quite a number of people in the ANC who said, "Thank God", because they didn't believe that they would be able to sell the package to the grassroots, or at least to the more activist elements in the grassroots. This time round one hasn't heard of the grassroots.
AA It was an excuse last time, it wasn't the problem from the grassroots at that time.
POM Just looking into the mirror, do you think that the Freedom Alliance and Buthelezi will eventually come into the process or that they are going to stay out there and be a source of instability to any incoming government?
AA My own feeling is that the Conservative Party will take part eventually. With all its other problems in the past and with all its public posturing now it usually does take part in elections despite its war talk. There will be some sort of democratic process, test themselves at the ballot box, but they will take part in the elections. Inkatha's position is less clear. I'm a bit confused about what the position is and what it will be. I have got a feeling that there is a large element of the negotiators and strategists behind the IFP who will say go ahead and let's take part in the elections otherwise they are going to be marginalised as well. But I think Buthelezi himself will be reluctant to take part and some of his other advisors probably would go along with him and I think in the longer term if they don't take part in the elections there is going to be a split in the IFP. I just don't see any other way out.
POM If one had to differentiate between the threat from the right wing and the threat from Buthelezi which would you worry about most? I think it's generally admitted that the white right wing would have the capacity to carry on an IRA type of campaign where you bomb a target here, you bomb a target there and you just create general instability and try to make the government repressive, while Buthelezi is sitting out in Ulundi and in a couple of weeks his purse strings could be taken away, his police would have a choice between siding with him or joining the SAP and he who pays you generally becomes your master pretty quickly, that in fact he wouldn't have the resources to mount a serious threat or to be a serious spoiler.
AA What period are you talking about, before the elections or after the elections or longer term?
POM I'm talking about after the elections if Buthelezi stays out and the right wing says we are going to do as much as we can (a) to disrupt the elections and (b) to disrupt whatever follows the elections.
AA The reason I asked, if we take the short term up to elections and immediately after the elections, I would say in the medium and long term there isn't much of a threat from either because I don't think they have the capacity. I think in both cases, especially in the case of the right wing, they have no moral basis for taking up the armed struggle, they have no place to hide. What I am saying is that the most significant thing to me is that if these people are tried for sedition or treason or any of the other serious crimes or even if they are arrested for smaller misdemeanours and they are convicted for smaller misdemeanours and they have to go to jail, the jails are no longer apartheid structures, they are now mixed and for a right winger especially to be locked up in jail with people who are convicted murderers, criminals, rapists and others, I think that will concentrate the mind a whole lot.
It's one of the reasons that I actually think that even the AWB people who were caught last time, they were apologising, Terre'Blanche even said that in future he won't go anywhere where he's not welcome. I think more because he has a suspended sentence hanging over him and I think once these people are jailed and once they experience jail, for black political activists who were detained or went to jail they were treated as heroes by the criminals in there and they knew they wouldn't be touched, whereas these guys don't have that moral standing at all and it's going to be very difficult. I think in terms of the IFP that it doesn't have that widespread support, there are pockets of IFP people who want to create mayhem. You will be able to identify the areas, I don't think it's such a threat in the longer term. They are going to continue their violence but I think Natal itself has a history of a lot of faction fighting and a whole lot of complicated facts, not just on a political basis. I think that won't end but I don't think the IFP/ANC clash is as bitter as it's made out to be.
POM A number of people have said to us that even if there are fairly high levels of intimidation and violence that it's more important to have elections now even if they are not free and fair in the sense that international observers might use the phrase, they would argue that what you need is a government that had a sufficient degree of legitimacy. It might not be perfect but it would have a sufficient degree of legitimacy to move forward and if you were to wait for an ideal election date it would be like waiting for Godot. So something very pragmatic is driving the process at this point.
AA I think the fact that the election date has been set and has not been tampered with, not at this stage in any case, I think that is very important. It probably will keep the level of violence down. If for some reason or other the election date is postponed again for a longer term I think we are going to see violence from the ANC grassroots. I think people have a degree of optimism in the country simply because we know now the process is coming closer but once it is pushed again into the background you are going to see that as another deliberate obstruction of the entire process and people are not going to take kindly to that and that is going to create more pessimism. I think if you were there at the World Trade Centre last week, I think the mood there even among people who are not grassroots people, because of the delay people wanted to know what the hell the delay was, they are impatient to get it going. I think that is what is driving it, the hope that we are getting to elections. I just hope we can keep the number of deaths down in the run up.
POM On the Board is there an agreed set of policy agenda, policy goals in terms of where you want the SABC to go? You will have to all intents and purpose an ANC government. I'll just use Ireland for an example. It was years before an independent television station actually got around to understanding that the government was fair game, that you should conduct your investigations into government practices and expose corruption and do this, that and the other. What kind of leeway do you think the Board will have in those terms?
AA I don't think it's going to be the Board's role in any case, it will be the journalists or the people who work within the SABC, it's going to be up to them to see how far - are we going to be professional or are we just going to change masters? [So the challenge is ...] What has happened now is that the editorial staff here has come up with its own ethical code which is the first real democratic involvement of staff in the SABC. Everybody was invited and the basis was the Australian broadcasters' code, they looked at the Canadian one, the German one, what the BBC's guidelines are, a whole lot of them and these were work-shopped and a group was elected, representatives were elected and then another smaller group and they actually work-shopped and came up with their own ethical code which has now been given to the Board. The Board has accepted almost all of it but the Board also invited all interested parties, including journalism schools and various interest groups, all were invited for input so they accepted more or less what the staff had given them. There is one little dispute now over the question of direction where one of the clauses asked for editorial direction and decisions shall be vested in the editorial staff. I think the Board is balking at the question of direction. I'm not very concerned about that because I actually feel that in this whole process of changing around that we have to have some sort of direction, this is where we're heading.
The Board has come up with Vision and Values mission statement where it also talked about affirmative action and it's healing role in South Africa. Now the word healing especially is causing a lot of problems. Most of the journalists feel that if you can be part of the healing process you understand what the body is trying to do but simply by reflecting news and current affairs in an open, honest manner and reporting truthfully, reflecting all sides of the debate we are contributing to the democratic process which in itself is part of the healing process but you cannot commit yourself to a healing process unless you commit yourself to democracy. So that is one view and if they accept it then obviously the journalists are going to be given reasonable leeway to be able to explore what they want to do.
POM In your talks with people here, with staff people from the lowest level to the highest level or whatever, do you find an acceptance among them that drastic change is coming and they may as well go along with it willingly and knowingly or is there a lot of uncertainty and resentment?
AA I don't actually detect any resentment. I think they are resigned to the inevitable. A lot of people are actually looking forward to the challenge, especially from the journalistic staff. They feel that they have been restricted all these years by apartheid and the state of emergency and all sorts of policies being laid down for them. They see this as their own freedom as well. But there is uncertainty, they don't know where they're heading, especially when affirmative action comes into place. They don't know exactly where they will be, what are the prospects for promotion, advancement, so that's where the uncertainty comes in. I think because of the economic situation at the moment people are content not to rock the boat. As long as you can keep your job most people will be happy but there is underlying concern about where exactly are they heading.
POM So do you see this as a very exciting era that you're moving into?
AA Yes it's exciting in a way. It's also traumatic in a way. I think when I was on the outside I thought I'm going to do this, that and the other within the SABC, once you actually come here and you are dealing with humans then I actually had identified that if I had to take over Agenda, long before I was actually offered the job of taking over Agenda, I had identified all of the people I wouldn't have thought twice of kicking out. When I got here it was a different thing. You are dealing with humans and you can't throw people out into the street and there are people who actually tell you, yes, they admit to having done certain things simply because they had no other choice. Of course, if I was on the outside I could say, "Well tough", you know what the hell it was all about and you are now going to ask for protection in that way. The problem is you say, "OK tough, get them out", the problem is that you then have to get them replaced and because the playing fields aren't level you have that problem, you can't just replace people. And even if you do find people on the outside because of the labour legislation you can't throw people out as long as I think where people have accepted, and I think I have been fortunate because Agenda has been one of the better programmes, a good quality product and I can build on it. It needs a little change here and there, we need to adapt and so we look at different types of stories, different types of people that we get on to our panels and so forth but I think that's where the change has come in.
I think the exciting thing is that people want to change, they accept that they have to change, they are accepting the challenges when we tell them that we want to experiment with certain things. Fine, let's talk about it, let's try it. If it doesn't work hard luck. But as long as our experiment doesn't become a consistent failure, and we should allow room for failure to a limited extent, I think that is a challenge. There is also a lot of uncertainty among the black staff a lot of whom are also unsure because many of them were not part of what we would call the general body of black journalists out there. They were despised because the SABC seemed to be pushing this line wittingly or unwittingly and now they themselves are concerned that if people from the outside come in there is going to be a ceiling to their advancement and they are actually demanding, quite rightly, that they be trained. But the criminal thing from the SABC was that training was never provided out here and the second biggest criminal offence was that the people who didn't get training didn't stand up and demand training and they didn't demand changes and now they are getting it it's a little too late.
PAT I have a question about how you see the role of this medium in addressing the cultural violence. In the four, five years since we've been coming here, we are now living here, maybe the fact that we're living here now and not coming in now, we are struck in a non-scientific way just in our personal exposures to people that the society is becoming more and more divided. We have always felt free to travel in the townships anywhere in the country, into informal housing sectors and now the people who live there don't want us to come for our personal safety as well as their safety and the one that I am familiar with, I know that this happened in the States in the sixties, that it had to shake up the information industry in terms of how journalists went about doing their business not simply internally inside the institutions but how they looked at the society that they were existing in and that instead of simply reporting, particularly in the public affairs programmes, that they had to take on a responsibility of not simply getting at the root causes and not just letting it happen. I guess it also strikes me that there is a new kind of definition to the situation here. As people are able to freely move and acquire jobs through affirmative action programmes and just see maybe some of lessening of racial oppression and discrimination that the elite gets redefined but the lower classes of people become worse off. How do you look at that as you look with your colleagues who do public affairs broadcasting what the response is and how to address that?
AA I think in terms of violence we have accepted that we have to try to get to the bottom of it. I think there are two ways of looking at it. It's much more difficult to cover simply because the structure here in the SABC, Agenda for example, we've only got one black producer. The rest are all whites. If they have to cover in depth in the townships you are obviously open to a lot of dangers, it's a risk. Also I think in terms of black journalists themselves the hunger of liberation has gone from black journalists. I think those who came from the era of the sixties, seventies, eighties where you were driven by commitment to liberation and bringing the truth out, where it wasn't so much a middle class interest group that was serving and saying, "We'll speak on behalf of the masses", and this type of thing. Now most of the senior black journalists have now got into middle class lives because their jobs are better paid and so forth so obviously their focus has shifted, that hunger has gone from them. The newer journalists who are coming in are university educated and so on and don't live in townships, not all of them live in townships, they are moving more into mixed areas, white areas, whatever, so they are also separated from the townships, so we are creating - you are right there is a middle class elite movement which I think is probably happening all over, especially in the west. That is the type of general journalistic body that you are getting today. It's a very dangerous development in the sense that we are not going to get the breadth of issues to be covered and when people cannot empathise with them you cannot really dedicate yourself to it and it becomes a sort of liberal type of cop-out, "Oh well, isn't that really bad out there so let's see what's happening and let's go to that area", but the soul element doesn't come into it at all. It is going to be a problem. It is a problem already. It's going to become worse that we are going to look at the townships in isolation and say, "Well out of sight, out of mind". I think it is our responsibility as well as the editors to make sure that we keep on directing our staff to do that type of thing but then we have to have the calibre of staff as well and people who come from those areas to be able to do it for you and I don't think we are succeeding yet.
PAT And it will be more difficult when there is a new government of the day.
AA That's right.
POM Thank you so much.
AA As usual I made little sense!
PAT No, as usual you made lots of sense. Is your specific position Producer of Agenda?
AA No I've got a fancy title, I've got a dual job. The curious structure here is that SABC television is divided into business units. You've got Television News Productions which I'm part of, that's news and current affairs and religion is also part of it. Then you've got sport and entertainment, TV1, those type of units. Within TNP I'm on the management of TNP which is sort of middle management or major management as a group executive. That's top level management which is appointed by the Board whereas the group executive takes responsibility for the appointments here. My official title is Assistant Executive Editor of Current Affairs TV1, so that's the management part of it and then the actual other part of it is that I am Editor of Agenda as well. That's about the only current affairs programme we have on TV1 so I edit that as well, so it's a sort of a dual function.
PAT Are there plans to expand the current affairs programmes?
AA We've asked them because it's out of our hands. TNP is part of that business unit, now we have to make a case if we want more air time. We've made a proposal that Agenda be extended by at least fifteen minutes a day and more if they can give us. They are not prepared to give more but we think in the first couple of months of next year they probably will give us another five or ten minutes. If you want to have a balanced debate, first of all you've got over twenty organisations so it's impossible to get the whole lot but even if you get four or five that are fairly representative together in the studio to get them to debate over 24 minutes, it's ludicrous. You really cannot get a debate going in that time and especially if you want to put a little background package of even three or four minutes to explain what this is all about, by which time you're down to twenty minutes and that twenty minutes again, half way through you've got a commercial break so just when you're getting your teeth into something so the debates tend to get a little boring. Also what happens is that our politicians have become a little more civilised in the debating sense that the don't go around slanging each other or bad mouthing each other on the air and so it's much more civil now which makes for bad television. We quite often try to provoke them to get some life into them. It doesn't happen.
I don't know if you saw our programme on Sunday night which we thought was going to be a good provocative strong piece on the lifting of the Equity ban on South African programmes and so we had people from across the spectrum and we thought we'd be a little provocative and put also some questions. It was the most boring thing. We actually devoted the entire forty minutes on Sunday to that particular (it's the one time in the week where we have forty minutes which is supposed to be split equally between English and Afrikaans.) It was utterly boring because the panellists, even the interviewers were trying to be a little more lively and the panellists were absolutely dead so there was nothing you could do about that. We even had quite a provocative one last week about customary law where we had one of the traditional leaders who was talking against all these rights for women and we thought that here the women will be gunning for him and he also told us that he wanted to tackle these women because they are absolutely wrong, especially these women we would get on our panel, they are all middle class urban people who have never lived in the rural areas, who have never been part of a traditional society, who don't know what the hell is going on and he was going to tackle them on it, and nothing happened. There was just a very civil reaction, everybody very polite.
POM On Nightline, which is a public affairs programme in the States that took off, he usually restricts himself to two people so that he can set it up so that one goes after the other and then in the last five or ten minutes they split the screen and let them go at it. If you introduce a third person you can't get that dynamic of confrontation. It's good but you're moving around too much.
AA Ideally we'd like to do that but we don't just have the Democrats and Republicans. We've got twenty odd people and there's more than one side to every issue and that becomes a problem because we're trying then to balance and to be as fair to everybody as possible and we are restricted by the fact that we've only got two English programmes a week and most of the people who want to debate want to do so in English, but then we're also stuck with the two in Afrikaans. Quite often then we get an English speaker on Afrikaans so we actually try to get as many Afrikaans speakers as we can and then get an English speaker who can't speak anything else and then immediately the programme starts the telephone starts ringing, all from Afrikaners. They really get very angry that this is an Afrikaans programme, why are they speaking English? So this becomes a problem. As long as the Board's mandate is that you have to have alternate English and Afrikaans we are stuck with it. It's really stifling and I don't know we're going to get out of it.
PAT I remember Nahum Gorelich saying that the most controversy that he incurred, and there has been a lot of controversy in the NBC changes, was because the language there was officially English they decided to change the programme into English and the small Afrikaner community came down on him hard. They withdrew whatever advertising they had there and they changed back to do alternations.
POM OK. Thanks. Do you miss the paper? Do you get any hankering for it?
AA No I haven't had time really. I have been going there because there's a staff of two left so up to the last issue which was last week I've actually been going in there and doing an issue once a month, so three, four nights a week after work here I have been going there to help put it together. But no, there's no hankering after that. I lost my interest in The Indicator a long time ago. I think my heart wasn't in it.
PAT Is your wife still working there?
AA She was, she told the ANC this week that today is the last day and she's not going back and if that money disappears she's got absolutely nothing to do with it now. Everything happened too quickly for us, we've been through a nightmare over the last couple of months but we are moving this weekend now, I finally sold my house. We couldn't get a buyer for the house, the market has suddenly collapsed and people are just moving out from Lenasia, then I had this job and the Indicator thing wasn't coming right as well. But it's all working out now.
PAT Is the idea that it become the party newspaper?
AA No. What the ANC is doing is setting up a group of newspapers that it's going to help fund in terms of setting up, that is with Lonrho and I think they have been promised something like 60 million dollars from the States, and support groups and Lonrho connections so they are going to style a chain of papers that will be sympathetic to the ANC. New Nation will be one of those daily papers, a Sunday paper, the Indicator, there's one in the Eastern Cape, I think a couple of women's magazines, it's all going to be part of one group.