‘This is censorship pure and simple.’ So spoke Mmusi Maimane, the national spokesman for the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition to the ANC, on hearing their election video had been pulled by the South African Broadcast Corporation (SABC).
In the dramatic party political broadcast, the young and charismatic Maimane, who is also premier candidate for the Johannesburg City Council, looks into the mirror. His reflection talks back. He praises the leaders of South Africa’s past. But when he comes to talk about the present political climate, he pulls no punches:
‘But since 2008 we’ve seen President Jacob Zuma’s ANC. An ANC that is corrupt. An ANC for the connected few. An ANC that is taking us backwards. An ANC where more than 1.4 million people have lost jobs.’
The video then cuts away to show photo stills of Zuma and the ANC toasting themselves, armed policemen beating citizens, and rows and rows of placards calling for employment.
This was deemed too controversial by the South African Broadcast Corporation. In mid-April, the acting group CEO Tian Olivier informed the party that they would no longer be able to broadcast the advert on radio and television. The reasons outlined in his letter were flimsy. Not only did the Electoral Code of Conduct include a clause prohibiting the publication of false information about other candidates or parties, but, according to Olivier:
‘The Icasa regulation on political advertising states clearly that there may not be incitement to violence.’
‘It is our view that the reference in your television advertisement to police killing our people is cause for incitement against the police services.’
Some have speculated SABC had folded under pressure from the ANC. But as mainstream media has been increasingly sidelined, the withdrawal of the DA’s party political broadcast has actually had the opposite effect.
There have been concerted efforts by disgruntled voters to make the video go viral. Mainmane himself has over 30,000 followers on Twitter. As the elections in South Africa draw ever closer, social media becomes increasingly important for the politicisation of voters – and especially the young.