Picture: Reuters – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. In democratic South Africa, propaganda has cast itself as the good cop, who has tried to persuade truth to side with it. But truth can never be an equal partner to highly sponsored and subsidised propaganda, the writer says.
By Kim Heller
In apartheid South Africa, truth was routinely beaten up until it no longer dared to lift itself up again. It was disfigured so badly that eventually its voice was no longer recognisable.
Truth under apartheid was a regularly targeted victim, routinely left for dead in the sullied alleys of the day, jailed and tortured by the bad cop until there was nothing left to speak.
In democratic South Africa, propaganda has cast itself as the good cop, who has tried to persuade truth to side with it. But truth can never be an equal partner to highly sponsored and subsidised propaganda. The prolific and prophetic writer, George Orwell wrote how the government and its various tentacles of power “fix frames of reference and agendas” in order to exclude “inconvenient facts from public inspection”.
For regimes across the ages, especially those whose failures can no longer be hidden under the covers, propaganda serves as the real armed wing of government; a spray gun that wipes out crops of intellectual challenge; a poisoned arrow that bows out truth. In the end, a national unconsciousness of obedience and compliance prevails.
Orwell writes how the destruction of intellectual liberty “cripples the journalist, the sociological writer, the historian, the novelist, the critic, and the poet”. It also cripples democracy. Orwell wrote in the 1940s “In England such concepts as justice, liberty and objective truth are still believed in. They may be illusions, but they are very powerful illusions”. Justice, liberty, and objective truths are as much a mirage in current day South as they were in the England of 1940.
Both real life politics and imaginary illusions are often built on papier mâché thin propaganda. History shows us that it is during epochs of grand-scale leadership impotency and ideological malfunction that truth wilts and propaganda flourishes. It should then come as no surprise that the idea barren New Dawn of Cyril Ramaphosa is heavily invested in the paper and glue of propaganda, and the Tippex of truth.
In the New Dawn, truth must be kept hidden, or under cover, for its naked form would expose and embarrass the President, his masterful investors, and an invested media. That the CR17 bank statements remain hidden four years into Ramaphosa’s reign is a silence that speaks volumes. That the very same President hid the Phala Phala affair for two years and has yet to answer questions on this matter, after it was disclosed not by him but by another, is clear and undeniable evidence of an ungodly forsake of truthfulness.
The uncharacteristic silence on the Phala Phala matter from an attention seeking President who routinely hankers after the media spotlight is extremely revealing. Truth be told, silence is not only Ramaphosa’s best defence, but it is his only defence. For the inconvenient truth that the media is trying to shy away from is that Ramaphosa has without doubt violated the Constitution, and in addition, may well be guilty of a criminal act.
His only option is to suspend the truth until it’s outing will be less damaging for him. But as Buddha wisdom goes, “three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”
Propaganda pierces through and penetrates our national consciousness, through what American author and academic, Noam Chomsky refers to as ‘Manufactured Consent’. But many of us can and do suffer the effects of propaganda without even knowing that we are under the very force of its seduction. In Chomsky’s words, “People not only don’t know what’s happening to them, they don’t even know that they don’t know.”
What is encouraging is that media, often presented as a sacred preacher of truth, is increasingly being unmasked as a prophet of deception as it so callously and unashamedly parades lies as truth, and allegations as facts.
The latest Global Disinformation Index revealed that 4 in 10 South Africans do not trust the media and that 7 in 10 admitted to be unable to distinguish between accurate news and fake news. With every new Dawn, the illusion of Ramaphosa as an upright and honest leader is fading fast as the collateral damage of his four wasted years mounts up daily, and as the ever-ready lies, tries and alibis around Phala Phala are proving to be increasingly unconvincing and far-fetched.
Earlier this month, former US President Barack Obama, delivered a keynote address at Stanford University about how information is created and consumed, and he spoke about the threat that disinformation poses to democracy. Barack Obama said, “Do we allow our democracy to wither, or do we make it better?” In the famous novel, 1984, Orwell writes of how we “reject the evidence of our eyes and our eyes”.
The evidence before us is that Ramaphosa is no man of truth. For now, in South Africa, in the silence of stories untold, and in the loud hailer of the master’s voice, propaganda is omnipresent and omnipotent in our everyday. Slowly and surely, the truth in our democratic South Africa is wilting and with it our democracy. A great cost to pay indeed to uphold and protect a president who was never upright. In the playbook of the Phala Phala propaganda, truth is very dead indeed.
Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa.’