Mandela turns on hostile media

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The Independent Online
In the end, months of grass-roots rallies did not save him. Bantu Holomisa, a former ANC deputy minister, was yesterday expelled by his party after accusing senior members, including President Nelson Mandela and Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, of accepting favours and political donations from the casino magnate Sol Kerzner.

President Mandela headed the 70-strong committee which showed the door to Mr Holomisa, who topped party elections in 1994. Mr Holomisa's original sin was that in a testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), he mentioned that the public enterprises minister, Stella Sigcau, had received a 50,000 rand cut in a Kerzner bribe.

Ms Sigcau has never denied it. But the ANC was furious with Holomisa for breaking ranks. When he refused to apologise to Ms Sigcau, President Mandela dismissed him as a tourism minister, despite the TRC's complaints that this would undermined its credibility.

Mr Holomisa's allegations concerning ANC corruption grew, until he eventually claimed that President Mandela himself had discussed with him accepting a 2 million-rand party donation from Mr Kerzner in return for dropping bribery charges against him.

For many in the media, the Holomisa case is another sign that the ANC cannot handle dissent and that its president is more autocratic than his cuddly international image would suggest. This weekend President Mandela made the latest in a series of attacks on journalists. His target was senior black journalists, but a few weeks ago he accused the media of racism, over its legitimate pursuit of a minister who wasted 10 million rand of Aids funding on an educational play.

"The current trend is very worrying," said Khulu Sibiya, editor of City Press, yesterday. "The handling of recent political controversies and the hostility to the press do not augur well." Last week the President summoned him to ANC headquarters for a dressing down about an editorial which criticised the President's "unnecessary" interference in the controversial selection of a new chief justice.

"I have never seen him so furious," said Mr Sibiya, who has also criticised the ANC handling of Holomisa and the Aids scandal.Mr Sibiya says the ANC is ignoring the fact that most City Press's stories are positive towards the ANC.

The difficulty of meeting the public's unrealistic expectations may help explain President Mandela's hostility to the press and his intolerance towards those who break party ranks. At the weekend he warned black journalists who criticised the government for failing to improve social conditions while focussing too hard on racial reconciliation, that they failed to appreciate what had happened in the country. They were wrong to think that "whites were lying on their stomachs begging for mercy"; they still had to be prevented from running into the arms of the right wing.

The President warned there were still problems which could lead to a blood bath in South Africa if they were not handled with care.