By Pinky Khoabane
LANGUAGE is an incredibly powerful tool that can be used for good and evil, to denigrate and praise. It can be used to manage our thinking. And this is clearly demonstrated in the way that commercial media report on issues. In his well known book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, published in 1988 and co-authored with Edward Herman, Noam Chomsky argues that the media “serve, and propagandise on behalf of, the powerful societal interests that control and finance them”. What is represented as state capture for those the media deem as rogue elements is lobbying for their masters and the powerful who own or who prop-up media institutions through advertising. Corruption by the rich white monopoly capitalists is collusion or price fixing while similar acts by those deemed as operating outside the “establishment” is just plain corruption?
It is therefore not a coincidence that former Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Tony Leon’s communications company which has netted a cool R658 000 contract from the DA-run City of Cape Town has not made major headlines or being met by the usual public outcries reserved for “thieves”. Leon, together with Nick Clelland, a former director of strategic communications for the Western Cape government, are partners in the firm that is providing crisis communications service to the City of Capetown for the drought. The City said Resolve Communications was sub-contracted to offer the service from November last year until February. And so this puts it at around R220,000 per month.
Frankly, theirs is to cover-up the ineptitude of former mayor of Capetown and now Premier of Western Cape Helen Zille, who knew of the infrastructural problems and was warned long ago that there was a water crisis looming. The spin has gone into overdrive and it has very little to do with “changing behaviour” in times of water shortages. It is about who to blame. The Cape Town water crisis was for a long time blamed on the ANC, the Department of Water and Sanitation at national level and is now blamed on the current mayor, De Lille.
If the buzzwords conflict of interest that we’ve heard so much about are ringing in your head, quickly abandon them because there is no such thing in this case. This is Leon, former DA leader and former employee of the Western Cape Clelland, simply doing honest business. And anyway, the tender wasn’t directly given to their company, “they are just sub-contractors” according to an explanation given by the City Of Cape Town.
Imagine the uproar if say, a former ANC president and a former government spokesperson were to form a company and offer their services to to a government department! The DA with commercial media in tow, would have that tender and the major service provider turned upside-down.
We would know everything about those involved: their relationships even if they pre-dated the tender; their social meetings; and speculation that they may have been speaking about the tender even if “there no proof”, would run rife.
Among the services Leon’s company offers are lobbying and advocacy, reputation management and strategic management. Their website reads: “WE INFLUENCE GOVERNMENT POLICY, AT ALL LEVELS, TO ALIGN WITH YOUR BUSINESS NEEDS,” “WE CHANGE PEOPLE’S MINDS ABOUT YOU”.
WE TAKE YOUR ISSUE TO THE HEART OF THE PUBLIC DEBATE. WE ARE AT YOUR SIDE THROUGHOUT THE MEDIA STORM”. In simple terms this company captures the state through influencing policies and laws and the way the public thinks about what they have done for their clients.
Gloating about their successes, they mention a client “a major player in their industry – faced an uncertain future with the introduction of new legislation the effect of which would have completely destroyed their future business prospects.” They intervened through among others, media statements, training industry association members for parliamentary submissions, “leveraged an independent report citing the massive potential economic benefits of the industry to South Africa with a prominent headline story with a major business newspaper and, thereafter, other selected South African financial media”. They “advised and counselled the client on the tactics and thereafter the process of negotiation with the Government to re-draft the relevant regulations. Ultimately assisted our client to re-negotiate the legislation to their satisfaction”.
If this is NOT State Capture, I dont know what is!