“Fake news” is a term frequently used by newly-elected US President Donald Trump, who recently employed it to bully and belittle a reporter from CNN, one of the world’s most respected and successful news outlets. The term broadly refers to the recent surge in the shadowy use of false news websites and social media accounts in an attempt to control or influence public sentiment. This is nothing new to South Africa.
In the mid-1970’s the Apartheid government was starting to feel the pressure from an increasingly critical media. The state-controlled news was being crowded out by critical voices in the independent press. Their solution? Create their own “fake news” by bribing news agencies, buying international newspapers and using government money to establish The Citizen – an English-language daily that would print pro-National Party news.
The “Information Scandal” was traced all the way to the top – to then Prime Minister BJ Vorster, to Information Minister Connie Mulder and to the Secretary of the Department of Information, Eschel Rhoodie. Once exposed, Vorster was forced to resign in disgrace.
This week it was revealed that the ANC ran its own fake news propaganda machine in the 2016 local government election, complete with “fake news” website, false opposition party posters and “paid Twitter”.
To be clear, this wasn’t just an election strategy gone wrong. To say that it was merely a poorly thought-through PR campaign would be downplaying the severity of what the ANC has done. And to deny, in the face of mounting evidence, that this campaign carried both the knowledge and the blessing of the ANC (as both Zizi Kodwa and Gwede Mantashe have been scrambling to do) would simply be more of the same lies.