8 March 1999
It is quite clear to us that over the past few days, some Opposition Parties have found a new hobby: this time to wage a campaign of utter vitriol against the Government Communication and Information System. The campaign borders on censorship: an attempt to dictate to government what it can and cannot say to the public. Perhaps this is understandable, because some of us have not as yet matured into the new democracy with free speech. And when they discover that their arguments cannot stand up to scrutiny, they then target individuals in the person of the CEO of GCIS.
Let me explain very clearly - and I hope those who are making fools of themselves on this issue are listening: This project is based on President Mandela's last state of the Nation Address to Parliament, as well as presentations by Ministers at the subsequent GCIS Parliamentary Briefing Week. During those briefings Ministers, which include leaders of the Inkatha Freedom Party, focused on the key indicators of performance in their portfolios. All information selected was based squarely on these presentations. If the Democratic Party, National Party, and those who have blindly joined them in this campaign, were members of the Government of National Unity, the reports of their Ministers would have been equally covered.
The key objective of this project is to communicate to as wide an audience as possible, government's work in the past four-and-half years to transform South African society. Government has a responsibility to keep citizens informed about its activities, and no one is going to tell us how to do this. The right to this information is guaranteed in the Constitution. GCIS is merely and quite professionally carrying out its mandate.
The project encompassed three elements - the newspaper inserts in about 44 national and regional newspapers, 15-minute radio sports packaged to 45 community and mainstream radio stations, and 5-million A5 leaflets containing a summarised version of President Mandela's last address to Parliament for mass distribution and translated into all official languages. These communication methods were selected to accommodate different literacy levels and language choices; and they are a marked improvement on efforts in the pre-GCIS period. The total projected cost of the project is R4,3-million; and it forms part of the budget of GCIS in carrying out its mandate.
This project has nothing to do with the on-coming elections and party political campaigns. There is no other time for the President to present his State of the Nation Address - nor for Ministers to elaborate on this - except in February when Parliament opens. And this is not the first time that government reports its progress to the nation. As such, sinister allegations of electioneering are quite out of kilter with reality. It has been a long-standing tradition for an information service, in all democracies, to publish copies of the annual speech made by the country's leader, or material based on it. During 1997, the South African Communication Service (SACS) published government's Mid-term Report. In 1998, 5-million copies of an updated Report to the Nation, including ministerial progress reports, were published.
Government welcomes comments from the Opposition, and indeed from citizens, about the content of these publications and programmes. This is part of national discourse in a democracy. If the Opposition feel that GCIS is not reflecting the truth, let them try to convince the public of this, and let them raise the concrete instances with Government. But they should not expect Government to communicate its perspectives from the point of view of parties opposed to Government. If they are not used to information that does not contain their negative campaign against this country's efforts, that is their problem. But GCIS is now finding its feet after its launch last May, and it will continue to communicate directly with the people - without mediation by the Opposition or their friends.
Let me state very clearly that the Deputy President has no intention at all of asking Mr Joel Netshitenzhe to resign. The CEO of GCIS was employed through proper procedures to do work; and he is obliged and committed to do it. Both the procedures of his appointment, and the manner in which he is fulfilling his responsibilities, accord with the Public Service Act and relevant regulations.
In so far as the coming formal election period is concerned, where IBA and IEC regulations will apply, that is a matter on which the GCIS awaits guidance. And when such a time comes, GCIS will observe any such regulations to the letter. But in so far as the current period is concerned, Government will not allow itself to be censored by anyone. The material has been placed before the nation - and let the people be the judge.
Deputy Minister in the Office of the Presidency, Dr Essop Pahad
Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)