Reports surrounding the African National Congress’ (ANC) 2016 municipal elections communications campaign is manufactured controversy at best.
Six months since the poll which saw the ANC attain 54% of the national vote (the majority) the never-ending stream of dubious content passing as news shows no signs of slowing down – as its proponents desperately try to drive their narrative of a party in hopeless and irreversible decline.
Just like the notorious ‘sources close to the ANC’ exposes upon which some of our political journalists have built their reputations, this is yet another example of the failure of journalistic rigor and ethics.
What is now being called the “Black Ops” saga is yet another attempt to discredit an organization that has won the popular vote nationally since democracy in 1994.
To paraphrase Warren Johnson’s famous maxim: truth is the first casualty of journalism.
It is an unfortunate indication of the depths to which some have sunk that the amateurish brainstorming of junior PR executives contracted to some company headed by some individual has been elevated to the level of “ANC strategy.”
A strategy, coincidentally, that was clearly spelled out in our 2016 Local Government Elections Manifesto – telling the story of delivery over the past 23 years and placing before the electorate our vision to advance the NDR and transform society.
Furthermore, a request for proposals to run the ANC’s communications campaign was issued to a number of agencies, which further spelled out our communications requirements ahead of the election. The ANC subsequently appointed global agency Ogilvy to run the campaign, working together with organization’s Department of Information and Publicity (DIP).
Regrettably, an employee of the ANC has been implicated and the ANC is conducting an internal investigation into his involvement. No evidence however has been forthcoming to prove that apparently whiteboard-level brainstorming by a communications agency formed part of any ANC strategy around the 2016 poll, or any other strategy for that matter.
This has not stopped the traditional and social media commentariat from delivering scathing indictments that the ANC was running a ‘black ops’ campaign.
This kind of language conjures up images of high espionage, clandestine activities and plots in dark corners, and torture chambers. It is a desperate headline in pursuit of an even more desperate narrative: luckily the citizenry won’t be duped.
The ANC has no need to resort to desperate and surreptitious tactics or play mind games with the electorate – unlike others, we have a far higher regard for the intelligence of this country’s citizens; and don’t assume their electoral preferences may be swayed by fake posters and favorable tweets.
We can pride ourselves on having run a positive, transparent and clean campaign that did not any point resort to the negative campaigning.
This is the trademark of other opposition parties who tend to locate their entire message in relation to those of the ANC, sometimes even resorting to the desperate measure of appropriating ANC figures like Nelson Mandela to whitewash their own dubious campaign messaging.
In spite of the constant baiting and in some cases outright lies being peddled by some opposition parties, our campaign was run in full compliance with the country’s electoral laws. It has become important to reiterate this in the face of the desperate attempts of the DA to run to the courts: again if there is evidence that the ANC broke any electoral laws, we would welcome seeing it.
Although the overwhelming majority of allegations made in this ‘black ops’ story are problematic, some are more than others.
Not least of all because they betray an astonishingly naïve view of the way in which political campaigns are run in the 21st century.
The very notion of “Paid Twitter” is laughable- if one considers that promoted tweets are an integral tool of modern public relations and have been so since Twitter first launched. Engaging social media ‘influencers’ to drive certain messages is also nothing new. This is a common facet of digital marketing and has been so for over a decade.
There isn’t a modern political party in the world that does not use web content (some of it paid for) and broadcasting platforms to drive political messaging and the ANC is no different. During the election campaign we utilized our own website and social media channels to great effect to engage with voters; this has never been done covertly or in an attempt to psychologically manipulate citizens.
The sub-text of this unfortunate ‘black ops’ fiction is the suggestion that the manner in which supporters of the ANC assist in driving the organization’s message in the media space should somehow be proscribed.
Just as it is the Constitutionally guaranteed right of every South African to support and vote for the political party of their choosing – so is it the prerogative of every individual of this country to show their support for the ANC, and to nail their colors to the mast in the media space.
It would be unfair however to expect the ANC to take responsibility for an ‘strategy’ the ANC never sanctioned at any point.
Luckily the millions of South Africans who continue to vote for the ANC and see it as their only political home won’t buy into the spin. They know our service delivery track record, and they know we and only we continue to espouse the ideals upon which our movement was founded.
The ‘black ops’ story is a convenient fiction. Worryingly, its entire basis is court papers filed by a disgruntled litigant with an agenda. There is no ‘smoking gun’. There is no contract to speak of.
These should all be red flags for journalists. It is questionable whether the alleged court action itself would be able to withstand legal scrutiny.
This attempt at an ‘expose’ is a story cobbled together with emails and WhatsApp messages. It is littered with contradictions, conjecture and hyperbole. It is a storm in a Twitter cup.
CDE. KHUSELA SANGONI IS THE NATIONAL COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER OF THE ANC