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Embarrasing reports: President Jacob Zuma dances with his fifth bride (Getty Images) 

South Africa is a country decidedly pas comme les autres. The current girls' netball championship, for example, has strict rules about racial quotas for the teams. Games are won by one side but points are deducted for racial quota deficiencies and the game is then awarded to the other side. One of the teams, representing the southern part of North West province, bears the name North West South. Or take the case of the African National Congress guerrilla Robert McBride, who placed a bomb in a bar, killing and maiming a number of people. Pardoned and then amnestied by the ANC government, he was then made a police commissioner. One newspaper suggested it was anomalous to make a murderer a senior policeman. McBride sued for defamation and the Supreme Court of Appeal, no less, found in McBride's favour, arguing that his amnesty had effectively reversed the historical fact that he was a murderer, even though no one disputes that he killed those people. McBride has meanwhile lost his job for repeated drunk driving.

Telling the unvarnished truth about a society like this is a risky business, for the post-revolutionary landscape is inhabited not just by political ideologues but by ideological entrepreneurs, scavengers and rent-seekers, all determined to impose their own hegemonic truth. And South Africa is a society in which becoming a Trotskyist can be a shrewd career move. For years, such people have written to publications I write for, demanding that I not be published and that someone more "progressive" (such as themselves) be asked to write instead. Recently, they targeted a blog I wrote for the London Review of Books, arguing that I was guilty of what might — at a considerable stretch — be called juxtapositional racism. This time they managed to round up a considerable number of doubtless unsuspecting allies on the British rent-a-crowd Left to sign up with them. I have never bothered to defend myself against such nonsense, for that would be to take it too seriously. But note that whereas in the old days when you disagreed with someone you wrote and said why, the demand now is that you not be allowed a voice at all, a form of fatwa.

Which brings one to the vexed question of press freedom in South Africa. The ANC has never understood a free press. In exile, its publications were all examples of "I-speak-your-weight" Marxism-Leninism with no room for any plurality or difference of opinion. Ever since the ANC came to power in 1994 it has sought to establish an uncritical "consensus" with the press, trying to reduce it to a tame toeing of the party line, a tactic which had largely succeeded with the churches. The press was scared of the former President Thabo Mbeki and deferential to him but he in turn knew that a formal gagging of the press would cost him dearly in the international gallery of opinion. Such worries have now been cast aside by President Jacob Zuma's henchmen, who are less sophisticated and more parochial.

The Zuma-ites started by rushing through a bill allowing a parliamentary 
majority (themselves) to appoint and dismiss the board of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which accounts for 40 per cent of the radio audience and 70 per cent of the TV audience. A further broadcasting bill now under discussion allows the government to control SABC finances and issue directives to its board. Meanwhile, the SABC has been instructed to carry no more interviews with Mbeki since these "undermine" the Zuma government. ANC control of the SABC has been absolute for years but it is now a matter of ensuring that the right ANC faction has control.

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