'Allo, 'allo, wot's going on 'ere then? More divisions within the ANC? First it was the Mbekites that got tossed. Now it seems Motlanthe is seen to be doing such a good job that the Zuma camp fears he may actually become more popular than their man. Such is the concern that the ANC wants the SABC to cease covering Motlanthe and focus instead on Zuma. Wtf?
And what's this "has ordered the SABC" thing? It's an independent broadcaster, ain't it..right? Just kidding.
The ANC has allegedly ordered the SABC to reduce its coverage of President Kgalema Motlanthe and to stop projecting him as being so presidential, to the disadvantage of the party's president, Jacob Zuma.
In a startling move that points to deep-seated divisions in the camp, the ANC has allegedly asked the country's biggest media organisation not to project Motlanthe as being more of a statesman than Zuma.
Two news executives and a few reporters told City Press that the ruling party was concerned about increasing calls for Motlanthe to be allowed to continue as the country's president, even after the elections next year.
"We were asked in October to reduce our coverage of Motlanthe and focus on putting out a better image of Zuma. We have tried to resist this, but there is only so much we can do," said one SABC source.
ANC getting raw deal ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe emphatically denied this on Saturday, saying the ANC was not in a position to tell the SABC which leaders to cover, because the party was getting a raw deal from the public broadcaster anyway.
"They do not cover us objectively, so we don't have the luxury of saying 'increase this or reduce that'," said Mantashe, adding that the ANC did not see any contest between Motlanthe and Zuma.
Motlanthe has courted controversy for a while, contradicting several ANC leaders - including national treasurer Mathews Phosa and South African Communist Party boss Blade Nzimande - publicly in what some say is an attempt to project himself as the sole voice of reason in a camp of hotheads.
Motlanthe has previously said that some attacks on the Constitutional Court from within the party were "out of ignorance".
The ANC Youth League said he was acting like a "paragon of correctness". The league also warned him not to act as if Zuma was no longer there.
Mantashe said the ANC had only asked the SABC to be objective. "All these issues you are raising are being raised everywhere, but not in the ANC. We do not think Motlanthe is over-covered.
"He is squeezed in like all of us," said Mantashe.
Zuma cautioned over Motlanthe
Analyst Professor Sue Booysen of Wits University said she was "not surprised at all" about the alleged intra-Zuma camp battles.
Booysen said she knew that when the ANC decided who should replace former president Thabo Mbeki, those closest to Zuma had cautioned against Motlanthe, saying he was too good and too strong a candidate and could be difficult to dislodge from office.
They preferred former National Assembly speaker and current Deputy President Baleka Mbete because she was thought to be "weak" and easy to remove.
Booysen said the Zuma/Motlanthe face-off made sense because it was becoming increasingly clear that for the ANC to disarm the Congress of the People (Cope) it needed someone who was the embodiment of the values Cope espoused.
"There can be no doubt that Motlanthe would do much better than Zuma. He stood up to the Youth League, he spoke in defence of the judiciary. "He is good," she said.
Zuma 'represented postively'
City Press asked the head of the Media Monitoring Project, William Bird, to analyse SABC TV's English news bulletins from last Saturday to Thursday to evaluate how Zuma and Motlanthe were featured.
In that period Bird found that Zuma could be "seen and heard speaking" for 239 seconds as opposed to Motlanthe's 61 seconds.
Bird said Motlanthe was featured only in items the SABC could not afford to ignore, such as the SADC summit that he hosted in Sandton, and other continental and global issues. Zuma, on the other hand, was "represented positively" on the campaign trail.
Where he talked about the new party, Zuma came across as being "too defensive", talking about pursuing snakes, said Bird. But overall, "Zuma is mostly shown speaking positively on a variety of issues, except where there is Julius Malema, because almost everything Malema says is negative.
"But Zuma gets a lot of chance to speak while Motlanthe speaks only briefly," Bird said.
SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said that he "spoke to all the people who matter" and could not find anyone who knew of an ANC instruction to cover Motlanthe less. An SABC source said the request to cover the head of state less came before Mbeki was "recalled".
Zuma portrayed as a pop star "
I think they thought we were committed to covering Mbeki as a person and were being factional. "The latest request came in October, at a meeting on the fourth floor of the TV centre.
"The concern is that we project Motlanthe in a statesman-like manner and Zuma (who likes to sing and dance) as a pop star. "They say where he is seen with Malema, the young man must be edited out - but Malema sits really very close to Zuma," he said.
On Saturday Kganyago said the SABC would defend its journalists against political attacks. Bheki Khumalo, an SABC board member responsible for news, last week said the board was aware that the SABC news team had come under severe pressure from various political organisations, some of which were being abusive to individual producers. This, he said, was expected to escalate with the elections approaching.