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Soldiers deployed to the SABC to ’be on the lookout for the enemy’

A senior source in the SABC’s newsroom told The Star that soldiers were deployed to the SABC over the weekend to ’be on the lookout for the enemy’. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/African News Agency (ANA)

A senior source in the SABC’s newsroom told The Star that soldiers were deployed to the SABC over the weekend to ’be on the lookout for the enemy’. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 10, 2021

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Johannesburg - The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was deployed to the SABC over the weekend to “be on the lookout for the enemy”, a senior source in the SABC’s newsroom told The Star.

The source revealed that the military officers used the code name “The Octopus” to describe the reason for the strong presence inside the Auckland Park and Durban offices.

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According to the source, some in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s faction were not happy with the reporting of the public broadcaster and sought to better control the political narrative, and there was a fear that former president Jacob Zuma’s allies, linked to the SABC’s former chief executive Hlaudi Motsoeneng, would begin protests inside the SABC.

“This has nothing to do with security. We are being censored and editorially managed by soldiers. They are fearful of a revolt inside, since they are cutting jobs,” the source said.

The SANDF also confirmed on Monday that it had deployed soldiers in both residential homes of Ramaphosa.

On top of the luxurious presidential protective benefits enjoyed by Ramaphosa and his family, additional protection has been made available by the SANDF which deployed soldiers to guard his Hydepark and Cape Town homes.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said Ramaphosa seemed to be losing control of the ANC and was using other means to bring sanity to his own party. Mathekga said the media should be ashamed of not asking critical questions, such as what it means for state security to be handled in the president’s office. He said the deployment of soldiers, on such a large scale, was also unjustifiable.

“He can’t control the ANC and he is now resorting to a different system in government. The insurrection they speak about is ill-discipline, greed and theft within the ANC. I have been to countries that have had this thing (go to West Africa), it’s not right,” he said.

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The Star has learnt that, on the evening of Friday, August 6, a clandestine meeting between the “president's men” and a senior member of the editorial staff was convened, after which a military presence was seen. The military was first deployed to the SABC some weeks ago, following what Ramaphosa described as an attempted insurrection.

While there have been complaints from freedom of expression groups and other movements about the soldiers being seen inside the SABC, it is still unclear whether the large introduction of the army, and the swallowing of the State Security Agency into the president’s office, is linked to the political issues within the ANC.

The programme co-ordinator at Right2Know, Thami Nkosi, said employees at the SABC were intimidated by the deployment of the military at the SABC headquarters in Auckland Park. Nkosi said this deployment raised more questions than answers.

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“Some of the journalists are saying it’s intimidating – there was no forewarning to staffers to say the army will be here and for what reason. What is this about? Is there something that we are not told? Is there a threat at the SABC?”.

Nkosi said the deployment of soldiers was the first in democratic South Africa. He said the army’s role was understood to be warfare and not to be patrolling the public broadcaster.

“Having them at the SABC offices makes it scary for the workers there. The major question is, what is the purpose? We understand that it is a national key point, yes, but there must be a reason. This has never been seen before.”

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Nkosi said he was further concerned about a clause that had been added to the contracts of SABC employees, basically giving the SABC the right to spy on workers, especially through gadgets owned by the state-owned company.

“There was this clause added and, immediately after that, there was the army. This raises questions about what we are not being told. The SABC does not have the resources to tap into phones, so I’m sure that they’ll be using state security. Now there’s state security and the national defence force,” said Nkosi.

In a statement, the SABC said it was necessary for the broadcaster to be protected in light of the recent unrest in the country and “attacks” on SABC staff.

The broadcaster said the military was not involved, in any form, in the functions of the SABC.

“The SABC dismisses, with the necessary contempt, the misleading and malicious notion that there is an ulterior motive for the presence of the members of the SANDF (on) its premises.

Defence spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said that the SANDF deployment would last until October.

Responding to questions from The Star’s sister paper, the Pretoria News, Presidency spokesperson Tyrone Seale said: “This is an operational matter and only the SANDF may comment about it.”

The Star

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