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Manufacturing Consent – and Stupidity

The political scene throws up interesting and unexpected trains of association. Take for instance the article in Politicsweb on 6 May: ‘How the media and white capital “manufactures consent”’ by Dinga Nkhwashu of the ANC.

Ignoring the grammatical error in the headlines my ears pricked up. The media can and often does “manufacture” consent through ideology, ignorance, conformity, laziness, or for personal gain or through  unexamined and unacknowledged prejudice. But “white capital”? That smacked of conspiracy theory and Marxist sloganeering. Nevertheless, Mr Nkhwashu promised us concrete examples so perhaps here was something worth looking at.

The nicest thing one can say about what followed is that it was a parody written by an anti-ANC or anti-black bigot. But, of course, that is not true. It is the authentic production of Mr Nkhwashu who clearly intended it as a devastating expose of an unholy alliance between “media and white capital” to denigrate and oppress the black majority. Not one of the six “examples” provided by the author contained a single shred of verifiable evidence.  Not a single “fact” emerged, just a series of assertions, accusations and the personal opinions of Mr Nkhwashu. It did not seem to occur to him that such opinions need to be backed by empirical evidence or argument if they are to be taken seriously.

It’s worth reproducing his section on Ann Bernstein in full as a representative example. Under the heading “Black Unemployed Graduates are virtually not there” he writes “Recently Ann Bernstein, through her institution, Centre for Development and Enterprise published some imaginary research results in terms of which it is argued that it is entirely false that black graduates are shunned by industry and does not get employment.

 Those with analytical mind would understand this kind of research as a pre-emptive and strategic strike against any possible argument or notion by government and black graduates that may seek to confront traditional white firms for failing to hire black graduates, owing to the high unemployment rate in the country. The reality on the ground is however different from Ann Bernstein’s research and everyone, including the media that has been trumpeting this research, knows it.”


Nowhere is the actual research mentioned or even referenced for the reader to check for himself. The entire paragraph is simply a vehicle for Nkhwashu’s wholly unsupported and unexamined assertions; and so it goes for the rest of the article. It would be pitiful and laughable except for the fact that in some sense Mr Nkhwashu is acting as a spokesman for the ruling political party; the party on which the future of South Africa depends. Could this really represent the level of insight and thought prevalent in the ANC and its alliance partners? Being charitable we can believe there must be individuals who would regard Nkhwashu’s idiotic ramblings with acute embarrassment. But also being realistic, we also must admit they are probably a minority, a small minority and that the level of thought displayed in the article is fairly representative of the ANC and its partners.

It worth broadening the field of enquiry a bit. Just recently there has been a minor flurry of media activity around an open letter (see Cape Argus today, 8 May)) written by that “anti-Apartheid icon” Ahmed Kathrada to Morgan Freeman questioning the star’s acceptance of an award by the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, honouring him for his contributions to combating racism and advancing knowledge and education.

It is really not my intention in this letter to emphasize the absurdity of Kathrada’s actions as Israel’s neighbours slip into murderous civil violence with hardcore Islamist and radical Jihadist terror movements at the centre of the mix. He is the prisoner of his past, his vanity and BDS activists desperately trying to rescue the tattered remnants of their anti-Israel project. More important is the fact that this pitiful and misguided nonsense gets frontpage treatment in the Cape Argus with words like “Apartheid State” and “Martial law” highlighted in red in the headline and accompanying image.

Now this is indeed “manufacturing consent”, willingly entered into by a respectable Cape Town newspaper with a long history in the community. But consent to what?

The most superficial answer is consent to the demonisation of the only Jewish state in the world and also the only democratic and successful state in the Middle East; a model for developing societies  everywhere. But it is also consent to the continued degradation of political debate in this country to the level of infantile sloganeering and mass delusion. Such stupidity serves only opportunists and exploiters and will be the downfall of South Africa.  This country desperately requires honest, intelligent and reality-based debate. We desperately need values grounded in reality and not ideology and moral grandstanding. We cannot begin to get to grips with the multitude of challenges which confront us while mired in infantile and unrealistic modes of thought.

The idiocies of Nkhwashu are echoed in the idiocies of ANC-linked NGOs like the BDS project and others; and these idiocies are lent respectability and exposure by segments of our media. While the letter from Kathrada, for instance, deserved publication for its news value – slight though it is – the wholly disproportionate exposure provided by the Cape Argus is a testament to the degraded role being played by that newspaper in the public debate. It will do no harm whatsoever to Israel, but will indeed undermine the effort to build a skilled, functional, context-based and value-driven society in South Africa. Unless we can shift the emphasis and standard of our public debate the future of this country will be grim.

Mike Berger


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