Michael – Thursday
On Monday I saw a report in an online news site—African News Updates—that made me stop and think, but not initially. Basically, the article reported that a panel van had been stopped at a police road block and two men arrested. They had been transporting 80,000 ballot papers for the elections for mayor and counselors in Johannesburg already marked in favor of the ANC, the governing party in the city. Since the election was only on Wednesday, yesterday, and it was expected to be quite close, these fake votes could well have been significant. According to the report, the ANC denied any connection with the two men, and actually suggested that it was a plot by the opposition to try to discredit them.
Soon the article was spinning around Facebook to comments expressing disgust at this latest example of corruption and the government's underhand attempt to steal the election. I started to fulminate; I could feel a blog coming on. I actually started writing it.
|Jacques Steenkamp with |
Since the report was quite brief, I tried to get more details from other media. Surely this was big news? But there was nothing except a similar report from a site with the rather concerning address of gossipmillsa.com. That was a bit odd. But then I recalled a book event I’d been to at the weekend where I met Jacques Steenkamp, whose true crime discussion of a farm murder that wasn’t has sold 20,000 copies. But what struck me was that Jacques has been suspended from his job at the state broadcaster because he refused to follow a directive not to report on violent protests. And Forensic Psychologist Gerard Labuschagne told us how violent crime statistics were manipulated by lowering the level: a rape was investigated as a 'housebreaking,' murder became an 'inquest' (for suicide). So what else was the government suppressing? Reports on ballot box stuffing perhaps?
Then I took a closer look. The first thing that struck me as odd was that the police roadblock seemed to be taking place in the rain. Car lights were on, the road looks glossy. There hasn’t been anything but sun in Johannesburg for a week. Nevertheless, I know that the media often use stock pictures to illustrate an article. (In fact, it turns out that this picture was lifted from another South African news site.) For example, I once saw exactly the same picture of empty supermarket shelves in Bulawayo used by a big international network twice to illustrate Zimbabwe’s financial crisis on two occasions a couple of years apart.
So shrugging that off, I turned to the ballot paper itself. The first thing I wondered was why the police were willing to allow the reporter to photograph their evidence. Maybe money changed hands? But the ballot paper itself has a number of problems. For one thing, the current leader of the Democratic Alliance is not the person whose picture appears on the paper. For another, some of the parties listed aren’t even contesting this election. Another stock picture? Surely not.
On Tuesday the police announced that the article was a hoax. No such incident had occurred. I believe them, but not everyone does. Several people are now posting comments that the incident did occur and that the police are covering it up under instructions from the government. It's the wages of the government's interference in the public's right to know. I suspect this story will continue to grow and be talked about. African News Updates will get lots of hits; their advertisers will be pleased.
A cursory search of certain sites concerning Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton show all sorts of 'facts' and I’m sure many of them are completely false. However, the latest pronouncement from Trump is his concern that the election will be ‘stolen.’ How this is going to happen is unclear—maybe that van with the already filled in votes again—but he's taking his rhetoric to a new level. We are told 'there will be a blood bath' if the election is 'stolen.' Trump intends to become President one way or the other. If I wasn't concerned before, I would be now.