A taste of the Gupta’s New Age of churnalism was a sure sign that we’ve long been in a state of capture, writes Madala Thepa.
The number of enemies has swelled perceptibly in the Gupta saga. But they are not enough. And they could be angrier. We need a horde of the crazies all in concert, hundred flowers of “state capturists” blooming – trolling, pure and simple.
One brick of a powder keg of confession at a time, full of cant and the whole Gupta-sweatshop dynasty would be in flames. We need all the sob stories even from those dressed up in Mao togs. Just maybe then the ANC will understand that the mere confessions of a Themba Maseko, Mcebisi Jonas or Vytjie Mentor are not just one scintilla of proof that the state is captured but that we are in decline.
The cancer is deep and wide. What is the ANC investigating? Because from the mouths of Maseko, Jonas and others, it appears President Jacob Zuma has been captured.
The president cannot be allowed to revel in his cluelessness. There is scarcely a heap of salt pork for the entire nation to be hoarded by one family. And we can’t make comparisons now and say whites captured the state or continue to capture the state and thereforeâ€¦
Let’s call a thing a thing. The state is captured. It’s in a Gupta trance.
The New Age newspaper is a sweatshop and, by association, ANN7 and their Sahara computer company, which is a stumble away from the main money-machine. You won’t have a social life working there. No guilty pleasures every so often.
Like Sisyphus, you will roll the Gupta boulder up the hill for all eternity.
I came into contact with the strange comic world of the Guptas in 2011.
It was after the great exodus of reporters and editors who fled in December 2010 afraid to see the new year with the pranksters at the helm.
Some stayed on, because frankly they were not employable anywhere in the ponds of journalism. Others were in their retirement zone and unable to keep up with the speed of light at The New Age.
Stonecutters, who wrote long, ruminating pieces, fled the scene because they could not keep up with maddening working hours, copy- churning expectations and shabby working conditions.
An editor friend recruited me and spoke beautifully about The New Age. We thought we had our genesis. We thought we were at the precipice of a new age, journalistically speaking.
The space was tempting for some of us who are long-winded trolls. The tabloid sheet we came from was crushing nuts and squeezing out arts pages in favour of the fluff of the celebrity cult.
The paper bosses were not only frugal and sitting on every cent; somehow they magically knew what readers wanted. They began to dream for media managers and journalists – and things started to go awry.
So The New Age represented a new beginning.
But strange things began to unravel in Midrand. We were never prepared for the forthcoming degeneration. People who should have been outside plumbing were either giving instructions on editorial matters or spying on reporters. General workers, such as cleaners, drivers, bodyguards and gardeners, did not only guard and spruce up the building but were starry-eyed spies wiring Intel to the bosses.
On the fringe were the infantile snots picked-up from the deep of Asian boulders, connected salary-wise and hooked up to some home and given powers to generally walk around the newsroom prying.
We were no longer doing journalism. Someone was playing a game. It was not clear what game it was until the day junior Zuma (Duduzane) was introduced to the great beards and rookies that produced the paper. Shy and unprepared for this spectacle, he never said a word except to wince because the whole intro thing was toe-twirling.
The man introducing him knew nothing about journalism and junior too was in the deep and they wanted to talk about journalism. It was scary and laughable.
Systems were clogged with red tape. Pool cars were monitored, and getting the pool car for a mere press conference was a painful process. As a result, reporters reported late on assignments.
I think the spy thing failed because soon cameras populated the newsroom and the entire building. It looked like a casino by the time the place was stuffed with security paraphernalia. They reconfigured the whole thing and included a recognition system that could scan your eyes and fingerprints. So there was the clocking in and clocking out – the way retrogressive factories do it. We also started to create news and produce copy out of the pastiche of other news agencies.
The expectation was to churn out copy at the speed of light. They wanted keyboard mashers. Crazy targets were set and the only way you could meet them was basically trawling the internet and doing it the easy way – copy and paste.
There was a tag to use in that case – a number as a code instead of a byline, which was linked to the payroll. We reproduced faster. It was deadly and I think one zealous copy sub charged reporters with plagiarism, having no clue that the money-machine was in orbit.
The newsroom had become a snake pit. We were told once by cleaners that listening devices were installed inside and outside to capture the harsh criticism bound to gush from the mouths of workers against management.
Smoke and lunch breaks were monitored. Labour issues were flouted. We had no pension. You were as good as your last cheque. The payslip was a piece of paper whose print was illegible. And you were treated like a common criminal tendering that piece of paper to creditors.
At some point there was an attempt to form a union. I think that too floundered because the frumpy old gits who made up a good part of the newsroom were afraid to lose a pay cheque for obvious reasons.
So the spin merchants cannot tell me otherwise. When the people speak of state capture, they are not talking from a bubble.
They have had this in the system for a long time, afraid to say, the same way the journos and editors who left the paper are afraid to talk.
There are legions of people who left the employ of The New Age and I will reserve the embarrassment of mentioning them here. They know too well that what is practised in Midrand is not journalism but ad placement – a business transaction that is vying for contracts and resources.
They are just keeping the corporate bees buzzing. And what is remarkable about the Guptas is that they don’t use subservience openly.
Ever profuse in apologies, showing some pang of conscience, yet they play badly in the work environment.
If the ANC wants to investigate their practice in the workplace they should start with journalists and general workers.
The stories would be reason enough to initiate a commission of inquiry.
Some time ago I did try them again. Another editor friend was there. He thought we could do beautiful things together. Later I heard he had quit.
The free-range organic malpractice hadn’t stopped.
And so beloved, the curatorial practice of the Guptas on the state is deeper than we think.
Zuma has been straining to appease this family. RW Johnson seems to suggest knowing the prognosis of such foibles in his book, How Long Will South Africa Survive?
He suggests that “Zulus were always handicapped in that way”.
If we are to believe him, then Zuma is no exception.