Mmusi Maimane: Ayisafani - the full story

It's not just the much talked about Ayisafani ad that was banned: actually, the SABC also pulled every single one of the DA's ads off all of its 11 public radio stations across the country. Add to this the other four signs of a democracy under threat, and we should all be very concerned indeed.

As you read this, the DA's Ayisafani ad campaign is probably still banned from the airwaves by the public broadcaster, the SABC.

We launched the _Ayisafani _campaign in Bekkersdal last week because we believe, as the slogan says, that the ANC has changed under Jacob Zuma.

In the commercial, I speak of Presidents Mandela and Mbeki, and about how I voted ANC in the past. I make the point that the ANC has changed under President Zuma and cite examples of corruption like Nkandla, and how service delivery protests are increasingly being met with live ammunition by the police.

The commercial concludes by saying that together we can change this, and allow an environment that creates jobs for all South Africans.

I said nothing in that commercial that I don't personally believe, and certainly nothing worthy of being banned from national television.

The fact is this election is an historic opportunity to vote for change that will bring jobs and cut corruption.

In Gauteng, more than anywhere else, this change is possible as polls tell us the election will be extremely close. More so the overwhelming response to the _Ayisafani _campaign was steadily sending the polls in the direction of change.

And that's exactly why the SABC pulled our ad campaign. Many people don't know this but the _Ayisafani _ad was not the only commercial the SABC banned. In fact, the SABC also pulled every single one of the DA's ads off all of its 11 public radio stations across the country.

Amongst the radio adverts taken off air was the DA's national offer to voters. Below is the full script. You decide if this is an ad that should be banned from free-thinking South Africans hearing it:

"It's clear that our country needs jobs. More jobs means less crime and a better life for everyone. The DA will carry out a plan that the South African Reserve Bank says will create six million real, permanent jobs.

"It starts by cutting corruption and improving education. Then it boosts support for small businesses and creates a million internships to expand work experience.

"I'm looking forward to voting for a party that will restart progress to a better life. Vote DA. Together for change, together for jobs."

At the time of writing, the _Ayisafani _TV commercial had generated over 150,000 views on YouTube.

But these views are absolutely nothing compared to the massive reach of SABC TV and radio. Radio stations like Ukhozi FM and Metro reach around six million listeners each. SABC 1 news reaches nine million people each day, with SABC 2 and 3 reaching about five million people each.

Advertising on the SABC is vital for a political party in an election campaign. Banning this advertising for no good reason is one of the most blatant attempts to undermine democracy since it began in 1994.

In banning the country's second largest political party from the airwaves the SABC offered four reasons in an official letter to us:

  • That we were inciting violence against the police (by stating the facts that people have been killed by police bullets while protesting for a better life)

  • That we can't publish "false" information that over R200 million was spent on Nkandla because this "had not been tested by a court of law" (even though its public knowledge that R246 million was spent on as stated by the Public Protector and confirmed as fair comment by the High Court in the ANC's Nkandla SMS case against us)

  • That advertising standards say you can't attack another product and this should apply to politics as will (meaning that in a democracy you can't critique your opponents according to the SABC)

  • That the SABC will not tolerate parties engaging their opponents on the airwaves (in contrast to the nightly news bulletins where any number of stories are run with the ANC attacking its opponents).

As our commercials remain banned from the vital airwaves of the SABC, the ANC continues to get massive coverage on the public broadcaster.

Watch any news bulletin, on any channel, on any night and I guarantee you will see the same thing. The news starts with at least two full stories on the ANC and its various affiliates campaigning.

This is followed by a shorter story where up to six opposition parties are lumped into one insert with no clear message or visuals accurately reflecting the campaigning. In between these stories are the ad breaks where copious amounts of "good story" government advertising is run.

This is the machinery all South Africans who believe in change are up against. It is a wonder that polls still show the ANC below 50% in Gauteng, perhaps as a testament to the resilience of the spirit of people in support of change.

The fact is developments at the public broadcaster don't just matter to one political party. They matter to all South Africans who care about a thriving democracy in this country.

I will never forget an international conference I attended in Berlin that spoke of the five signs of a democracy under threat:

  • The manipulation of elections (as we saw in Tlokwe by-elections recently);

  • The capturing of the public security sector (seen by Zuma loyalist appointments in the police, SIU and other crucial justice bodies);

  • The blurring of the line between party and state (as we see in the extensive use of government resources to campaign for the ANC);

  • The increasing size of government that centralises employment opportunities under the ruling party (as we see in the burgeoning size of government under Zuma);

  • And, of course, the capturing of the free media by political bosses, as we see in the _Ayisafani _case.

The regulatory body for public broadcasting, ICASA, will rule on whether the SABC was justified in pulling our political adverts from the airwaves.

I do believe in ICASA to make a finding in favour of truth, justice and democracy.

If not, it will be the courts that will decide if this election will be fought on equal grounds, or whether the outcome will be manipulated by a party dead set on power at all costs.

This column appeared on Daily Maverick.