Getting Pule Mabe to respond is like squeezing a stone for waterDecember 22, 2022
There was a time in the history of the ANC when the job of national spokesperson was only reserved for political heavyweights – Tom Sebina, Pallo Jordan, Gill Marcus, Saki Macozoma, Ronnie Mamoepa, Jessie Duarte and Jackson Mthembu.
Despite the ANC being banned during apartheid, Sebina – the only voice from exile in Lusaka, Zambia – became a crucial link between the organisation and the media.
To South Africans, the muzzling of the ANC did not stop the smuggling of banned literature and listening to an evening Radio Freedom broadcast, which featured Oliver Tambo, Thabo Mbeki, Moses Mabhida and other leaders – all at a risk of being arrested and charged for furthering the aims of “a terrorist organisation”.
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Seeking information and answers on issues has become a matter of public interest. The role of the Fourth Estate in asking the right questions to key players and getting those answers from party spokespersons, is crucial.
Before the start of the ANC’s watershed national conference in Nasrec, we tried to get information from Luthuli House on very basic logistical questions: transportation of delegates, numbers, catering arrangements, accommodation and security.
While staff at the department of information and publicity (DIP) at ANC Luthuli House headquarters, had all the answers to our questions, they were unable to help, because they were “not mandated” to furnish these details.
Countless attempts to get ANC national spokesperson Pule Mabe to respond was like squeezing a stone for water. While our questions could have sounded unimportant, to readers who wanted to understand the mechanics of this all-important conference, such information was key.
What any head of communication should have done months before the conference would have simply meant convening a DIP meeting to work out anticipated questions and answers – mandating team members to act as spokespersons on some issues.
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In that way, it would have avoided having to wait in vain for answers, which were not forthcoming from the national ANC spokesperson – a job requiring being always available, with a cellphone never switched off.
While this may sound like a tall order, simply mandating more than one person to speak, consistently maintaining the party line on a myriad of issues, is the most efficient manner to deal with questions from journalists requiring comment.
While we sat at Nasrec, covering the conference, a colleague working on a story required information, but had doubts whether Mabe would respond on WhatsApp – not a good impression of the governing party.
In the era of advanced technology, making communication easier wherever you are, it should not be difficult to timeously respond to a question from the media. If in a meeting, a member of the DIP team should be available to help.
We not living in the era of Sebina, who operated from an office with a few desks and chairs in a tiny room of the ANC headquarters in downtown Lusaka. Mabe has capable staff at the DIP.
His clumsy and informal manner of conducting ANC media briefings has become a feature journalists have become accustomed to.
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If the first packed briefing at Nasrec was anything to go by – Mabe taking us through the conference programme, going on about offering pens and notebooks to journalists – you wonder whether he takes his job seriously.
Talking to journalists at a media briefing as if they are your friends – going on about your wife, children and other boring stuff – is annoying.
If you cannot stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.