Jimi Matthews, the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s head of news, banned the use of “Nkandlagate” to refer to the scandal over President Zuma’s rural dwelling in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, which has been rebuilt with £15 million of taxpayers money.
In an email to staff leaked to local media, Mr Matthews said the property should only be referred to as the “Nkandla residence”, rather than the popular “Zumaville”.
Mr Matthews added in his email that journalists should not use the term “compound” to refer to Mr Zuma’s home—despite its habitual use by the government department funding the refurbishments—after the president’s spokesman Mac Maharaj said the word was “racist” and used during apartheid to describe hostels used by migrant workers.
President Zuma’s private property is home to his four current wives and their children live, while he also has the use of state houses in Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban.
The row has been referred to the country’s anti-corruption watchdog for investigation and risks damaging the president who is seeking re-election as the ANC head in December.
“Your [sic] are hereby notified that, with immediate effect, President Zuma’s Nkandla home should be referred to as the President’s, or Mr Zuma’s, ‘Nkandla residence’ and not a ‘compound’ or ‘homestead’ or any other such term,” the email to staff read. “Please also refrain from using imported terminology in reporting on the controversy surrounding the infrastructure developments around the residence, such as ‘Nkandlagate’, ‘Zumaville’ and such like.”
Critics seized on the leak as proof the SABC is either open to direct political inference and imposes self-censorship to avoid aggravating the country’s leaders.
Phillip de Wet, associate editor of the campaigning Mail&Guardian newspaper, said while the editor’s edicts could have a “chilling effect,” deterring reporting the issue altogether.
Tuwani Gumani, general secretary of the Media Workers Association of South Africa, said the union’s SABC members feared the management decisions were”eroding their credibility”.
“It’s worrying that everything else can be called by whatever name but they take issue with this story,” he said. “The concerns are about the constriction of the space SABC journalists can work in.”