A South African flag flies in front of a portrait of Mao. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images
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Why is the ANC following the example of the Chinese Communist Party?

South Africa’s ruling party appears to be forging ever-closer ties with the Chinese government.

On the banks of the Vaal River, in the small former mining town of Venterskroon, South Africa’s ruling party is planning how to shape the country’s future. The ANC is planning to site a Political School and Policy Institute there, complete with a swimming pool, fitness centre and lecture theatres. It will be the first such institution the ANC has run since it ended its exile in Tanzania, leaving the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College behind it.

The decision to build the school was taken back in 2007 at the ANC’s Polokwane Conference. This called for a Political School which would “focus on cadre development, facilitating continuous accumulation of knowledge, and contributing to the battle of ideas and the ideological renewal of the movement”.

To realise this ambition the ANC bought a farm at Venterskroon in 2010. The school will be modelled on the Chinese Communist Party’s own cadre training organisation. This is the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong (CELAP). Here Communist leaders are given a grounding in everything from Marxism-Leninism to the manipulation of the media. Now the ANC is following in the Chinese party’s footsteps.

Relations between the ANC and the Chinese Communist Party go back a very long way. As the historian Stephen Ellis revealed in his path-breaking study: External Mission: the ANC in Exile the armed struggle against apartheid was only launched after it had received the blessing from Mao Zedong on 3 November 1960. The Sino-Soviet split set back these links, but they were never totally lost.

With the ban on the ANC lifted in 1991, these ties began to be renewed. Since then there have been a steadily growing number of senior ANC leaders making their way to Beijing. As Zhong Weiyun, vice director for African Affairs of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, revealed in August 2012, 56 senior ANC leaders had attended the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong in four batches.

The number has steadily risen and today hardly a senior ANC leader has not made the journey. The Chinese Communists have worked hard to make this come about. As Zhong Weiyun says, the growth of democracy in 1990s across the continent was something of a setback in their relations with Africa. “In the early 1990s, a wave of multi-party democracy swept the African continent and posed certain negative impact on Sino-African inter-party exchange. After years of sustained communications, many of the long-reigning parties with which China had invested much time and energy developing relationships were replaced.”

President Zuma has led the way in forging these links. It was during his visit to China in June 2008 that he proposed that the Communists should provide leadership training for the ANC.

Speaking during that visit Zuma made plain why he believed this was necessary. When liberation movements came to power they gradually lost touch with the people, he observed. “Once the power and authority of the people is replaced with that of the state, the leadership and the movement disconnects from the people. At times the leadership disconnects from their movements, parties or organisations. The plight of the people becomes just a theory, and leaders lose touch.”

Worse still, in Zuma’s view, was that “former colonisers in the past took advantage of the disconnection between the masses and their leaders, or leaders from their organisations or parties”. Discontent was “encouraged” coups were staged against leaders “whose power bases had been deliberately eroded”.

With the ANC’s power base gradually waning, and Zuma’s own popularity in almost terminal decline, it is not hard to see why the president is therefore keen to look to the Chinese Communists for guidance and support.  Since the ANC came to power in 1994 it has repeatedly claimed it is the victim of foreign orchestrated plots. The most recent was “revealed” when the National Union of Metalworkers was anonymously accused of a secret attempt at “regime change”. None of these plots have ever had a firm basis in reality, but they are just the kind of “threat” that the ANC Political School will teach its cadre how to contend with.

The ANC already controls large sections of the South African media. The state broadcaster, the SABC, is under tight party control. Its executives banned footage of Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters chanting “pay back the money” to President Zuma, over his refusal to fund the renovations at his villa at Nkandla.

An increasing number of newspapers also toe the party line, including the New Age, which is openly pro-ANC. Chinese money was involved in the return of the Independent News and Media Group to South African hands. In November there were complaints that the government is using its advertising budgets in an attempt to control the media. A political school would be perfectly placed to inculcate these subtle and not so subtle techniques.

Jacob Zuma promised that the ANC will rule until the second coming of Christ. If that means learning the authoritarian measures used by the Chinese Communists against the Tibetans, or the democracy protesters in Hong Kong, then so be it.

Editor’s note, 7 January: this story was amended to correct the name of the media group purchase that involved Chinese money

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. With Paul Holden, he is the author of Who Rules South Africa?

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Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA