Technical glitches mar Ramaphosa's virtual imbizo

President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted a "presidential imbizo" on Wednesday.
President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted a "presidential imbizo" on Wednesday.
Image: Supplied

A well-intentioned opportunity to give South Africans a chance to speak directly to President Cyril Ramaphosa almost 100 days into the lockdown was let down by technical glitches as viewers — and at times Ramaphosa himself — couldn't make out what the callers were saying.

The session came on the back of criticism that Ramaphosa was getting a free pass from the media and allowed to get away without explaining government decisions taken during the state of disaster.

The presidency had sold the hour-long interaction as a virtual “presidential imbizo”.

“The presidential imbizo is a public-participation platform where communities are able to interact directly with government on challenges in society and where citizens are able to engage on community-generated solutions to such challenges,” said the media alert issued earlier on Wednesday.

The interaction didn't quite live up to the promise. Izimbizo are generally robust and no-holds-barred forums.

Granted, GCIS, which usually hosts similar interactions on community radio stations, was pushed to the limit to quickly embrace technology during these times where one-on-one interactions are impossible.

Wednesday night's was a simultaneous broadcast through 80 community radio stations, TV broadcasters and online streaming.

Besides the technical glitches, it also looked like the lockdown has taken its toll on Ramaphosa. He looked tired as he delivered lacklustre and generic answers to some of the questions.

His 13-minute opening remarks covered topics from how the government strengthened the health care system to SA's death rate being at 1.8%, which is much lower than the world average, and the importance of accounting to the people.

He also addressed SA's “second pandemic” — gender-based violence in light of recent brutal murders of women.

For the few callers who got through, questions ranged from Covid-19 symptoms and the rationale for the continued ban on cigarette sales to a woman who needed Ramaphosa's advice regarding the police, who she claimed refused to arrest a man who had violated her because they said he was mentally challenged.

It was awkward and uncomfortable as only the facilitator, Karabo Mokhubela of the GCIS radio unit, could hear the questions before relaying them to the president.

So awkward were those silences, one 24-hour news channel (eNCA) kept throwing back to the studio, with the anchor giving a summary of what had already been said.

Ramaphosa has repeatedly compared this lockdown period to crossing a river, where you feel it as you cross; sometimes you slip and falter, sometimes you find firm ground — so we have been very flexible.

The virtual presidential imbizo was an opportunity for the government to account directly to the people of SA, but clearly there is still a lot of work to be done.

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