19 December 2012

South Africa: Duarte - Stalwart With a Short Fuse for the Media

Photo: Moeketsi Mogotsi/WhatsUpANC
Supporters of the president of the ruling party, Jacob Zuma.

Cape Town — New ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte has a reputation as an unwavering anti-apartheid activist and party stalwart - and a spokeswoman scathing of the media.

Born in September 1953, Duarte was detained without trial by the apartheid forces in 1988 and lived under restriction orders until the state of emergency was lifted two years later.

Duarte met former president Nelson Mandela for the first time a week after his release from prison and was asked to serve as a special assistant in his office.

After the 1994 elections, she became Gauteng MEC for safety and security. Her time in local government was marred by controversy over an accident involving her official vehicle.

The following year, Duarte became high commissioner to Mozambique. On her return in 2003 she was named ANC spokeswoman. Her relationship with the media was fraught.

In the run-up to the 2009 elections that brought President Jacob Zuma to power, she railed at BBC presenter John Humphrys on Radio 4 after he questioned the ANC's record in government, accusing him of having "a colonial mind".

She also lashed out at the Sunday Times over a report she interpreted as suggesting that Zuma was illiterate, and demanded an apology from University of the Free State rector Jonathan Jansen for calling Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga lazy and incompetent.

Duarte was one of the proponents of the ANC's now-shelved plans to establish a media appeals tribunal that would account to Parliament.

She said this was necessary because the South African media was marked by "shabby journalism, irresponsible reporting and lack of accountability".

Her move to the presidency as chief operating officer in 2009 proved acrimonious and short-lived.

She quit after six months, in February 2010, amid press reports that she sent an angry, emotional message to now re-elected ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, saying she was being bullied, vilified and ostracised by senior officials in the presidency.

The presidency did not deny reports that there was no love lost between Duarte and Zuma's right-hand woman, Lakela Kaunda.

Duarte was then tasked with heading up the ANC's internal monitoring and evaluation unit based in Luthuli House, which was designed to oversee the performance of party cadres in positions from local to national government.

She is the fourth woman to hold the post of deputy secretary-general of the party.

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