KHAYA SITHOLE: President’s communication breakdown is a recipe for hysteria
The government’s lack of clarity leaves room for alternative facts to thrive
Just over 32 years ago, a communication error sparked a change in the modern history of continental Europe. Gunther Schabowski, the spokesperson for the East German government at the time, was tasked with addressing a media conference on the easing of restrictions for Germans wishing to travel to the other side of the Berlin Wall. The aim of the process was to provide a framework for citizens to cross the border more easily than had been possible since the wall was erected in 1961.
As Schabowski headed to the media conference, he had in his hands a piece of paper he hadn’t actually read. As he delivered its contents in the glare of the media, a journalist asked a simple and obvious question — when would the new rules become effective? Unable to revert to anyone else before answering the question, Schabowski mistakenly said “immediately”. Within minutes Berliners from across the divide were converging on the wall, and the Cold War as we knew it rapidly disintegrated...