“We’re going back to the drawing board on this one,” South African Broadcasting Corp (SABC) chief Peter Matlare said on Thursday in response to charges that the low placings of some anti-apartheid campaigners were “an insult”.
Former President Nelson Mandela was everyone’s choice for the number one Great South African, dubbed the winner of the call-in contest before it was even started.
But the rest of the ratings shocked many.
Golf star Gary Player – often criticised for failing to distance himself from the former apartheid government – was placed in the number two slot, followed by Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, who once lived in South Africa.
South Africa’s last white president FW de Klerk came in fifth after white heart surgeon Christiaan Barnard.
Current President Thabo Mbeki ranked 7th, trailing Nelson Mandela’s former wife Winnie and Jan Smuts, who aligned South Africa against the Nazis during the second world war.
‘Insult to icons’
The apartheid system denied
But the placement at 19 of former Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd caused uproar.
Verwoerd is regarded as the primary architect of the apartheid system which denied basic rights to all non-white South Africans for decades.
He was rated well above key black liberation figures such as Oliver Tambo (31) and Albert Luthuli (41).
“The programme in its current form distorts the history of our country, and represents nothing else but an insult to the struggle icons of our people,” said the youth league of the ruling African National Congress founded by Mandela.
“We therefore support the decision to review the programme, with the view to take it off air.”
Many commentators attributed the rankings to the fact that Great South Africans was broadcast on an SABC channel traditionally geared towards affluent English speakers.
“The programme in its current form distorts the history of our country, and represents nothing else but an insult to the struggle icons of
“I think it is clear that we are not mature enough to vote for our great people because we seem to vote considering our race and cultures,” political commentator Max du Preez told Johannesburg’s Star newspaper.
Matlare told the South African Press Association the next episode – set to highlight Tutu – would be scrapped and that discussions were under way on what to do next.
“In line with our mandate of creating unity among South Africans, we would like to see a national debate around this issue,” Matlare said.
“We need to ensure that each and every South African knows about the initiative and plays an active role in defining the outcome.”