Leadership is delighted to bring you Sandile Memela’s speech from the 13th Percy Qoboza Memorial Lecture held at UNISA on 19 October 2023.
I wish to begin by making an assertion: no individual is greater than an organization. As we are all aware, no part is greater than a whole.
So, how do you bite the hand that feeds you? This is the question that haunts Percy Qoboza. This is the question that confronts us now.
To survive, journalists, editors, and everybody else have had to throw out any moral principle and values.
“We have become part of the system that we fought against.” This is a declaration and condemnation of the transition by one of South Africa’s beloved sons. In fact, we are not just part of the system, we are The Establishment. Renowned South African writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Nadine Gordimer, used and introduced the word ‘interregnum’ in a conversation. We were in a bus, traveling from one workshop to another during the African Women Writers’ Symposium in the early 1990s.
So, it was during the interregnum, the transitional period, when I interviewed rebel Afrikaner writer, poet, intellectual, dissident, and activist, Breyten Breytenbach. He had temporarily returned to the country, for whatever reason. I went to interview him at the then RAU campus. One of the things he told me was that he would be leaving and not staying in South Africa. He would not return because he did not want to be part of the system that he fought against. I loved how he put his words. He was a poet: part of the system that he fought against.
The thing is: you cannot hold two opposing thoughts and remain the same. As an editor and journalist, what is the price of survival? What does it take to hold on to moral principles and ideals that question authority and challenge the system? If correct, Breytenbach felt that you cannot be an ethical and moral person when you live and work in an unjust society. He felt that he could not live a life of principle when the political leadership had compromised by allowing apartheid to continue. And here we are. This encounter with Breytenbach has stayed with me since then. The feature profile is buried somewhere in City Press archives, behind a pay wall.
Greeting and gratitude
Mangibingelele, ngibulise. It is yet another beautiful day in South Africa. We are blessed to be here. Baningi abangavukanga. Some of us are at that age where we collapse and die. When Bra Percy died, on his birthday in January 1988, he was only 50 years old. He was too young to die. They say he suffered a heart attack. There was a war going on. The last push against apartheid. You must read Susan William’s ‘White Malice’ to understand that the system does not think twice to kill and murder its opponents. Bra Percy was an enemy of the apartheid state because of what he wrote.
To the National Press Club, UNISA and, above all, the Qoboza family, it is a privilege to be your special guest speaker, today. Thanks, TQ. I tried to wriggle out of this engagement, but National Press Club deputy chair, Kennedy Mudzuli, was tenacious like a bulldog. He would not have a “No, try someone else” from me. He admitted, at a preparatory meeting, that he bullied me into this. You see, I am not an academic who will cite this reference and quote this colonialist professor and/or expert from some journal. Neither am I a sharp intellectual who lives the life of the mind. I am just a guy next door who loves to think and write and probe.
So, here I am. You will have to bear with me. Let me thank you for coming to lend me your ears. But I am not here to praise journalists or Bra Percy. Being a journalist is a thankless job, to quote Bra Khulu Sibiya. Nor am I here to condemn or criticise them. They have their faults and limitations. Those who know will tell you that journalists and editors are neither saints nor angels. They can be devils, giving people sleepless nights.
I am here to contextualise the role of media practitioners, what they can do or cannot do within the constraints of their situation. What is the meaning of Bra Percy’s life, if any, and how did he navigate working within the system. He desired to be a moral voice. He was that. But how did he balance that with making money for the bosses? It is a very complicated subject matter that I have been asked to address: ethical journalism and survival of journalism. Yet it is simple.
We must think about what Breytenbach said or believed, then: you cannot uphold and promote moral principles and values—as a writer, journalist, or ordinary person—when you live, work, and want to survive in an unjust and immoral society. It sounds harsh to describe Mzansi as an unjust and immoral society. But the World Bank says this is the most unequal society on earth. We know about the poverty, hunger, unemployment, and inequality.
So, how do you stand up against immoral employers that want you to simply make money for them? How do you bite the hand that feeds you? Can a journalist do that? The media has an unavoidable incestuous relationship with government, politicians, and big business, among others. An editor will be required or expected to have contacts with the President or Ministers to get advertising. A journalist will have to side with a faction or have close relations with a political party to get stories. And write from a particular perspective.
The newspaper will have to tread carefully about writing stories that embarrass corporations that bring in advertising revenue. It is a case of who pays the piper. They are all part of the same racist, patriarchal capitalist economic system. And the owners, government, politicians, and big business all have a very clear agenda: to use journalists in the media to promote, protect, and preserve their interests, an unjust status quo. Above all, to make money and profits. Thus, I will touch on ownership, the role of the invisible owner in newsrooms, the perspective of black journalists, how The World covered June 1976 and why, Tsietsi Mashinini and the rise of Black Consciousness, among others.
Above all, explore and speculate how Percy Qoboza walked the political tightrope, for he did. One of my favorite Percy’s Pitch column quotes says: ‘If you sometimes get mad at me, because the sentiments I express keep you awake at night, then I am glad. In a PQ style, I will be provocative, give you something to keep you awake at night.’ Please note that there is no malicious intent. I am just expressing opinions. I am trying to contribute to discourse on the media. To get to the right questions about the role and relevance of the media, we need to ask the right questions: who owns the media and what is their agenda, for instance?
If I can be provocative: the cronyism, corruption, State Capture, and failures of the ANC are not the be-all and end-all of the South African Story or problems that come with it. Where are the stories about the landowners? Those that control the economy? And who continues to benefit from apartheid? They have vanished. Above all, who guards the guardians of society? Who questions the media on the motives for the stories that they cover and those that they ignore?
To echo Breytenbach’s sentiments: the media have become part of the system we fought against. They always have been. Editors lost the war, a long time ago. As you know, it is either you are part of the problem, or part of the solution. Media practitioners are part of the problem. The stories we write are not for mental liberation but intellectual enslavement to perpetuate the economic system. I am not sure that how or why the media runs certain stories. They are not looking at the bigger picture.
Let me recall an encounter with Bra Percy. I have vivid memories of an interaction. I was thrust into his newsroom by verligte Broederbond Afrikaners who paid for my university education. I had just graduated, in absentia, from Fort Hare in 1984.
When I arrived at the paper, he was not the editor. Percy Selwyn-Smith, an amiable warm and kind white man, was. But Selwyn-Smith was soon removed to make way for a black editor to lead a white-owned newspaper. There are various stories about how this came about. Bra Percy was unemployed, working as a consultant and strategist after the closure of the Post in 1981. City Press was relaunched in 1982. No doubt, whites were under pressure to give the job to a black in the name of transformation.
So, I was present at the party to celebrate Bra Percy’s ascendence to the editorial throne in 1985. There was food, conviviality, music, and great conversations. Some of us were young and dreamed of being superstar journalists. I remember leaving the party venue, a white tent filled with dominantly black staff of City Press, Drum, and True Love, to get something from the newsroom. On my way back, I was summoned and confronted by PQ who sat at a secluded spot with Bra Stan Motjuwadi, the editor of Drum. I approached them with deference as they were both my role models and icons. But what Bra Percy said was, quick and sudden, like a bullet in the back.
“Yes, Sandile, the blue-eyed boy yamaBhunu. Sikubhekile, we are watching you.”
I knew where this was going. It meant that I was suspected to be a spy or stooge. I looked at both Bra Percy and Bra Stan. After a brief pause, I shot back, “But you, too, are working for, holding high positions, earning good money yamaBhunu. Is there a problem that I don’t understand?” For me, it was a question of the pot calling the kettle black. They were playing the holier-than-though game. Planting seeds of black guilt. They looked at each other and then glared back at me. I don’t remember their answer, but I left them as they lifted their glasses to enjoy a bottle of Beefeater.
I guess they had a beef with me or that my university education was sponsored by amaBhunu. Thus, they wanted to eat me alive for that. I don’t know what you make out of this anecdote, but it is loaded. It is a question that haunts black journalists and editors, to this day. Who pays your salaries? Who gave Bra Percy his job and why? In fact, I was so incensed that I recorded my experiences in the newsroom. This culminated in my book, ‘His Master’s Voice’, that explores the psyche and details the experiences of black journalists in media.
It is a book that I wrote back in 1987. It was declined for publication. I only brought it out 22 years later in 2012. As far as I know, it is the only book that critically examines the plight of journalists and editors working in media. For all it is worth, it is a sizzler. Maybe UNISA can prescribe it?
The undertone of our brief encounter with the legends was the question: Whose interests do journalists and the media serve? He who owns the media, owns the narrative. When you own the media, you control how people see the world and the future.
Worse, everything that the average person knows is what they are fed by the media. Now, Bra Percy and Bra Stan, celebrated as they were, were black editors. And black journalists and editors do not own the media. They are employees and must do what they are told. Well, blacks own media houses, today. Nothing has changed. It continues to cover the South Africa Story like foreigners. Worse, the media is the least transformed industry in the country. For example, the definition of news has not changed. The structure of the newsroom has not changed: top down. The fire wall between business and editorial has collapsed. Today, editors must have MBAs from Ivy League universities. Ivy League universities like Harvard campus, where Nieman Fellows go, do not teach or train you to fight the economic system. You go there to learn how to serve business owners to make more money. In fact, journalism schools are good hunting grounds for the intelligence service. This is not to cast aspersion or take anything away from anyone. But if a journalist or editor works in corporate controlled media, they are likely to make mistakes and commit sins. And when they make mistakes, the guilty party is not the journalists and editors but those who own the means of productions.
We need to be very clear about one fact: freedom of the media belongs to those who own it. Only a fool would expect those who own the media to give a platform to black journalists and editors to write demands for the return of the land and equal distribution of the wealth of the country, for example. To constantly remind whites that this is a racist country. Anti-black.
It is 46 years ago that the apartheid regime mounted its assault against the freedom and integrity, if any, of so-called Black Press or oppositional media. We are here, today, because on 19 October 1977, the government silenced the World and Weekend World and other publications. Mostly, it was to kill Black Consciousness. The publications were mistaken for revolutionary voices. And I say that guardedly. Presumably, it was because after his stint at Harvard Bra Percy looked at South Africa differently. He was one of the editors and journalists detained without trial for six months or more. When Bra Percy was detained, the apartheid police and intelligence service said they were taking him in for questioning. He found it strange when he was instructed to go get his jacket. He was in his white shirt and tie.
He thought he would be questioned and released. But he was thrown into a police cell. Fellow detainees say he refused to sleep in jail. He did not understand why he would be detained. “Ek gaan nie hier slaap nie.” He knew and spoke Afrikaans, like a typical township clever. He was not an outright political agitator. They say he paced up and down the cell, complaining and protesting. They had to calm him down. To many, his detention was confirmation of his radical political stance. He was an influential and powerful thinker and writer. A world renowned critic of the apartheid state. For me, there has always been a need to acutely re-examine the role and relevance of black newspapers and their editors. Who guards the guardians of society? We must grapple with these questions to put the media into its proper perspective.
To paraphrase Socrates, a Black Press or oppositional media that is not critically examined is not worth reading. SABC. PowerFM. 702. The Daily Maverick.
Coverage of the student uprising
I want us to go back to Thursday morning, 17 June 1976, to problematise how black journalists, especially at The World, covered the student upheavals. I am aware that a single story cannot be a measure of the political consciousness of black journalists or question the integrity of someone like Bra Percy. One story will not be enough to decide the fate of journalists. But the story of The World newspaper and its coverage of June 16 upheavals was not just any story. It marked a turning point in history. At this point, the struggled had stalled and stopped like a car without petrol. ANC was infiltrated by apartheid spies and fighting itself in exile. Mandela and others were in jail. Black people cowered in fear… until Biko and his BC came up.
The 16 June headline
We know that a single story can make or break you. It is a first draft of history. Worse, this is a story that, presumably, reverberated around the world. We are all familiar with Sam Nzima’s headline grabbing picture. However, great as it was, it did not absolve black journalists and editors from being questioned. What was the copy that described and defined Mbuyisa Makhubu as he carried a dying Hector Pietersen, with a wailing Antoinnette next to him? Perspective and content in writing is everything. The integrity of a newspaper is through its angles, headlines, and how stories are written. Let me remind you of The World headline. It read: ‘4 DEAD, 11 HURT AS KIDS RIOT.’ It is a problematic headline. Or it must be problematised. As far as I know, no one has ever questioned or examined its meaning.
What this headline tells us, and literally means, is that the Soweto pupils allegedly DISTURBED PEACE in South Africa. Well, that is what a riot does: disturbs peace. Yes, it is accurate to say the students were violent, threw stones and damaged buildings and vehicles. But the black journalists had to define the meaning of the act. They did not articulate the significance of the event. And it was not a mistake.
In this case, they failed to define the act: ‘4 KILLED, 11 INJURED AS STUDENTS REVOLT’
Instead, the newspaper headline made a statement that by taking to the streets, the pupils—who were referred to as KIDS—threatened to spoil the supposedly harmonious coexistence between blacks and whites. The language suggests that blacks were happy with the apartheid regime. What do kids know? Of course, this was predictable. Black newspapers were neither founded nor financed by blacks. White editorial directors or managing editors were embedded in the newsroom. They had to tone down the language. And there was nothing or very little that journalists and editors like Bra Percy could do. And yet, he is the one who was detained. He was correct to question his detention. He was not your political agitator. He was a writer. People close to the real struggle said a young Tsietsi Mashinini of the Soweto Student Representative Council had to pay a personal visit to the newspaper. He demanded a meeting with the editorial leadership. He wanted to challenge the coverage. He demanded a paradigm shift in black reporting. Black newspapers had to change their angle of reporting.
Of course, Bra Percy learned from this. Later, at City Press, a white chief sub put a headline, ‘Hambani Kahle’, when Delmas trialists were sentenced in 1986 or so. Bra Percy did not take it lying down. There was a serious fallout and the chief-sub quit his job.
Depoliticisation for profits
In fact, if we read history, we would know and understand that The World was founded by a white farmer who wanted the paper to serve as a vehicle to reach the so-called black market. This history is not taught or known. Above all, the aim of papers like The World or City Press was to police, dilute, and soften radical black thinking, if any. It was a vehicle for depoliticisation. The coverage of the UDF was not a revolutionary mark. The black market had to make itself comfortable in economic exploitation and political oppression. There has been no time in the history of black people that so many can read. We have the highest number of those that hold Masters degrees and PhDs. Yet so many remain ignorant. Who develops and deliver content that young people read or consume? And what is the purpose and agenda?
Advocates of integration?
Remember, traditional editors at The World were always black liberals that advocated integration into the system. Radical and revolutionary as they may seem, they had to agree to be toned down. Thus, they were no threat to the status quo. Few people know but I was forced to leave the Sowetan, Sunday World, stripped of my job and responsibilities as an acting editor, and told to sit at a corner and wait. The owners felt that I was uncontrollable and unpredictable. Despite black ownership and members of the board, nobody defended me. The desire of the editors and other executives always was to be part of the system. This is done in the name of pursuit for a better quality of life. And it is not a mistake that we are where we are today: Blacks are The Establishment in the most unequal society on earth. We are the caretakers of this injustice. As Breytenbach said, we are part of the system, now. And he quit this country before we voted. I don’t know if he has ever come back.
What is news?
How did black journalists and The World define news? Studying journalism at Fort Hare, Stellenbosch, Wales, and Maryland universities, we were taught that when a dog bites a man, that is not news. News is when a man bites a dog, that is news. So, when the Bantu Education system bites off the minds of children, that is not news. News is when the students beat the system to reject the poisonous education; to challenge the unjust status quo. But the perspective of the toned-down coverage was not on the side of the students. It was an apartheid state perspective to say it was a riot. The reflection of the upheaval as a riot is a problem. We have to correct that, even if it is only in our minds. Without taking anything away from the likes of Bra Percy, we must problematise the Black Press and other self-proclaimed oppositional media or their role in the struggle for freedom and democracy. In addition, we must admit that they had to walk a political tightrope. It was not a walk in the park.
Post-apartheid media changes
What is the agenda of the media in a post-apartheid, free, and democratic society? How does it advance the genuine struggle for the restoration of the land or economic liberation? Or human rights for indigenous Africans? Who writes what South African consume? Thebe Mabanga, a former M&G journalist, told me that “the commercial pressures journalism faces are more dangerous than any government interference, real or perceived”. Just like in the days of Bra Percy, money and profit making continue to be the biggest threats to media freedom and self-expression that is enshrined in the Constitution.
Aldrin & Karin are the voices of the new generation of media practitioners. They are part of the juniorisation of the newsroom. They face commercial pressures to attract advertisers. Or to please owners or political bosses. They are underpaid and are forced to hold more than one job.
At the same time, journalists are unemployed. Staff is cut at the SABC and other newsrooms. Yet some senior journalists and editors are paid over R100 000 a month. I guess they deserve it. Senior editors are corporate executives, now.
Many journalists have abandoned the newsroom for better opportunities and pay in government and corporate. But the young Turks have not revolutionised how the media works. To this day, media reporting formular revolves around crime, cronyism and corruption, soccer, entertainment, and celebrity society for ages. It must be anti-ANC, to a large extent. Yet the ANC, like everybody else, is ensnared in the entanglement of the untransformed economic system. It will commit sins and makes mistakes because it is caught in the darkness of the system. The media does not tell us who causes or creates the darkness. If a journalist is on a leash, sins will be committed. Today, political reporting is to bash the ANC. Of course, the ANC government makes it easier with its rampant cronyism and corruption.
Media’s disorganised army
When we go back into history, to the 1970s, underpaid freelancers like Bra Bokwe Mafuna abandoned sham jobs at so-called prestigious newspapers like the Rand Daily Mail to mobilise black journalists. This culminated in the sterile Union of Black Journalists. Even today black journalists are the most disorganised army with no agenda. No union. No movement. It is every dog for himself. The editors forum is sponsored by corporate to look after the interests of corporates and their political buddies. He who pays the piper calls the shots.
Some journalists are willing to get rich by any means necessary. As alluded, the media has an incestuous relationship with big business, politicians and SOEs, where possible. Worse, those that solicit bribes or enter incestuous relationship with wrong doers are promoted and protected. The National Lottery, for example. Those that fight this tendency are forced out of their jobs. Nobody knows what happened to a Wally Mbele, a former City Press journalist, who was editor of The Sunday World. My point here is: Perhaps we should not over-glorify journalists and editors as heroes. Even Bra Percy had to walk a political tightrope. He, too, was entangled in the complexities of the economic system.
Collaborators in the system
From where I stand, journalists are not paid to whoop up radical militancy in the communities. Of course, the detention was unjustifiable. A superficial examination of the lives of black editors in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, for instance, soon reveals that they were not, necessarily, hardcore political activists. I want to put it that the apartheid intelligence and spies that were responsible for banning the publication were out of touch with realities on the ground. They did not, for instance, read the headlines of 17 June 1976. If they did, they did not understand its meaning.
When the World was banned in 1977, big business had to quickly re-invent a substitute that would be a vehicle to tap into the sleeping giant known as the black market. They could not afford to lose money and profits. Or give up using the media to brainwash black people. The township economy, alone, is worth hundreds of billions. Show me the money. And how much of it belongs to blacks? It was in this context that the strategy was developed to transmogrify of a popular knock and drop, The Sowetan into a mainstream publication that would rise in stature, influence, and power. If correct, there were plans to kill and discontinue the Sowetan in the early 2000s. I was there, one of the journalists that feared for their future. But it has, miraculously, survived.
Suffocating black voices
Perhaps in its own unique way, it was the unknown story of a Nkosini Nkosi’s Soweto News newspaper, that represented an important milestone in the struggle for self-determination, freedom of thought and expression among blacks. He was a rare business-minded journalist who understood the importance of ownership and control of black media institution and its content. And, of course, he could not survive as they strangled him out of existence. In fact, it punctuates the sad history of the constraints on so-called black media and its journalists to articulate the hopes and aspirations of the African majority. Black owned newspapers, including community newspapers, depend on white corporates for their business sustainability. The stature and power of black journalists has not grown in the last four decades. With due respect, the prerequisite to be a successful black journalist or editor is to do as you are told by your owners and handlers.
We have been recreated in the colonial or white image if you like. I dare say. We are white clones. In the last few years, there have been new entrants in the mass media space in the form of the Gupta family and the Sekunjalo Independent Media Consortium with now defunct The New Age and ANN7, and the Independent Group, respectively. Their entrance has been met with hostility by the white media establishment and unsurprisingly so. Then there are the smaller, alternative media in the form of Black Opinion, UnCensored and African Times. They, too, were strangled to death or are in the ICU.
There will always be a debate about the claim that mainstream black journalism served a political agenda or was founded to pursue the commercial interests of its owners. In the name of Percy Qoboza, it is pertinent to place the role and responsibility of black journalists and media into its proper context.
The gradualist tradition of the Black Press
The first generation of editors and journalists in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s were highly educated and Westernised African gentlemen who enjoyed prestige among the African readership because they were representatives of the white man’s way. The World editors include Victor Selope-Thema (1932 – 1952), Jacob Nhlapho (1953 – 1957), Manasseh Moerane (1962 – 1973), and Percy Qoboza (1964 – 1977). They were, undoubtedly, under the supervision of white editorial directors or managing editors. Nobody likes to talk about the invisible white hand in newsrooms. The only white owner we know is Jim Bailey who founded the Golden City Post, Drum, and True Love. And we know how he drove black journalists to drink too much, to abandon and sacrifice their families, to resign themselves to helplessness, to go into exile and commit suicide. This pattern of white domination and control first began with John Tengo Jabavu in the 1850s, the Father of Black Journalism, if you like. He was the editor of Imvo zaba Ntsundu, a white owned and controlled newspaper established to get blacks to support white liberal political ambitions. White patriarchy, to be exact. At the height of his success, the editor refused to attend and support the launch of the African National Congress, for example. He refused to oppose the Land Act of 1913 that dispossessed Africans of their fatherland.
Thus, from the beginning, the so-called Black Press, its journalists, and editors were created and controlled by white money. Their purpose was to propagate a white perspective and create an African middle class alienated from its own history, heritage, and experiences. My observation and experience today are that editors only publish thoughts, ideas, and viewpoints that they agree with. Or those that echo their sentiments to not destabilize the status quo. They play a gate-keeping role.
Biko’s community journalism
After the banning of the liberation movements in 1960, for instance, the so-called black newspapers did not step into the political vacuum. It was into this political void that young students like Steve Biko et al stepped in to popularize and mobilize the black community through the philosophy of Black Consciousness. To date, Steve Biko is the most recognised, celebrated, and widely read black columnist, if you like. Far too few people recognise him as a journalist. His column, Frank Talk, was published in a knock and drop student magazine. It continues to find relevance and resonance with the youth. It culminated in the celebrated anthology, I write what I like. It is a serious indictment that PQs columns have not been curated and collated into an anthology, 33 years later. No matter what one thinks of his gradualist views that, like Nelson Mandela, espoused non-violence and negotiations, it is a voice that must be heard and preserved. We need to tell and write PQs story. He is the man who conceptualised the Release Mandela Campaign.
African journalists and editors who worked in publications like the World and Post were, largely, conservative types who espoused the liberal philosophy of gradualism. They were reluctant to embrace or reflect radical Black Consciousness or Pan-Africanism, except for a few. They conformed to the role that was prescribed by white editorial directors. Their focus was to use the newspaper to tap into the black market than waging political battles to liberate the country.
Much as Percy Qoboza was an outspoken critic of the apartheid regime, his Percy’s Pitch column was produced and delivered under very strict white editorial control. As alluded, he walked a political tightrope. Of course, this does not take anything away from his genius, if you like. Thus, when the paper was banned in 1977 only to be resurrected as Post in 1981, Qoboza was forced to resign for reasons that may have been linked to allegedly being “uncontrollable”. But he was a township kleva who knew how to question authority and to ‘work within the system’.
Losing the media war
But it is not incorrect to say, in his own way, he epitomised a new phenomenon of growing struggle consciousness among young and courageous journalist who were banned or imprisoned. He was a gradualist. He may have won the battle but not the war. Nothing has changed in the Developmental State of freedom and democracy. In fact, the media is the least transformed institution in society. There may be black faces but they are wearing white masks. Worse, the media has not moved from the market-oriented profit-making strategy. So, we must ask: whose interests do they serve?
Of course, most owners of the press that largely attracted a black audience, including the Rand Daily Mail in the mid-1980s, were opposed to the notion of using the newspaper to express support for the banned organizations like the ANC and PAC or articulating political views. For example, Cape Times editor, Tony Heard, went into exile because he published an interview with Oliver Tambo. In addition, the Rand Daily Mail was closed in 1985 because it was ‘too black’ in its political orientation.
In the 60s and 70s, Steve Biko had to convince Donald Woods to hire and give space to black journalists. Today, the depoliticisation through the media continues, unabated. Everywhere black people gather, especially men, they are likely to engage in animated discussions about Orlando Pirate, Kaizer Chiefs, and Sundowns. They find critical discourse on the ANC, EFF, Action SA, or Rise Mzansi boring. Yet the elections are coming up in a few months.
Worship at capitalism’s altar
Editors and senior writers in the Black Press and mainstream media continue to be expected to conform to the interests of capital and thus protect and preserve the unjust economic capitalist system. Many of the new generation were forced to ignore politics and re-adjust to promoting entertainment, sports, general news (crime, sex, and scandals) and small business. Or reimagine story about a woman that gave birth to 10 babies in Thembisa. Or the media has broken into specific political camps to RET or CR17, as they call it. At City Press I was moved from reporting on labour and politics to doing entertainment. Later, I understood that the patriarchal capitalist owners did not subsidise the papers for black journalists to espouse radical politics or self-consciousness.
The fact that brilliant men like Qoboza and Klaaste were part of the Black Press’ evolution or history does not absolve it of its role in being an instrument for white business to tap into the so-called black market. Today the so-called Black Press has what can be considered an ambivalent relationship with the majority government. This raises serious questions about its role in the development of an African state. I think if blacks were to choose between an ANC government without the media or media without the ANC, they would choose the latter. But the role of the media must be to inform, educate and entertain to liberate the minds of the people. The people must learn to govern themselves because their fate is in their own hands.
So, the historical claim that The World was more of a political newspaper than a commercial institution on the side of capital needs to be deeply questioned. The true history and role of so-called black newspapers and their editors and journalists still needs to be critically re-examined. I just hope that I will not be misconstrued as twisting and distorting the role and reputation of a Percy Qoboza. What I have tried to do is to critically examine the context and situation he operated in. My aim was to explore what journalists can do or not within the constraints of a racist, patriarchal, and ruthless capitalist economic system.
It would be naïve, foolish for anyone to think white or black media owners would sponsor a black revolution led by the journalists or editors. One or two will be given free reign to create illusion of freedom of expression and the press. Or project them as heroes. Thus, journalists find themselves in a quagmire: they have to uphold and promote moral principles and values that are not against immoral system, or pretend to be questioning authority. The employers want you to defend their position. How do you bite the hand that feeds you? Could Bra Percy bite the hand that fed him? Did he? The media has an incestuous relationship with government, politics, and big business, among others. They are all part of the same racist, patriarchal capitalist economic system. And the owners have a very clear agenda: to use the media to promote, protect and preserve the unjust economic status quo.
The life of one Percy Qoboza does not make the system clean. He ran the race to the best of his abilities. City Press must commission someone to tell and write his biography. Ngiyabonga. If the sentiments that I have articulated about the trying condition that black journalists and other media practitioners find themselves in make you angry, then I am glad. We are all part of the system. There are no holy cows.