Maverick Citizen: Newsletter editorial

We write what we like – Journalism for social justice

We write what we like – Journalism for social justice
Thousands of citizens and activists marched to Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, forming part of a global movement that demands an end to the age of fossil fuels and embraces a new age of renewable energy and climate justice., 20 September 2019. (Photo: Leila Dougan/Daily Maverick)

We seek to be fair. Independent. Ethical. Objective. But we are not neutral on the small and great issues of our time on which we must all take sides. 

On 2 September 2019, we published the first edition of Maverick Citizen, a new section of the Daily Maverick that would focus on news and views about activism, human rights and social justice. We promised a springtime for social justice journalism

That was a year ago.

In the world we live in today, news and society move so fast that it’s hard to quantify what happened in the last 365 days. The climate crisis deepened and the world continued warming, although Covid-19 offered the planet a temporary respite. 

Inequality accelerated, this time with the aid of Covid-19. A novel coronavirus took 884,312 lives and counting.

China intensified its grip on the rebellion in Hong Kong. ZANU-PF intensified its grip on ordinary Zimbabweans. Beirut erupted in protest and later exploded, literally. 

When so much happens so fast, it takes a conscious effort to slow time down, to understand that history is what is happening in the present, not the past – to document and dissect it.

Undoubtedly, the world is in a desperate space, in the vice of “big men” again. It’s a distressing scenario. Some call it a “civilisational crisis”.

Yet, despite (or actually because of this), there are ample signs of the fact that people are not defeated and have not given up the quest for social justice. In the US, we have seen the rise and organising power of the BlackLivesMatter movement, often led by black women; in Belarus, we have seen hundreds of thousands of people, led by women (again), defy Alexander Lukashenko (a neanderthal cut in the shape of former Eastern European dictators like Ceausescu, Honecker and Husak), as well as dare Vladimir Putin. 

As we reported on Monday, 31 August in an article by Timothy Mtambo, in Malawi, civil society played a major role in ensuring the removal of corrupt President Peter Mutharika. 

In Zimbabwe, civil society organisations rather than political parties are keeping hope alive. Eventually, President Emmerson Mnangagwa too “will have to go” (in the famous lyrics of LKJ).

Yet, what our peers in the media often overlooks is that to get to eruptions of tens of thousands takes the mostly out of sight sacrifices of tens of millions of individuals, working to ensure a continuity of hope. BlackLivesMatter was not born yesterday. It takes the many “small” rebellions and victories that pro-equality activists notch up almost every day to change the balance of power. 

In South Africa, recent examples of this are the court victory to reinstate the National Schools Nutrition Programme (NSNP), the court victory declaring Dudu Myeni a “delinquent director” and the judicial klap the Western Cape provincial government received this week over its plans for land in Tafelberg.

Some of these matters may end in the courts, but they almost always start on the streets. 

In the midst of the big political events captured by the mainstream media, it’s the little things and the “little people” that keep society going and hold it together.

These are the people and processes we are trying to recognise in Maverick Citizen.

A million colours of activism

Although you probably don’t realise it, for the last year, five days a week, we have published on average six to seven articles a day about a million colours of activism. You can find them each morning on the Maverick Citizen home page here

On the other two days, we plot, plan and imagine…

Since 2 September 2019, we have published 1,906 articles. We have tried to shine a light into places the rest of the media ignores. 

For example, we have shone an intense light on life in the Eastern Cape province: Not on the politicians, but on the people who must live under their self-serving maladministration. 239 articles by “word activist” Estelle Ellis offer perhaps the most comprehensive and continuous picture of the social consequences of mismanagement and corruption in that province. 

In partnership with Lucas Ledwaba and Mukurukuru Media, we have tried to do something similar in Limpopo. 

During Covid-19, we have mobilised our networks in the scientific community (built up over two decades of AIDS activism), to provide reporting and insights on Covid-19, the virus and Covid-19, the social crisis, from the front line, back line and middle line. We did so in partnership with Spotlight who have consistently reported on the pandemic.

In Tell Our Story, Dale McKinley and Julie Reid point out that although South Africa “is predominantly populated by the economically marginalised and the poor …  voice(s) from this sector are habitually excluded”.

They continue:

“How then are we to know what is going on in our world when we are presented with such a limited picture? Additionally, when so under-informed about a broader spectrum of realities, how can we realistically initiate national discourse aimed at societal coherence, economic development or meaningful promotion of social justice? In simple terms, how can we solve our own problems when we have very little idea of what is really going on?” 

We hear you. That is why try to give voice to those who are not voiceless, but are often denied a voice, such as Eyasu Mengistu, a refugee from Ethiopia and Thandekile Moyo, an activist in Bulawayo. 

We are pleased that “only” 620 (of 1,906) articles have come from the pens of our small team of five: Shani Reddy, Christi Nortier, Zukiswa Pikoli, Estelle Ellis, Anso Thom and I (and in the early days also Nomatter Ndebele and Thom Pierce). Most of the articles come from you and it seems that Maverick Citizen has opened a floodgate of people who want to write, share ideas, research and for campaigns to be heard: The number of Op-Eds we have published by other authors is 1,286. We have also been lucky to have a group of excellent freelancer writers including Karin Schimke, Ufrieda Ho and Biénne Huisman, among others. We place a premium on good images and Joyrene Kramer had made sure we do our best to get excellent photos to accompany our work.

We have also introduced a number of regular features, including: the weekly Southern Africa Human Rights Round-up (now at #18) in collaboration with the Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network; our weekly Civil Society Watch; a weekly cartoon with AfriCartoons and cartoonists Nathi Ngubane, Thulani Ntsong and Wilson Mgobhozi, Dr Jack and John Curtis; and the Friday Activist feature of women leaders in civil society – we have now published 28 profiles and have a list long enough for many years to come.

Many of the articles we publish are research and idea rich. Yet if they are not spotted on the day they are published, or soon after, there is a danger that they are getting lost in the recesses of the deep internet. To try to overcome this (partially), in February 2020, we started a weekly Maverick Citizen newsletter (out every Tuesday at 1pm) and have published 32 editions since then. The newsletter re-publishes a selection of 15 articles and features from the week before and is sent to 29,000 people. 

You can subscribe here.

We have also produced a number of special editions of the newsletter, including our features on Living and Dying – Cape Town’s Gang War; Life after Listeriosis; Unlocked: Poems for Critical Times, a series of poems selected by Ingrid De Kok; and a compendium of Friday Activists to mark Women’s Day 2020.

It seems that this recipe is being well received because since the start of Covid-19, we have had 2.3 million unique readers of our articles with the average reader spending 4-5 minutes on our page.

In all of our efforts, we are grateful for the assistance and input of the teams at the Daily Maverick, for their trust and being granted carte blanche to write what we like. 

Writing is a form of activism. Journalism is vital to democracy. It can create change, something we have already seen in the many responses to stories we write that lead to action and offers of support. 

We seek to be fair. Independent. Ethical. Objective. But we are not neutral on the small and great issues on which we must all take sides. Ours is a partnership with you in which we ask that you subscribe, read, write, report and continue to organise.

We aim to serve those who work to change the world for the better and we’re just getting started. DM/MC

Mark Heywood is Editor of Maverick Citizen.


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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