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Wake up. Do something.



Wake up. Do something.

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

To say that our country is in deep trouble is to echo the voices across the entire society. But the truth is, some of us can do more, and indeed do do more, to help than others. A free, intelligent, fearless and well-funded media is both the first and also the final backstop before irreversible decline happens.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

It was in mid-1987 that we had a great idea: let’s publish the Complete Greek Tragedies, in one book. My friend Veljko and I were those vanishingly rare beasts in the Yugoslavian cultural ecosystem: a small book-publishing label, independent from the bunch of established dinosaurs.

We existed in a twilight zone of the society that was leaving socialism but was not yet ready to approach full-on capitalism. In our early to mid-twenties, we were students of world literature who felt keenly that the Yugoslavian cultural scene should have permanent access to all the Greek tragedies that have not vanished. Everyone would jump to help us and our genius idea, we thought, as we ploughed through the dusty pages and finally managed to get all surviving 32 tragedies from Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides ready for publication. (No other writers’ works have survived.)

Little did we know.

Anyone who could have thrown a spanner in our works did so, on top of predictions that we would a) do a bad job, as in “who the hell do you think you are?” and b) go down in flames, as in “you have no clue”.

The book, when it arrived in 1988, was a massive critical, and even reasonably financial, success. Many changed their tune. They knew all along it would be great, they claimed, and they were supportive from the start.

Even as I noticed it then, I didn’t understand how much of a wash-rinse-repeat this process would turn out to be my life.

I am personally but a small dot in the tapestry of people actually trying to do something for their societies, swimming against the mighty streams, fighting the battles that many can see no reason to participate in, apart from sitting on the sidelines, pontificating, benefiting from whatever is the outcome.

To say that our country is in deep trouble is to echo the voices across the entire society. But the truth is, some of us can do more, and indeed do do more, to help than others. A free, intelligent, fearless and well-funded media is both the first and also the final backstop before irreversible decline happens.

The social media trolls who scour Twitter every day for new outrage, or just to throw more sand in the public’s eyes, are not the media. They are trolls. Journalists fearlessly go beyond the surface to tell the truth, often at great risk to their safety and livelihood.

These crucial fighters for our future are never paid enough and many of them endure public loathing and shameless attacks from the very people they expose. We, as a society, let this harassment continue unabated.

There are only a small and depressingly finite number of journalists who harbour enough expertise and experience to truly understand what is going on. You, the reader of this, are the greatest beneficiary of their work. And yet, our dangerously skewed society appears not to care about the fact that we might not have these expert reporters to help us when the next calamity hits South Africa.

Big business is content with spending the great majority of its advertising money on Google and Facebook, apparently SA’s premier publishing outlets with by far the best investigative units which brought you the #GuptaLeaks, Ace Magashule, VBS and Digital Vibes investigations. (For those who are humour-challenged, I am not serious about this last statement.)

What I am serious about is that South African business and the society at large must finally wake up to the systemic threat that the media’s decline presents to us all.

We might have something approaching democracy, as in “free elections”  that the three estates might be able to keep delivering, though even that is debatable. What has been proven beyond reasonable doubt, however, is that democracy’s most important partner, accountability, is impossible to enforce in the South Africa of today without the media.

Without a healthy media there is simply no accountability. Or real democracy.

So these days I have an eerily familiar feeling as I watch the people, whose lives and human rights are guarded by the quality media, attack newspapers as the devil’s own work. I see the leaders of organisations and businesses, who really should know better, denying support to the few remaining true media outlets while still personally reading them every day, for free, of course. (For the record, Maverick Insiders, who keep Daily Maverick humming, are the most conscious people in SA.)

Every day a sea of a different kind washes our shores: a sea of personal abdication of moral duty in exchange for a few pieces of silver. What kind of morality is there in claiming one’s love for SA while enabling, or at least closing one eye to, plunder?

It is time to wake up, all of you, and do your duty.

We in the media are doing ours, every day, without fear and without favour. We risk everything to help keep South Africa going and so that truth might one day prevail. We do it because we love this country, and because we cannot sleep knowing that we could have done better. What is your excuse?

And will you, should things finally get better in the country, claim that you were always there, and believed, and helped? And will you truly believe it?

Wash-rinse-repeat. A true rhythm of our world. DM168

Branko Brkic is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Daily Maverick.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


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All Comments 8

  • Thank you for what you do and for calling us out for taking your sacrifice for granted. I feel humbled for choosing the minimum payment option to subscribe.
    This article also emboldens me to see those, who are fond of referring to the “sheep” who are duped by “mainstream media”, for what they are…. Trolls!

  • It’s a numbers game BB. I don’t know but I see social media changing. As rapidly as it rose, it will sink. Why? Because true quality content will always, always rule the roost. Because as a species what we learn is how to survive and as we lose trust in the platforms and the people driving them, as we lose faith in politicians we find it again in truth, in honesty and in quality. We’re programmed to be good because that’s what makes the societal animals that we are prosper as a whole. Our interpretations of this may differ but that’s what brings quality to the fore. Build your tribe. The wheel is turning.

  • Great and timeous article, Branko – let us hope it pricks some corporate consciences and opens up some depend for the DM!

    I absolutely agree with your call that this very thin end of a wedge, is just about all that stands between us and even more fully-blown anarchy, corruption, betrayal of democracy and a completely failed-State reality.

    Business needs to wake up and realise that we are all standing on the very edge of a massive precipice and often it is only the actions of the few brave press peoples that stand between us and falling over that precipice. Parliament and Government can’t to won’t and only a certain sector of the Fourth Estate can hold the thin line and expose the deep rot. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that Zondo will save us and the “good guys” in the ANC are now in control and we can all relax – this emphatically and fundamentally is NOT the case, as evidenced by President Ramaphosa’s strong defence of cadre deployment at the Zondo enquiry, at a time when he should have been calling for full and complete openness.

  • Agreed Branko. The deeper question I am wrestling with without elaborating is the following ; if criminals hijacked the structures of government, what can law-abiding citizens do to effectively get rid of these enemies of society?

  • Branko thanks for this. For us as citizens, supporting the media is not good enough. We also need to engage on a daily basis and do whatever we can to really make this a country worth living in.

  • Logic and ethics underscoring reporting and big business decision making ? Wish it weren’t a stretch.

    What I find most astounding is that someone like Einstein could recognise that his thought could be wrong and what could be considered as fact was turned around to a falsehood. Ala Bohr.

    And yet we mere mortals stomp around shouting from rooftops about our “truth” without proper analysis of “what is truth”. Leonardo da Vinci – scribbled on his pages something along the lines of ‘the world isn’t flat’… had he spoken openly about what he thought to be true he would’ve been labelled a heretic and probably lost to the world. Nowadays with media supporting ‘nonsense sells” – I just see a move to the “information dark ages” aka more “lynchings”.

    The “death squad” now has platforms to express their disdain for ‘right thinking’. Sometimes ‘right’ may not align with what we consider to be ‘fair’. But it remains true until shown through the margins of error to be wrong.

    The truth will out in the end – thanks to thinkers and fact based reporting. And so progress moves forward. Albeit sometimes in a painstaking, long winded, round about way.

    If a Harvard Prof with qualifications as long as my arm, has to go through peer review, before his thinking can even be published on a reputable platform. Why do laymen think their word is fact and pour ‘junk’ onto media platforms without any recourse? Oftentimes, in the extreme, it goes to violent acts or rhetoric to force opinion. 🤷‍♀️

  • Thanks for the article. We, as the public, must keep on calling out for the truth , and encourage those that have the clout, the money and the influence, to keep on pushing for a better, more equitable country.I also feel that if big business acted in concert, and was more vociferous in its demands for a stable and safe environment, more could be achieved.

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