Defend Truth


Busani Ngcaweni, let’s talk frankly


Dr Onkgopotse JJ Tabane is the Editor of Leadership Magazine and Anchor of Power to Truth on ENCA. He holds a PhD in media studies from Wits University. He is CEO of a communications company Sgwili Media Group and is Author of Lets Talk Frankly. He is also a trustee of the Love Life Trust, The UWC Foundation as well as Chair of the UWC Media Society.

Busani Ngcaweni’s article berating and belittling black journalists as colonial is nothing but prejudice and unbridled racism. To lazily lump all black journalists together as some kind of sheep who need herding back to the sunshine line and a special mental rescue programme on how to be an acceptable group of revolutionary blacks, is insulting in the extreme and has to be rejected with the necessary contempt.

Dear Busani Ngcaweni … Let’s talk frankly

Welcome to the Daily Maverick opinionistas club. Your robust voice will surely light up these pages. Sorry for the nasty welcome by some in the family of loony commentators of note but that’s how we roll here … as Mavericks. You are in good company judging by your debut piece.

Your article berating and belittling black journalists as colonial is nothing but prejudice and unbridled racism. There is no two way about it, if you can arrogate to yourself the ability to sum up thousands of people, from Mathatha Tsedu to Xolani Gwala, from Ferial Haffajee to Moshoeshoe Monare, as black puppets of white masters of sorts, people who have the gravitas and the intellect many can never be able to muster, that conduct can only be labelled racist. For these luminaries of the journalistic professional to be summed up as colonial minded because of the lunacy of one of their colleagues who is clearly buying face by faking an ill-considered group apology to the president is totally pathetic. Now that the epithets are out of the way, let’s talk frankly …

You argue essentially that black journalists are guided by white owners in their posture and approach to their work. This is a blatant generalisation that smacks of lazy analysis at worst and ignorance at best. Yes, there may well be bad reporting in newsrooms yet this can’t be ascribed so heavily to the so-called miseducation of black journalists. There are a range of reasons for the decline of standards in newsrooms other than puppetry. In the same way that we have terrible civil servants who don’t know what on earth they are doing, and it would be easy to just blame their apartheid masters and foremen and not ascribe their missteps to simple incompetence.

Could this miseducation myth apply to Mathews Phosa or even Charles Nqakula, both of whom are black journalists who worked for white-owned papers? Or have they suddenly thrown away the shackles because they joined the African National Congress (ANC)? Does this so-called ‘coloniality’ expire or are Makhudu Sefara, who now works for the City of Johannesburg and was declared editor of the year by his colleagues recently, and Vusi Mona, who has had a stint as City Press editor and has now been spinning the e-toll debacle, free of this ‘coloniality’ owing to their new jobs?

Who exactly is afflicted? And when does such ‘coloniality’ kick in? Is Songezo Zibi, who until recently was a spin doctor for white capital while an ANC-minded cadre is now editor of the influential Business Day, also a token black suddenly? He is a black editor who is in fact a child of our movement frankly with little or no ‘colonial’ in his marrow. What about the never praise-singing Karima Brown who was brandishing her ANC colours on her sleeve at a rally recently, is she also ‘colonial’? After all, until recently her publishing company was owned by a company in England. She can’t have changed so quickly just because Iqbal Survé, a black person of sorts, is at the helm now. But even with all her miscalculations under the white ownership, she held her own in thinking outside her owners’ box. So comrade, what on earth are you talking about?!

Journalists at the New Age may also be ‘colonial’ …. though after all, the rag is not owned by whites so maybe not. What about Hlaudi Motsoeneng? He is a black journalist of some kind despite all the anti-media banalities he utters. In fact, if anything he should surely fit your bill. What he says often embarrasses more blacks than whites as we have to collectively cringe that this represents our best foot forward as black media. Vuyo Mvoko who now works for the SABC used to work for Business Day, a white-owned newspaper. I suppose he liberated himself? Yes? No?

The argument that black journalists are somehow a special category of a colonised people is horribly flawed. Were they born journalists and subjected to different colonial pressures or did they grow up side by side with you and I, where they developed a consciousness that in fact sought to defeat colonialism? What exactly is your beef with them that warrants a common judgment against all of them? Can it be argued that black civil servants who believe they are kings instead of servants of the people are ‘colonial’ in their behaviour? Can it be argued that politicians who behave like pirates and kings and steal public money as also ‘colonial’? Could it be argued that the behaviour of not listening to our people’s concerns, causing them to be up in arms, is also a result of ‘coloniality’? If so could it be that you yourself are suffering from the same yoke of colonial mind-set that sought to cluster all black people as a category of subhuman because of the color of their skin? Let’s think about it here. Can you really compare the late Aggrey Klaaste with the flavour of the month editor at The Citizen? This is chalk and cheese stuff. There is no comparison whatsoever. And by the way, the Sowetan was owned by whites during Klaaste’s tenure but I will have to have you point out which article or editorial in his illustrious career as a black journalist earned this new word ‘coloniality’ and proved that he was a puppet of his owners.

So I suppose after muttering some so-called introspective things the editor of The Citizen and the editor of the New Age (who both worked for white establishments for years) are now free at last. And Prince Mashele is the devil himself. (By the way, he is not a black journalist, he is like you and me … merely an opinionista, so he is not relevant in your broadside, but at least we know exactly what you think of him.)

Frankly, you have to be joking.

In the South African context it is normal to assume that all of us have some residual racism lurking about. However, it does not define any group of people to be obviously prejudiced and therefore deserving of such brazen dismissal as homogenous in their sheep mentality. Getting rid of our colonial affliction therefore liberating our minds, cannot be confined to any group of people called journalists. There was no special colonialism directed at journalists, therefore it has to be concluded that freeing our minds – as Steve Biko called – is a challenge to all black and white people, and the success of that liberation is uneven. This means there may well be journalists who are not yet free as much as there may be civil servants or ordinary professionals in other disciplines who are equally in mental bondage.

There is no special colonialism that was somehow reserved for journalists. Therefore, to lazily lump all black journalists together as some kind of sheep who need hearding back to the sunshine line and a special mental rescue programme on how to be an acceptable group of revolutionary blacks, is insulting in the extreme and has to be rejected with the necessary contempt.

Yours frankly,

Onkgopotse JJ Tabane


Tabane is the author of a new book Let’s talk frankly … letters to influential South Africans, which will be launched in September 2015. To attend the launch in Cape Town on September 9 at 6.30 pm at the University of the Western Cape, e-mail [email protected]. The Joburg launch will be on September 23 at 6.30pm at the Hilton hotel.