Steven Bantu Biko will be remembered again this September as part of the heritage of our country. Again we will recall this year what we have recalled so many years since his death, that the apartheid regime could take away a life but they could not take away a dream. They could kill Steve but they could not kill Black Consciousness.
Yet we will also once again remember the legacy that Biko left, including two of his seminal works, which simply by their titles summed up the kind of person and thinker that our hero was. I Write What I Like and the Frank Talk series, showed that for Biko the search for the truth was as important as its dissemination.
It is therefore no coincidence of history that one of the immediate tragedies after the death of Comrade Steve Biko was what took place a month later after his death. On Wednesday 19 October 1977, today known as Black Wednesday, 19 organisations including the Black People’s Convention, the South African Student Organisation (Saso), the Black Parents’ Association, the Black Women’s Federation and the Union of Black Journalists were banned.
Eight members of the Soweto Committee of 10 were arrested, as well as editor of the The World and Weekend World Percy Qoboza and his deputy Aggrey Klaaste. The mission was explicit: to shut down black publications. For as Comrade Steve wrote: the most potent weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. The oppressor attempted, at all costs, to control our minds.
Indeed, Black Wednesday is observed in South Africa annually and as much as it is an opportunity for the ANC and the ANC-led government to assess the state of freedom of the press in South Africa, so too, we would hope, that other organisations, but the media in particular would evaluate their role in ensuring the freedom of press. All of us, therefore, have a yearly opportunity to determine critically whether we, in the spirit of Comrade Biko, seek truthfully for the truth and whether we contribute to the emancipation of our own minds and that of our people.
Commenting on the freedom of the press in an interview titled On Freedom of Press and Culture, American linguist Noam Chomsky states that “…there is no doubt that the extreme concentration of economic-political power has an overwhelming influence on the mass media”. However, points out that it is not absolute control.
We may easily recognise with the rapid expansion of social media that the press itself is not the only source of information, and truth, today. Chomsky in that interview highlights that “…there are many possibilities to pressure the media, and there are openings within them”. He goes on to recognise alternative media.
Before venturing into exploring the role that the media plays in South Africa, it is worthwhile mentioning that the press, especially the written press, has long been a source of concern for the ANC, precisely because we recognise the “overwhelming influence on the mass media”, as Chomsky notes, “by the extreme concentration of economic-political power”. Note, not “political-economic power” but rather “economic-political power”.
As recently as its 54th National Conference, the ANC identified the anti-ANC voices that continue to dominate multiple platforms. “Media consolidation and hegemony in South Africa”, the released Resolutions of the Conference stated, “has meant that the larger media houses — many of whose editorial positions on government and the governing party are adversarial — predominate.”
The ANC shelved the proposal of a media tribunal as well as the Protection of State Information Bill. Instead, history shows, that it championed the Promotion of Access to Information Act. The question is: what has the media done to ensure that our people have access to the truth? In a post-truth society, we must ask ourselves whether our journalists are reporting truthfully, factually and without bias or prejudice, as someone like Steve Biko would have wanted.
Rather, despite a decade since the proposal of the media tribunal, as the public, we remain on the receiving end of innuendo, gossip and mud. Journalists and commentators seem to continue to throw as much mud as possible in the hope that some sticks.
Take for example, the article written by one Thanduxolo Jika, in the Mail and Guardian on 7 September 2018, titled: “Duarte link surfaces in Zondo inquiry”. Nothing that was said at the inquiry nor in the article was new, not in the public domain already, for there was a report as early as December 2017.
Even worse still, absolutely nothing in the article concerned myself, the Deputy Secretary-General of the African National Congress. No doubt, the real target in this case and in the one below is the ANC.
Two adults, my former husband and my son-in-law, were mentioned in the article, but nothing in the article warranted the headline or the insinuation that I was involved in any of the activities or non-activities reported on in the article. Should I be held accountable for the activities of two adults? If there is concrete and credible evidence that indeed I intervened and assisted either of these two adults then I will certainly insist that I be held accountable, but hitherto all we have been subjected to is innuendo and imprecise insinuations.
At the same time, it must be questioned whether eligible persons who just so happen to be formerly or currently connected to persons in public office can never do business.
The article in the Mail and Guardian follows a commentary delivered by one Mr Lumkile Mondi, described as a “senior” lecturer at Wits University while having neither a PhD nor a reasonable list of publications. In his comments on eNCA, a national broadcaster, Mr Mondi stated that my children worked for the Guptas. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yet eNCA, Wits University (through which Mr Mondi receives his spot on eNCA) and Mr Mondi himself expect the people of South Africa to accept such blatant lies. Sadly, it is a case of mud.
Regrettably such “mishaps” and misstating of facts have devastating consequences. My daughter has had to endure much pain and suffering because she has been publicly accused, on air, on a national broadcaster and by an academic from a most reputable academic institution to have worked for the Guptas. Despite this being a lie, what does her current or prospective employer think of her? I am the one in public office, not her. I could pay such prices. She shouldn’t.
In fact, Steve Biko’s words to her this Black Wednesday are cold comfort. As far as the media is concerned in South Africa: Black woman you are on your own! DM