Give free rein to black scribes
Mail & Guardian
The Sunday Times
It’s going to take a collective effort to liberate black journalists from their apartheid point of reference. This effort will have to include the transformation of ownership and control structures of the mainstream media to free our scribes from the economic blackmail that threatens their livelihoods and makes them mere conformists with no original pro-African story to tell.
We call it blackmail because the political economy of the journalism profession is similar to others where black professionals can’t freely experiment and innovate without their livelihoods being threatened.
The situation is worse for black female journalists because, in addition to the dictates of capital, they have to contend with masculinity and chauvinism.
This thought is prompted by the letter from the editor of The Citizen, Steven Motale, who owned up to the miseducation he has suffered in the past 12 years by believing what the white media wanted him to think and write about President Jacob Zuma.
He has been a willing askari in the neoliberal offensive even though his blackness kept him in the zone of subjectivity and otherness.
This is the story of many black editors. They can parade with machismo, shouting about media freedom, transparency and accountability, yet everyone knows that the die of whiteness is cast in their notebooks.
The essence of Motale’s apology to President Zuma is that you are innocent until proven guilty in court. In the media, you are guilty until proven innocent.
I suspect the source of this existential crisis is coloniality: our scribes are predisposed to whiteness – not necessarily colour, but the state of mind and point of reference.
Coloniality is defined as the continued existence of a colonial situation after the end of colonialism. It’s a power structure that keeps blacks on the margins of power, economy and knowledge while maintaining a racial hierarchy.
Our journalists are products of Euro-American modernity, which treats everything black as suspect and inferior. They write stories to please their masters – media owners and advertisers. Most black journalists have no views of their own and are restricted by their marginal economic position.
Part of the problem is that most schools of journalism, especially at universities of technology, do not teach African history and philosophy in reasonable depth.
As a result, most black journalists are ideologically and epistemologically dislocated. This is like drinking from a fountain that was once poisoned to kill you.
After all, colonialism and apartheid dislocated us from our cultural base and knowledge system. We have been assimilated into the apartheid system of thought and practice, and do not question the cultural legacy of prejudice.
Miseducated by the liberal establishment, black scribes chase headlines in the hope of increasing circulation figures. Little attention is paid to reporting on trendlines – an objective measure of the extent or lack of progress in society. They win awards for that.
This is a nervous condition, to borrow the title of the novel by Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga, which requires radical psychological, philosophical and economic liberation.
The call for epistemological justice has never been opportune. Our journalists are talented. They have ideas, but the political economy of their trade is limiting and the culture of colonial thinking lingers.
Perhaps South Africa should seriously consider introducing a black journalists’ empowerment programme that will prioritise the reconstruction and correction of epistemological foundations of their craft and thought processes.
For far too long we have witnessed epistemicide (annihilation of our knowledge and value systems), and it is time we freed our brothers and sisters.
Black journalists matter. They must own and control the media. The empowerment programme should liberate our journalists from being mere technicians who chase headlines. They should become intellectual agents and activists with a progressive agenda founded on the principles and aspirations of African agency and liberation.
How many journalists read literature by African sages like Valentine Mudimbe, Cheikh Anta Diop, Archie Mafeje, Govan Mbeki, Mzala Nxumalo, WEB Du Bois, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Ali Mazrui, Mazisi Kunene, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Lewis Nkosi and Phyllis Ntantala?
That is where the problem starts – as I recall a senior member of the SA National Editors’ Forum asking: “Why is Frantz Fanon such a phenomenon? The guy is long dead.”
And another political editor who quipped: “I never really took interest in OR Tambo until the controversy of the renaming of the Johannesburg airport.” Go figure! Ngcaweni is deputy director-general in the Private Office of the Deputy President, editor of Liberation
Diaries (Jacana Media), The Future we Chose (Africa Institute) and co-editor of Nelson Mandela: Decolonial Ethics of Liberation and Servant Leadership