Give free rein to black scribes

CityPress - - Voices - Bu­sani Ng­caweni voices@ city­press. co. za

Mail & Guardian


Sun­day In­de­pen­dent


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

(AWP, forth­com­ing)

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