THE STRUG­GLE IS FAR FROM OVER

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - OPINION - RYLAND FISHER Fisher is an in­de­pen­dent me­dia pro­fes­sional. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @ry­land­fisher

WHEN I read the story last week about Nozipho Mthembu, the for­mer Grade 5 teacher at Rusten­burg Girls’ Ju­nior School who claims she was forced to re­sign, it brought back mem­o­ries of how I found my­self in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion more than 20 years ago when I be­gan to ques­tion my own com­pe­tence based on con­cerns raised by my mainly white bosses.

Mthembu, the first black teacher in the Ron­de­bosch school’s 125-year his­tory, re­port­edly says she has been un­fairly dis­crim­i­nated against and asked to re­sign by the prin­ci­pal or face a dis­ci­plinary hear­ing. She took the school to the CCMA.

I re­alise that the sac­ri­fices that we made when we be­came a democ­racy have not made much of a dif­fer­ence to many peo­ple and that those peo­ple who felt en­ti­tled dur­ing apartheid, still feel en­ti­tled. Or rather, their off­spring feel as en­ti­tled as they did.

Racism takes dif­fer­ent forms. It does not have to be bla­tant in the form of some­one beat­ing you or swear­ing at you be­cause of the colour of your skin. Most of the time it is psy­cho­log­i­cal and dis­guised be­hind no­tions of “but we have given you an op­por­tu­nity” or “we are only try­ing to make cer­tain that you per­form at an op­ti­mal level”.

One of the rea­sons I left Strug­gle me­dia in 1990 was that I re­alised that what we called the main­stream me­dia – which was then mainly oc­cu­pied by whites – would need to find se­nior black jour­nal­ists when we be­came a democ­racy.

I had run sev­eral news­rooms and felt pre­pared for what­ever the in­dus­try was pre­pared to throw at me. I spent the first few years back in main­stream me­dia, where I had started my ca­reer be­fore ven­tur­ing into al­ter­na­tive me­dia, at the Sun­day Times. When I was ap­proached to join the Cape Times as deputy edi­tor, with the prom­ise of be­com­ing edi­tor within a year, I had no idea how dif­fi­cult the tran­si­tion was go­ing to be be­fore I be­came edi­tor.

The then Ir­ish Pow­ers That Be at In­de­pen­dent News­pa­pers iden­ti­fied a few of us as fu­ture lead­ers who should be “fast-tracked”. I re­fused to be fast-tracked be­cause I be­lieved I had the ex­pe­ri­ence I needed for what­ever po­si­tion they were pre­pared to of­fer me.

I had an ad­di­tional prob­lem.

All those who were sup­posed to be fast-tracked were black, with the ex­cep­tion of two white women. I ques­tioned why no white men were be­ing fast-tracked but it seemed that they did not need it, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany’s lead­er­ship.

Even­tu­ally, and af­ter be­ing told it was a sui­ci­dal ca­reer move to refuse be­ing fast-tracked, I agreed to be on this spe­cial pro­gramme.

When I even­tu­ally be­came edi­tor of the Cape Times, I no­ticed some­thing strange about the me­dia re­ports about my ap­point­ment.

All the re­ports spoke about how “young” I was. I as­sume that they wanted to in­voke all the po­ten­tial neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions as­so­ci­ated with be­ing “young”, like “wild”, “im­ma­ture” or “ir­re­spon­si­ble”.

I re­alised that there were two white ed­i­tors who had been ap­pointed be­fore me and there was no ref­er­ence to how young they were. Through­out my term as edi­tor, I felt that there were peo­ple in the lead­er­ship of the com­pany who did not want me in this po­si­tion.

The Mthembu case has shown that, more than 20 years later, our bat­tles are still the same.

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