Speaking at a seminar designed to achieve a more effective African Peer Review Mechanism, Minister of Public Service and Administration Collins Chabane advocated roping in the media along with government and civil society.
Chabane holds that South Africa’s robust and free media exists thanks to the country’s post-apartheid constitution.
While it scrutinises and criticises government, the media must itself be self conscious, transparent, ethical and self critical media.
Chabane quotes Australian journalist John Pilger, whom he calls one of today’s most prominent media personalities as saying: “It is not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers without understanding the hidden agendas of the message and the myths that surround it.”
He says Pilger implores those in the media to ensure, that in the conduct of their duty to act as the ‘fourth estate’ in our democracy they must do so in a manner that recognises that they themselves are a product of the social, cultural, and historic evolution of their societies.
This realisation imposes a heavy burden on those charged with the responsibility to inform, educate, and act as guardians of our democracy. This is a burden of ethical responsibility and social consciousness.
As we continue to partner with the media in the renaissance of the African continent we need to do so in a robust, critical, but ethical and fair manner that recognises the reality that the media has a duty to both inform and create space for open discussion and implementation of ideas whose sole purpose is the improvement of the human condition. The APRM mechanism provides such space and opportunity for the media.
This space should be explored while bearing in mind the grim conviction of some, like Pilger, who have been led to conclude that: “Many journalists now are no more than channelers and echoers of what George Orwell called the ‘official truth’. They simply cipher and transmit lies. It really grieves me that so many of my fellow journalists can be so manipulated that they become really what the French describe as ‘functionaries’, functionaries, not journalists.
This worrying picture painted by John Pilger by no means apply to all journalist but it does serve to illustrate the point that some media practitioners become embedded in some dubious ‘truths’ and assumptions that deliberately ignores the fact that the industry itself is embedded in social and economic realities that are in turn influenced by power, ownership and dominant narratives about what constitute the ‘truth’ and the best way forward for any given society.
The call for caution in the conduct of the media should not be construed to mean that we are calling for self censorship. Rather we are calling for a self-conscious media mindful of its role as a positive contributor to the development of the African continent rather than one that mimics dominant narratives and stereotypes about our continent, often embedded in ideas far removed from our reality
In the spirit of a home grown Africa owned mechanism of peer review and learning, we require a media partner that though not compromising its independence and criticism of what is wrong, does so bearing in mind that it is a participant in the struggle to reshape both the image and history of our continent as well as in defining its future.
Chabane’s choice of Pilger is fascinating.
The journalist was locked out of apartheid South Africa.
However on his return after three decades, he has been fiercely critical of the ANC and specifically of former President Nelson Mandela.
Pilgedr says the country will mourn his passing but not his legacy.
He wrote: “On the twentieth anniversary of the first democratic vote on 27 April 1994, it is this resistance, this force for justice and real democratic progress, that should be celebrated, while its betrayal and squandering should be understood and acted upon.”
Pilger accuses Nelson Mandela of “Reassuring the white establishment and its foreign business allies – the very orthodoxy and cronyism that had built, maintained and reinforced fascist apartheid – (that) became the political agenda of the ‘new’ South Africa.”
Pilger says “the betrayal of the UDF and its most effective components, such as the National Civic Organisation, is today poignant, secret history.”
He writes that apartheid’s victims were denied justice and restitutution but almost all the verkramptes enforcing it escaped justice.
Pilger writes that: “The Botha regime even offered black businessmen generous loans from the Industrial Development Corporation. This allowed them to set up companies outside the “bantustans”. In this way, a black company such as New Africa Investments could buy part of Metropolitan Life. Within a decade, Cyril Ramaphosa was deputy chairman of what was effectively a creation of apartheid. He is today one of the richest men in the world.”
The Australian journalist adds: “Liberation governments can point to real and enduring achievements since 1994. But the most basic freedom, to survive and to survive decently, has been withheld from the majority of South Africans, who are aware that had the ANC invested in them and in their “informal economy”, it could have actually transformed the lives of millions. Land could have been purchased and reclaimed for small-scale farming by the dispossessed, run in the co-operative spirit of African agriculture. Millions of houses could have been built, better health and education would have been possible. A small-scale credit system could have opened the way for affordable goods and services for the majority. None of this would have required the import of equipment or raw materials, and the investment would have created millions of jobs. As they grew more prosperous, communities would have developed their own industries and an independent national economy.
He concludes that: “ The violent inequality that now stalks South Africa is no dream.”