By Zubeida Jaffer
Two senior University of Cape Town academics have locked horns about a range of matters related to higher education transformation challenges, stirring interesting exchanges. The viewpoints of professors Xolela Mangcu and David Benatar were aired on the pages of The Cape Times in recent weeks. (see www.thejournalist.org.za) Today, the Publisher of The Journalist, Zubeida Jaffer, wades into the debate, directing a letter to Professor Benatar.
I see that you and Dr Mangcu have locked horns in The Cape Times. What an interesting time of intellectual ferment in our country. I don’t always agree with Dr Mangcu especially when he posits that UCT should have Black Studies. Black Studies in America where African-Americans constitute a minority, is appropriate. Here I agree with you. Instead, it would be more appropriate to have White Studies or European studies.
Be that as it may, we are a country that needs all our skilled people to pull us through at this point. I respect those who were my teachers in the seventies at UCT. They helped broaden my mind. But my mind was further broadened off campus when I read texts that were banned or not easily accessible to us as students. In 1980, I was charged with possession of three banned books, one of it being Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth. I was a young journalist then and had to hide my books. Let’s not forget we were living then in a country under white mis-rule.
All our academics must grapple with the injustice that has been perpetrated on most of us for a long time. Unlike in Britain where students attend universities steeped in British history and philosophy that are absorbed through their skins quite naturally, our students have to struggle to connect university teaching to their lived reality and the knowledge base of their families. Students at the University of the Free State where I am based often find themselves drawn into this different world and then do not know how to fit into their families back home. Instead of academia taking them from where they are and broadening their horizons so they can take their communities with them, they are taught to stand separately from their communities and gaze down their noses at them. University is about critical thinking so students must subject all their experiences to intense criticism and hopefully gain insights that will result in progress for themselves and their country. I have no argument against this.
I am not sure if I can describe myself as an academic even though I am based at a university and impart knowledge about my professional life as a journalist. It has been an eye-opening experience for me. I made the false assumption that 20 years into democracy, that journalism schools or departments will be teaching about the pioneers of the profession and provide insights that were largely excluded previously. I took it for granted that all undergraduates would be familiar with Sol Plaatje’s Native Life in South Africa that celebrates its 100th year next year. It is a South African classic and I would have imagined compulsory reading for all journalists.
For more than 300 years, many of our families have been constrained and learned deep within their bones that they are less. For two-thirds of my life I had to fight just for the right to be South African as had millions of others.
As academics we have to grapple with this historical fact that most of us have not seen ourselves in our academic institutions or in our history books. We have not seen ourselves affirmed through the study of some of our greatest intellectuals, artists, musicians and scientists. We have not been exposed to the intellectual treasure of our continent. I have just returned from a conference in Egypt that gathered together academics and writers from 22 African countries in the midst of that country’s dramatic political developments. The Cairo International Conference on interaction of African Cultures – Identity in African Arts and Literature was the second round. The first was held five years ago and now organisers plan to host it every two years. With the support of the Supreme Council of Culture, Egyptian intellectual, Dr Helmi Sharawy was the driver of this initiative. He harks back to the heady days of early independence under Gamel Abdel Nasser.
For three days, I shared a space with these brilliant minds that our students are cut off from. Comfortable in an African context, jewels of poetry, song, philosophy and history were lightly dropped amongst us. I heard the Sudanese sociologist, Dr Haider Ibrahim Ali on the problem of identity constructs, the Nigerian academic, Dr Adermi Raji-Oyelade’s re-examination of the idea of the African Renaissance and Tanzania’s illustrious Professor Mwalemu F Senkoro examining contemporary youth culture. The names of giant intellectuals rang in the corridors – Sheikh Anta Diop, Ali Mazrui, Archi Mafeje, Samir Amin, Issa Shivji, Mahmood Mamdani and the great Kenyan Wangari Maathai.
All that was said confirmed Dr Mangcu’s argument that some of the European, if not most, has its basis in this African context. If we read Basil Davidson’s The African Genius, it is all well documented. I would respectfully argue that this should be a primary text in UCT’s Philosophy Department. Scientist and political activist, Dr Mosibudi Mangena, our former minister of Science and Technology, has this year released his latest book, Triumphs and Heartaches. He makes a considerable effort to piece together his understanding of African history and scientific achievement. There is nothing to be proved. There is a need for UCT to broaden its understandings. Are students aware that there are medical professionals in this country studying African approaches to dealing with anxiety disorders and finding advanced understandings that will contribute eventually to existing models? Do they know about the famous beadwork artist Nesta Nala in KwazuluNatal whose work is presently helping academics develop a different way of teaching mathematics?
It is sad that our universities lag behind in knowledge accumulation when they should be leading all of us from the front. UCT definitely is advanced when it comes to European and American knowledge but what about African knowledge? What about Indian, Chinese, Russian, Cuban, Brazilian knowledge?
Our journalism students do not read the work of Gabriel Garcia Marques, one of the most active journalists and authors in South America who died last year. His speeches published this year are a remarkable collection of journalistic insights that have much meaning for the South African context.
At the UFS, a few of us got together last year and launched a website called The Journalist (www.thejournalist.org.za) to share information that is commonly known by a few of us in the profession but definitely not taught at universities. We will build The Journalist as a knowledge bank to give history and context to many of our issues in the quest to build the self-confidence and esteem of our students and trust that with time it will soak through the skins of our students at all journalism schools.
You see, Dr Benatar, our journalism university education continues to be presented in a European context. It is Thomas Pringle, a young British man who visited our shores for six years who is presented as the lodestar not Sol Plaatje.
This is a realisation that came to me quite late in life because I too knew most about Thomas Pringle. I respect the work he did in the small Cape colonial set up to convince his peers that the authorities should not interfere with the rights of a journalist to tell the truth. I will not wipe this interesting contribution to Cape colonial history out of the history books. But please let’s place it in its context. How offended would the British be if they were to discover that their children were taught that Sol Plaatje (who spent some time in Britain) was the beacon of journalism for all British students?
Surely this would be untenable.
What an inspiration it would be if you and Dr Mangcu combine your strengths and lead us on a magical journey to bring our scientific, philosophical and artistic heritage to our halls of learning where they belong.
The eight years of Jan van Riebeeck
By Zubeida Jaffer
Jan Van Riebeeck arrived in South Africa in 1652. Who of my generation does not know this? It was drilled into all our minds at primary school. And even if we were not lucky enough to go to school, the mythology certainly did not pass us by. The version of history taught to us started with him. In fact if the old history books were to be believed, this was when the history of our country started.
Who did he find at the Cape? The great leader Autshumato and his people today referred to as the KhoiSan. According to archeologists, human beings had lived here for more than a 100,000 years and as KhoiSan definitely for thousands of years.
They lived along the southern and western coastal strips, where adequate grazing was to be found. Over time they spread out into the north, intermingled with the Amaxhosa, enriching their language with their clicks. Today there are sixteen different clicks in the Xhosa language as a result of the influence of the KhoiSan whose languages were drawn from the sounds of nature. (Interestingly Madiba comes from this mix. He is maternally KhoiSan and paternally Southern African Bantu according to his DNA)
When Autshamato encountered the European delegation, he was cordial. He bartered with them and must have assumed that they were passing by as many others had done before. Instead, they had come to build a refreshment station to serve ships belonging to the Dutch East India Company.
Slowly a mutual animosity developed over access to pasteurs. Van Riebeeck and his men were settling down and pushing the KhoiSan away from adequate grazing land. The beauty of the Cape and its wealth of resources had begun to entice the visitors to stay and develop a settlement rather than just a transitory refreshment station.
The first substantial threat came after five years in 1657 when Van Riebeeck released nine men from their contracts and by royal decree granted them title deed to land along the Liesbeeck River. Each were granted 15 morgen of land in what is now known as Bishopscourt very close to the Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba’s residence. Autshamato did not take this lightly and so began their 150 year resistance to prevent the Europeans from taking their land.
In that same year, 1657, Van Riebeeck’s company imported the first slaves from the Indonesian Islands and India, bringing the skill and labour that built the Cape. From them flowed some of my ancestors. Anyone keen to know more about the 176 years of slavery at the Cape should visit the Iziko Museum at the top of Adderly Street in the city. Be prepared for your stomach to turn as you witness the cruelty.
In 1659, Van Riebeeck instructed the slaves to build a wooden fence, with watch towers, from the mouth of the Salt River, through Rondebosch to Kirstenbosch, using the deeper parts of the Liesbeeck River as part of the barrier. To finish the barrier quickly, a hedge of indigenous wild almond trees (Brabejum stellatifolium) and thorny shrubs was planted along the section between the river and Kirstenbosch.
It further locked out the natives from their grazing land and access to the Salt River, the Black River and the Liesbeeck River so named by the Dutch East India Comapany.
Van Riebeeck recorded an encounter where they confronted him about land rights and asked him "Who should rather in justice give way, the rightful owner or the foreign intruder?" In response to this demand to withdraw, van Riebeeck said that the territory had been won in battle and now belonged to the VOC. The Khoikhoi then asked for at least the right to collect "veldkos" (bush food), specifically wild almonds (Brabejum stellatifolium) from their traditional lands. Van Riebeeck denied this request as well. He needed the very same wild almond plants to form his barrier hedge to keep them out.
Efforts to protect the hedge began as soon as it was planted. Van Riebeeck issued a Plakaat (a posted law) forbidding everyone "not only from making passage through ... the said hedge, but not even to break off from it the smallest twig, no matter what the reason is supposed to be, on pain of being banished in chains for 3 years" Today, there are only two surviving portions of van Riebeeck's hedge, the Kirstenbosch section and another in Bishops Court. (“Beauty of the Heart” which tells the story of our first native female graduate will provide an annotation of where this information is drawn from when I publish it later this year.)
By the time Van Riebeeck left in 1662, 250 European people lived in what was beginning to look like a developing colony marking clear exclusion of the native people. In just eight years at the Cape, he had sown the seeds of a division that continues to harm us till this day.
In Kirstenbosch, the botanical gardens on the slopes of Table Mountain, where a part of that hedge still grows, this story of exclusion is not mentioned in its official brochure.
It refers to an almond hedge known for its thorns as the remains of the original hedge named Van Riebeeck’s Hedge.
The brochure fails to explain its real purpose as outlined above and its effect of denying natives access to land and water they held to be sacred. From the settler point of view, the barrier was created to prevent them from raiding their livestock, often traded from the Khoisan.
After bringing major disruption to this part of the world, Van Riebeeck continues to be presented as one whom we should value. His statue occupies centre stage at the foot end of Adderley Street, the main street in the our city. He spent eight years of his life on these shores and we hold him up as an example to our children who know nothing about Autshamato, the great KhoiSan leader.
He was an employee of a marauding company not known for fair trade outside Europe. Not very different from some companies today who parachute into our country, strip us of our resources and then fly back from whence they come. Twenty years after democracy, we need to carefully consider how we want to do business with the world. Perhaps we have little room to choose because of the great unfairness of the world economic system. But let us be aware of those who are doing us harm both from amongst ourselves and from abroad and expose exploitation where ever we see it.
It is unfortunate that the City of Cape Town chooses not to teach us to value Autshumato and others like him who have done us no harm. Instead it gives pride of place to those who have done us great harm and seems determined to help us adjust to a version of history that can only be described as a gross distortion. Failure to interrogate this attitude will only leave most citizens unsupported in making sense of their past and their present experiences.
Zubeida Jaffer is Writer in Residence at the University of the Free State. This piece appeared in The Journalist (www.thejournalist.org.za
), a website where context and history matters.
Last Updated on Saturday, 11 April 2015 19:27
Arrested Turkish TV chief writes an open letter from his jail cell
Hidayet Karaca, an executive with a leading Turkish TV network, has been in prison since 14 December last year on charges of leading a terrorist group.
The charges relate to the screening five years before of an episode in a soap opera on one of the group’s channels. Karaca, general manager of the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group, was arrested along with more than two dozen senior journalists and media executives. Most were soon released.
Senior European Union officials - including the foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said the arrests went “against European values”.
Now Karaca has written a letter from behind bars, which has been voiced (see the YouTube video above) and can be read in full here:
" My name is Hidayet Karaca. I’m writing this letter from a jail cell, trying to reach out to the free world.
I am the general manager of a leading national TV network called Samanyolu, which has 14 broadcast channels in Turkish, English, Arabic and Kurdish, dozens of radio stations and popular news portals.
We have always been strong defenders and promoters of fundamental rights, the rule of law and democracy and will continue to do so in full compliance with rules, regulations and the law.
I am a victim of a witch hunt that has been waged on the free, independent and critical media in Turkey because the increasingly authoritarian government does not like criticism as well as the exposure of major wrongdoings within government agencies.
Any journalist who uncovers the dirty laundry of senior government officials is immediately labeled a traitor and subjected to character assassination, harassment, persecution and even prosecution under trumped-up charges with no evidence at all.
It is clear that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his allies in the government have declared a total war on the independent media against the background of massive corruption investigations that incriminated senior government officials between 17-25 December, 2013.
Since then, the government has resorted to all sorts of intimidation tactics to muzzle the media and get rid of the corruption scandal.
First, the government tried to force our network into bankruptcy by intimidating our advertisers, which has taken a toll on our revenues. Then the regulatory bodies, dominated by government loyalists, blatantly abused their power to levy financial penalties on our network and to stop our programming, which covers newsworthy developments.
While we only had one or two fines levied on us by the regulatory body in our 21 years of broadcasting history prior to December 2013, fines started to rain down on our network since then because we covered news concerning corruption files. In total, we are facing some $2m in financial penalties.
In the meantime, the repression and pressure in general has gone from bad to worse, resulting in raids on journalists’ homes and offices, and the arrest of teenagers for allegedly insulting the president.
The government has pushed anti-democratic bills through a rubberstamping Parliament, subordinating the judiciary to the executive branch and created special courts to prosecute -- or rather persecute -- critics and opponents.
On 14 December, 2014, police raided media outlets and detained dozens of individuals, including me. The prosecutor, citing an episode that was aired five years ago as part of a now-discontinued fictional TV series, detained not only me but also the producer, director and scriptwriters of the series as well as even an assistant who only worked as an intern for some time.
We are all charged with “forming and leading a terrorist organisation” based on this episode, which featured Turkey’s fight against terrorist groups, including al-Qaida. The whole investigation, as we understand it, is based on a complaint filed by a senior leader of a Turkish pro-al-Qaida group who claimed the fictional episode smeared his name.
It was certainly no coincidence that I was tried by a judge who did not hide his affection and praise for the ruling party, which wants to muzzle the free press anyway. I told the judge that if scriptwriters, actors, producers, directors and network managers were charged under counter-terrorism laws based on a soap opera, this was a sham trial and politically motivated.
The detention of media professionals coincided with the anniversary of the corruption investigations that the government wanted to sweep under the rug. The raids also aimed to distract the public attention away from the corruption scandals.
I knew the judgment concerning me was already rendered before I even appeared before the judge to defend myself. I asked the judge to explain what terrorist organization I supposedly belong to and where its guns and ammunition were.
The judge could not respond. But he went ahead anyway and put me in jail pending trial. It has been almost a month since I lost my freedom.
When faced with a barrage of criticism and condemnation at home and abroad over the detention of journalists, Turkish leaders described this as part of an international conspiracy. President Erdoğan even went ahead and adopted a hostile position against the European Union, telling EU leaders to mind their own businesses.
There is growing pressure on the media and frankly on everyone who simply exercises his or her democratic right to freedom of speech and expression. The right to dissent is seriously at risk in Turkey. Critical journalists were dismissed from their jobs via a phone call to media outlet owners from political figures.
The headlines in most newspapers were drafted not in the editorial rooms but in political circles. Businesses that place commercials in critical and independent media are under threat by the government.
An Orwellian democracy is in the works as the government has turned the intelligence organization into a partisan detective agency busy with profiling unsuspecting citizens, intruding into their private lives. A McCarthy-type witch hunt has been pursued against anyone who fails to toe the line with the prevailing ideology of the ruling party.
That is why tens of thousands of public employees, many in the police and the judiciary, were reassigned, removed or even purged without benefits. Civic groups that advocate freedom, democracy and rights are also targeted by this witch hunt.
My name is Hidayet Karaca. I am making this call from prison. Press freedom is under serious threat and the democratic regime is suspended in Turkey. The climate of fear is having a chill effect on all media groups that are not in line with government policies and that were forced into silence.
Despite this entirely bleak picture, I never lost my faith in democracy. I know I am paying the price for standing up for what I believe. It is the price that perhaps has to be paid over freedoms, liberties, rights and, above all, democracy.
The media has a responsibility to inform the public about what the government is up to. I am at ease with my conscience as I did my best to serve the public interest in my capacity as a media professional. I did my job and will continue to do so for as long as I can."
It is signed Hidayet Karaca, Prison No 6, Cell Block A5, Silivri Prison
Last Updated on Thursday, 12 February 2015 17:14
By Jimmy Mathews
Death, even when we expect it, always comes as a shock. The SABC spent years preparing for the inevitable passing of Nelson Mandela. We had plans for every eventuality, and teams ready to be deployed at a moments notice, but until it happened, we could not foresee the full extent and impact of it all.
I was stuck in Pietermaritzburg with some SABC executives when I received the dreaded call. The only scheduled flights back to Johannesburg were the following day. It was truly a dark and rainy night, with thick mist swirling through the vegetation. It was however impossible for me to even contemplate staying overnight. And so in true South African style, we hired a taxi, a typical mini-bus taxi and set off, through the pouring rain, back to Auckland Park. My phone battery ran flat as I tried to coordinate the broadcast through the night, made all the more difficult because I was directing proceedings blind, as it were.
It was surreal to pull up into petrol stops along the way, and to hear SABC radio broadcasting the sad news. Eventually we got back to Johannesburg at six-thirty in the morning and proceeded straight to the newsroom.
In the days that followed, the SABC rose to the challenge of one of the biggest broadcast efforts ever. For 10 days, across 4 television channels, 18 radio stations and numerous digital platforms, the SABC had rolling, non-stop coverage of events related to the passing of Madiba.
The task of broadcasting the event was all the more difficult for some staff members, who over the years had developed their own personal relationship with our national icon. I, for one, had been outside the prison when he was released, and at Bishopscourt the following morning, a witness to Madiba’s first press conference, as a free man. I was at that first FNB stadium rally.
All these, and many other events, are fresh in my memory, as if it was yesterday. And now I was responsible for broadcasting our hero’s final journey.
We were acutely aware of the fact that this was not just news as usual - this was a milestone for our young democracy. We had a duty to honour his legacy, and we consciously did it, every day, to the best of our ability.
Throughout the 10 days of mourning, the SABC continuously received messages on social media about its coverage of the historic event:
- At 20 past 6 on the morning of Nelson Mandela’s funeral, Bazex Thina Phalandwa tweeted: @SABCNewsOnline I am already awake to witness history. Thanks SABC for updating us with everything about the funeral. #RIPNelsonMandela.
- Sive Tshitshi tweeted a minute before that: @SABCNewsOnline if it wasn't for the SABC I wouldn't have witnessed this greatest farewell of Madiba! I've never seen anything like that!!
This kind of coverage does not happen by chance. It requires years of meticulous planning. Other media houses had reported about the SABC’s preparations and how much went into it, but I don’t think they will ever fully comprehend the amount of dedication and love that went into preparing for the sad duty we had to perform.
The official announcement of Nelson Mandela’s death by the President of the Republic was simultaneously broadcasted on all our platforms. Our digital platforms literally exploded as the world heard the news and responded with an outpouring of sorrow. We covered the news of Madiba’s passing blow by blow, broadcasting live, on radio and television, the massive events like the memorial service and funeral, and also streaming it live on the web.
Once the news had broken and had started to set in, the real story that we had to tell was a human story.
The first part of this was to reflect the man himself and his past. We did this through documentaries on television and radio, as well as a dedicated Nelson Mandela Tribute website. We were at pains to illustrate to the public his life and legacy, and what he had achieved. The material we broadcast had been meticulously put together in such a way as to show the man behind the legend, and to try and learn as much from him as we could. We also interviewed scores of people in this time who had the privilege of knowing Mr Mandela, be it through growing up with him in the struggle, or meeting in the political arena. We showed how he touched them individually and left his mark in an indelible way.
The second part of telling a human story in this time was to reflect individual, ordinary South African’s experiences of Madiba’s passing. Our audio recorders and television cameras went to the ends of the country to speak to people and ask them how they felt, what Madiba meant for them. South Africans and foreigners around the world submitted their memories and messages via the SABC’s social media services and online condolence book. We reflected these experiences every day and night in our bulletins and live programmes, along with the messages of condolences of world leaders and dignitaries, because this was our Grandfather who passed. We as South Africans felt it most intimately and needed to console each other.
A digital user, who identified herself simply as Christella, wrote the following poem on a page created for this specific purpose on our news website:
ECHOS OF AFRICA
I stand tall so that
The light streams in and covers me.
My window with its bars
is small and my space is dark;
but inside I am Free
as I hear within me the
Echoes of Africa
We are a nation of Strength, Power and a love within us;
Hear its Echoes
as it travels across the universe
See its length as it Echoes
Stand Tall within your space
Grab those Echoes as you Pace
And feel the pulse of
Africa > Nelson Mandela
Today we are here to officially hand over an invaluable repository of insight into the coverage of the passing of Nelson Mandela. The SABC material we are donating to this centre includes the items on the DVD that SABC News handed over to the Mandela family, such as a radio obituary, a one hour TV highlights package, and a selection of online coverage. We are also donating a DVD that was prepared for commercial distribution, images used on the SABC TV set during the 10 day special broadcasts last year, a batch of 16 000 emails received by SABC News and, in cooperation with Telkom, audio messages from the public, some of which were broadcast in all our languages on SABC radio stations.
This material is intended to help educate future generations about what it was like to be a South African in December 2013. It is meant to shed at least some light on the sorrow of a nation and the impact that one man had on the world.
The dedicated SABC Nelson Mandela website is still there as a living tribute to him. It contains latest news related to him, as well as information on his legacy, TV and radio coverage of his mourning period. And it will also feature our special radio and TV coverage of this and many other events to reflect on Madiba’s passing a year ago.
I know personally how much blood, sweat and tears went into compiling the material we are now handing over to you. It was a labour of love for the hundreds of SABC News employees across the country and the world.
We are also grateful to the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Centre of Memory for their help and collaboration over the years to compile some of the material – and their assistance now to make sure that the SABC material will be preserved for future generations.
From the European Broadcast Union we received the following:
”Your team’s news coverage and production of the pool signal that was distributed throughout the world was literally flawless.
…the EBU was able to distribute over 70 hours of live transmissions for the ten days.
I sincerely thank you on behalf of Eurovision News for the great professionalism in managing the event day by day.”
From another broadcast partner:
“May I thank you very much for the work the SABC did on behalf of the millions of people around the world who wished to share in the recent events surrounding the death of Mr Mandela.”
Doreen Morris emailed:
“Huge kudos to SABC news for the Madiba coverage. Poignant, beautiful visuals; memories of an extraordinary life.”
Jeffrey Dipe Nkogatse tweeted:
@SABCNewsOnline well done SABC for covering everything about uTata, I know that he is looking down with a smile and saying thank you.
Hamba Kahle uTata.
Address by Jimi Matthews, GE: SABC News and Current Affairs, at the launch of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory’s exhibition
In Tribute to Nelson Mandela, on 4 December 2014