The search is on for the South African of the Year. The person who wins the honour might not be famous. They certainly won’t be dead. And they could come from a number of disciplines such as sport, entertainment and business or they could be prime movers for South Africa’s youth or work for the “spirit of humanity”.
Moegsien Williams, editor in chief of The New Age and 24-hour news channel ANN7, says the South African of the Year (#SATY) concept was borne out of a brainstorm on how ANN7 should celebrate its first year and how the newspaper and TV channel could honour South Africa’s 20 years of democracy.
Williams says they didn’t want to throw a party with lots of food and drink “and the next morning it’s all forgotten”. They wanted to build something more long-lasting, something that could contribute to building the nation. He says the idea is to recognise people who make a difference to other South Africans, people who enrich the country through their actions.
“There are two underpinning themes to the concept,” he told The Media Online. “The first is our 20 years of democracy and the achievements we’ve made. The second is the idea of being proudly South African. Of being patriotic,” he says.
Of course the search for nominees and telling their stories will also make great content for the TV show that will follow the process, I Am South African, will broadcast daily at 5pm on DStv channel 405. ANN7 and The New Age provincial bureaux will be charged with tracking down the candidates and telling their stories. It won’t be cheap but, says Williams, it’s great marketing. Of course, they’re also seaching for co-sponsors.
The search will culminate in an awards ceremony in September, which doesn’t leave much time to literally get the show on the road. “it is ambitious,” says Williams. “That’s 70 shows we will do.”
Williams says due to time constraints, several leading media personalities and editors will join him in nominating prospective candidates. They include Chris Whitfield, Paula Fray, Mathatha Tsedu, Moshoeshoe Monare, Yusuf Abramjee and Mike Siluma. Each will head a different panel that will draw up lists of candidates. Fray, for example, in charge of business nominations. There will be a winner in each category, and an overall South African of the Year. Williams says there’s also space of a lifetime achiever, “like George Bizos for example”.
The public will get a say in the final voting process. Williams says they hope this will become an annual event, and that in future, with a longer lead time, South Africans could become part of the search. “We know some categories such as sport or entertainment will feature well-known people, but we want to put our unsung heroes into the limelight too,” Williams says.
SABC 3 in 2004 launched a series looking for 100 Great South Africans. It was hosted by Noeleen Maholwana Sangqu and Denis Beckett. But it was mired in controversy when some of the nominees, mostly long departed, were regarded as being less than great by large portions of the population. Hendrik Verwoerd, for example, received more votes than Chief Albert Luthuli.
Williams says the editors in charge of the selections are independent of the awards and that KPMG will be audit the whole process to ensure it is fair and unbiased. “We want to make it as transparent as possible so as to avoid accusations of it being rigged,” Williams says.
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