City Press editor Ferial Haffajee has called on middle class South Africans to become involved in civic action. Speaking at the Cape Town Press Club on Tuesday in the week post-SONA, Haffajee said the middle classes were often “in search of a Messiah” but that there isn’t one waiting in the wings. Glenda Nevill reports.
“It’s not Cyril Ramaphosa. Or Julius Malema. Or Helen Zille. The lesson of our past is that ordinary people in unity for the right cause remains the most powerful force in the world,” Haffajee said.
She said the SABC was “in a censorship mode that begins to approximate the era of the Broederbond there. “Looting. Protests. It bans adverts. Cartoonist Zapiro is a permanent no-go zone. The moment demands civic action of all us,” she said.
“Write to your MP. Join R2K. Make yourself party of the chorus of voices raised against what happened – the South African Catholic Bishops Conference. The Human Rights Commission. SA National Editors Forum,” she said.
Journalists were at first stunned, and then outraged, by the presence of signal-jamming equipment in the National Assembly, a place where free speech and debate are the cornerstones of South Africa’s hard-won democracy. Haffajee said Daily Maverick editor Branko Brkic first alerted her to the jamming. ”
“While we watched the fashion, he said [Daily Maverick political journalist] Ranjeni Munusamy inside the house had told him there was no signal. Being naïve and trusting, I assumed it was a temporary glitch, but then the word from journalists got louder and louder,” Haffajee said. [Read Munusamy’s account of how she and colleague Rebecca Davis alerted the opposition and hunted for the signal jamming equipment here.]
“The minute you stepped into the Chamber, communication was dead. We punched our phones, searching network, all a little disbelieving at first. We asked anyone official what was happening and they knew nothing. You know all this. My lesson is something else. To be honest, we were a little confused and divided in the press box,” she explained.
“Some people wanted to follow channels and lobby – which our leaders in SANEF did. And others wanted to alert the House to this grotesque act of censorship. Which we did by shouting #BringBackTheSignal.”
Haffajee said the lesson she learnt in the House on that fateful Thursday was that you have to act immediately. “If our brave colleagues had not, we would have been stuck in a process of cover-up where an investigation would be ordered and the outcome never revealed as the hot jamming potato was passed from authority to authority,” she said. “Stand up against censorship. It’s detrimental when you don’t, as I learnt in this episode.”
Haffajee said the the #PayBackTheMoney campaign, launched by the Economic Freedom Fighters back in August 2014, had altered South African politics by placing the battle against corruption centre stage. Until then, she said, the ANC used its numbers to railroad its way through too many scandals. She said the arms deal, Chancellor House, and Guptagate “ended in no justice and confined largely to history’s unaccountable dustbin”.
“Nkandla will not go the same way because of #Paybackthemoney and it may serve the purpose of raising the public appetite against a cancer which I am not sure we can excise. South Africa is deeply corrupt – R40-billion is stolen annually in the public service and collusive practices in the private sector are shown to increase the wealth gap,” she said.
Haffajee referred to President Jacob Zuma’s pre-SONA media lunch in which he entertained media and spoke of Nkandla. “. “It clearly hurt him for he was impassioned in declaring his innocence. He had, he said, been cleared by a parliamentary report. He was, he said, the subject of a double standard. If PW Botha had an airport built for him, then why could a man from Nkandla have a renovated home? In other words the furore is racist. Or ruralist,” she said. But, she added, despite the best intentions of the State and parliament, “this will not go away”.
She also touched on government’s communications ministry, saying it was a “boondoggle” under Minister Faith Muthambi. South Africa has as much chance of making the DTT deadline in June “as I have of owning the Audi RS7, black with leather trim and a sports steering wheel”.
She said freeing up bandwidth to improve data speeds “would stimulate a new economy but we are stuck, as we have been for seven years now. “And, the state faces a huge law suit for its decision to go with an encryption model to deliver the digital spectrum which could further delay our future.”
In her conclusion, Haffajee went back to her belief that strong civil society action can change worlds. “I think our moral high-ground and global reputation is held by civil society and by the creative sector. Here, I find South Africans pushing the edge. Be it at the Maboneng Precinct in Johannesburg. Or the Soweto Theatre. Or David Tlale’s studio. Or Kirsten Goss’s jewelry. Or your Design Indaba.”
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