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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 12, No. 21, 6 June 2013

In this Issue:


Red Alert

Class, race and gender in South African media

By Blade Nzimande, SACP General Secretary

Two developments in our country in recent weeks reveal the extreme class, racial and gender bias in our media. Reactions to the offer to buy the Independent Group by a consortium led by Dr Iqbal Surve, and the leaking of film footage of the crime scene where Reeva Steenkamp was killed, have exposed the core class, race and gender character of South African media. Perhaps more than any other developments, these two examples underline the fact that we need to intensify the struggle for radical change in media ownership in South Africa. Let us briefly elaborate.

On Monday, the SACP issued a comprehensive statement challenging the views in a statement issued by the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) on the offer by Surve’s consortium to buy the Independent Group of newspapers. At the heart of our outrage is the selectivity and hypocrisy of SANEF on these matters. SANEF decries the fact that the Independent Group is a monopoly only now when it is being bought by a black-led, South African consortium, but was quiet about this through all the years when it was Irish owned. The message from SANEF is absolutely clear: that a media monopoly is not a problem as long as it is a white monopoly, even if foreign, but it is bad when it is South African, black led monopoly. There is no other interpretation of this outrageous statement.

What the SACP also finds objectionable in SANEF's statement is that it has never raised issues of monopoly in the media in relation to, for instance, Media 24 and Caxton. Incidentally, Anton Harber's comments on the Independent Group are highly questionable as he is deeply conflicted on this matter because he is funded by a competitor, the Caxton Group. Again, this clearly shows that SANEF’s position is not a principled stance against monopoly control of the media. They are simply against upsetting the current regime of white monopoly media ownership, especially by a black monopoly over which they have no say and which they fear will be opposed to their currently hegemonic view of South African reality.

SANEF has always distanced itself from matters of media ownership, often pretending that they have no interest in matters concerning media ownership as they are editorially independent. They have always denied accusations that the distinction between ownership and editorial independence is a false one. This time, however, they have raised ownership issues directly, breaking their own 'protocols' and pretences. This goes to show that the facade of editorial independence from ownership is maintained for as long as the current status quo of white ownership of the media remains. The moment these ownership patterns and regime are threatened, the distinction between SANEF and media owners suddenly disappears.

We wish to reiterate that the SACP holds no brief for Iqbal Surve, but we are here raising matters of principle. The SACP was the first non-racial political party in our country, and we are still champions of building a non-racial society. But part of building a non-racial society is about exposing and confronting persisting racism in our society. The idea that raising issues of racism is racist must be dismissed with the contempt it deserves; it is merely an attempt to defend persisting racist ideas and practices in South African society.

The race, class and gender nature of our media is also exposed in the way that it has reacted to the leaking of photographs of the crime scene where Reeva Steenkamp was killed. When the SACP joined the protests against ‘The Spear’, as essentially racist and an affront not only to the President but to many black South Africans (who in the past were subjected to the humiliating ‘thawuza’ practice in the mines and in some of the apartheid labour bureau), there was a rallying cry by liberals and other reactionaries that this was the violation of the artist’s freedom of expression. When we further protested against the City Press for displaying this offensive portrait on its web pages, the same forces defended the City Press’ freedom of expression as part of media freedom.

Yet, when footage of the crime scene where Reeva Steenkamp was killed was made public, there are strong insinuations that Sky News has possibly crossed the line and may have even violated the rights of the accused, Oscar Pistorius! It must be noted here that freedom of the media to publish what it likes and its right to freedom of expression has taken a back seat in all the major media coverage on this matter. Even worse, the sentiment coming across is that it is Pistorius' rights that have been violated and not those of the Steenkamp family and of Reeva whose blood is literally splashed in that footage! SANEF is dead silent on these matters. Clearly, in this instance, it is the rights of the rich, not the working class family of Reeva Steenkamp that matters. And it is also the rights of a man that are elevated above those of a woman. In fact, this patriarchal and elitist message has come to characterise the voluminous media coverage of this matter especially by eNCA on 4 June 2013 and before that!

It is this class, racial, and gender bias of South African media, that has negatively affected its ability to properly inform and engage our people meaningfully. It is a media that is extremely intolerant of critical engagement with its own glaring shortcomings. For instance it is no accident that the SACP statement in response to SANEF was basically suppressed by all the media with the exception of the New Age and, partially, the Business Day. I am extremely disappointed that even the public broadcaster ignored our statement even as it held a SAFM morning debate informed by same statement.

The class orientation and bias of South African media is also largely shown in its coverage of international events and developments. What often parades as international news in the pages of our mainstream print media is simply downloaded from Reuters or AFP. Even the public broadcaster relies on correspondents from the US and Europe. There has been minimal investment in creative and diverse sourcing of international news: reading the Star is exactly the same as reading the UK Independent. Our local media is even averse to engaging the local diplomatic corps regarding events in their countries. For example I have not seen any interview with the Syrian ambassador to South Africa over the last 26 months of war in that country! They simply parrot the interpretations of the western media without giving any other views. I have hardly seen any coverage of the bold Latin American experiments for an alternative, more egalitarian socio-economic order.

These developments underline what the SACP has been consistently arguing – i.e.  that the biggest threat to the freedom of the media in South Africa is not the Protection of State Information legislation nor our government, but the twin dangers of media monopoly and lack of transformation. A highly monopolistic media is against diversity of views and opinion. And unfortunately this monopolisation is not lessening but intensifying as community media is daily being gobbled up by the four main media monopolies.

From the standpoint of our movement’s commitment to a second, and more radical phase of our transition, it is urgent that we pay closer attention to the necessity for radical changes in media ownership in our country, as a precondition to genuinely deepen our democracy.



Without the guidance of the Marxist Leninist scientific theory, you cannot lead the working class into class struggles

By Phatse Justice Piitso

In his closing remarks to the historic watershed conference of the ANC at Morogoro in the year 1969, our revered leader, the President of our movement, Cde Oliver Tambo had to convey the following profound revolutionary words:

"Wage a relentless war against disrupters and defend the ANC against provocateurs and enemy agents. Defend the revolution against enemy propaganda, whatever form it takes. Be vigilant, comrades. The enemy is vigilant.

Beware of the wedge-driver, the man who creeps from ear to ear, carrying a bag full of wedges, driving them in between you and the next man, between a group and another, a man who goes round creating splits and divisions. Beware of the wedge driver, comrades. Watch his poisonous tongue.

Now the wedge-drivers who had been working behind closed doors against the whole liberation movement and its policies have come out into the open. They are part of the impure load which every revolution carries and when that load is thrown aside the journey to victory is always a swifter one"

Forty-five years after the historic conference of Morogoro, in the wake of the counter revolutionary onslaught against the collective leadership and membership of our National Union of Mineworkers, we borrow the wisdom and revolutionary guidance of our outstanding leader, President OR Tambo.

These most distinguished and revolutionary words of President OR Tambo have become to be more relevant ever than before. Wedge drivers who had been working behind close doors against the whole liberation movement have come out in the open.

Our own prodigal sons and daughters have joined the enemy forces to weaken and divide the organisation of the South African working class. Monopoly capital is collaborating with our own to undermine the struggles of our people for socio economic transformation of our country.

The basis for the organisation of the working class is the Marxist Leninist scientific theory. Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement. It is only through the leadership of the most advanced elements in society, the vanguard party, that the working class can lead any revolution to its logical conclusion.

The character and posture of the organisation of the working class is determined by its theoretical thrust. There are only two distinct world theoretical outlooks. We have the fundamental philosophical law of idealism and the scientific Marxist Leninist law of dialectical materialism.

Their basic difference is that philosophical law of idealism is premised on abstract generalisation of thought, while dialectical materialism is based on concrete and scientific genesis of thought. The former is guided by anarchy, deceit, reckless adventurism and infantile disorder while the latter proceed from the scientific analysis of concrete material conditions.

You cannot be both; there is no middle ground. Is either you are with the enemy forces or with the revolutionary forces of the working class. Those who are opposed to the struggles our people to socialism, are nothing else but the architects of counter-revolution. You cannot lead the working class and at the same time become an impediment to their future.

In the year 1976 the Central Committee of the SACP issued a statement titled 'Enemy hidden under the same colour' on the activities of the gang of eight, borrowed the outstanding revolutionary words of the leader of the Mozambique liberation struggles, President Samora Machel as thus

"The other face is that of the indirect and secondary enemy, who presents himself under the cover of a nationalist and even as a revolutionary thus making it difficult to identify him. The fighter must distinguish friend from foe even if the latter is concealed from the same colour, language, family ties or tribal markings as their own, even if he raises his flag with us".

It is only through correct political leadership, with profound political strategy and tactics, that the working class can usher itself into socialism.

There is no one else than class-conscious revolutionary leadership that can lead the working class to its victorious destination. Without the guidance of the Marxist Leninist scientific theory, you can lead the working class into class struggles.

We are proud of the teachings of the leader of our national liberation movement, President OR, that our revolutionary alliance is the living organism of the people. He has indeed nurtured our understanding that the defeat of apartheid was not the end but the beginning of the highest forms of protracted struggles for the socio economic transformation of our society.

What the President of the Association of mining and construction workers union Joseph Mathunjwa should comprehend is that our people are aware of the tendency by the enemy, to instigate the working class against the leadership of the revolution, for decisions that are not of their own making.

The history of our country will never forgive him for having joined counter-revolution, to instigate the South African working class, against the leadership of our revolutionary alliance, for the socio economic problems arising out of the world economic crisis, a pandemic problem which is not of our own making.

The enemy of the South African working class is capitalism, but not the leadership and membership of the National Union of Mineworkers. Those who collaborate with monopoly capital to exacerbate hostilities within the ranks of the South African Mineworkers are nothing else but agent’s provocateurs.

Our national democratic revolution is confronted by a low intensity counter-revolution from both within and outside the ranks of our movement. The strategic objective of the enemy of our revolution is to undermine the unity and cohesion of the South African working class force. The focus is to erode the rich traditions of South African trade unionism, under the leadership of the Congress of the South African Trade unions.

Our enemy is aware that unity and cohesion of our people is a precondition for the success of our national democratic revolution. Our enemy is aware that the unity of the NUM is the unity of our federation and therefore the unity of our national liberation movement and the whole of our people.

Our task is to educate the working class particularly our young generation, to understand the complexities of the challenges posed by the enemy of our revolution, in the current phase of our struggles. The profound Marxist Leninist theory is the only scientific tool to guide the struggles of the working class.

In 1957 Chairman Mao the leader of the Chinese revolution said" The class enemies will invariably seek opportunities to assert themselves. They will not resign themselves to the loss of state power and of their property. However much the Communist Party warns its enemies in advance and makes its basic strategic policy known to them, they will still launch attacks. Class struggle is an objective reality independent of the will of man. That is to say, class struggle is inevitable.”

The few but the better.

Phatse Justice Piitso is the former Ambassador to the Republic of Cuba and the former Provincial Secretary of the SACP writing this article on his personal capacity.