Monday, October 19, 2015

MEDIA STRUGGLES TO BRING ABOUT A FREE AND DEMOCRATIC SOUTH AFRICA --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

OCTOBER 19 1977 On October 19 2015, South Africans once again reflected on the state of the media in the new democratic South Africa by observing the 41st anniversary of the crack down on the media by the former apartheid regime on October 19, 1977. Marimuthu Subramoney, aka Subry Govender, recalls the struggles of the journalists during the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s and warns that South Africans must guard against the new elite trying to smother the media through new measures in the name of the new and free South Africa.... . OCTOBER 19 AND THE STRUGGLES OF JOURNALISTS IN THE 1970S, 1980S AND 1990s
(Veteran struggle journalists who gathered at the home of the late Zwelike in 2012) One of our formidable struggle journalists during the 1970s and 1980s, Zwelakhe Sisulu, who died at the age of 61 on October 4 2012, was duly acknowledged for playing a crucial role in the struggles to bring about the new non-racial, free and democratic South Africa. In this article, I want to go back to the days when Zwelakhe and a large number of journalists put their lives on the line to contribute to the liberation struggles. Before I go into the meat of the topic, I want to submit that the suppression of the media during the apartheid era did not start when the white baaskap National Party came to political power in 1948. But it had its roots when the first newspapers were started by the colonial authorities in the early 1800s. However, I am not going to go back in history but deal primarily with the period when the National Party introduced all kinds of laws to suppress, oppress, harrass and intimidate journalists - especially journalists of colour. Being white, colonial and racial driven - the media during this period was mainly concerned with maintaining and retaining white domination of the social, economic and political fabric of South Africa. MEDIA - COLONIAL MENTALITY The whites owned, controlled, managed and edited nearly all the newspapers - with the exception of one or two minor and insignificant publications - and the National Party monopolised the airwaves in the name of the South African Broadcasting Corporation(SABC). The National Party, which F W De Klerk unashamedly tried to sell to the people of Indian origin, coloured people and Africans in the early 1990s, had in their arsenal more than 100 statutes that limited the freedom of the Press. The repressive atmosphere really began after the Sharpeville uprisings on March 21 1960 when police shot dead peaceful marchers who were protesting against the carrying of the hateful Dom-Pass. The National Party Government introduced a state of emergency and banned the ANC and the PAC and crushed all opposition to white minority rule. Publications such as the New Age, Fighting Talk, Advance and Guardian were forced to close shop and the journalists working in these and other progressive newspapers either had to flee the country or go underground. During this period of repression, some of the only black-oriented newspapers that were allowed to operate were the Drum magazine and the Golden City Post. Although they reported on some political developments, they were, however, no danger to the existence of the white state. Being white-owned and managed, these newspapers concentrated on the sensational - sex, crime and gangs and sport - in order to survive. There were some journalists during this period in the 1980s who dared to question the white status quo - but they too were quickly intimidated and forced to flee the country or tone down.
(Journalists protesting against the banning of the UBJ and other organisations) BLACK CONSCIOUSNESS In the early 1970s - when the black consciousness movement took root after the establishment of the South African Students Organisation(SAS0) - a number of black journalists came to the fore - prepared to take on the white oppressors irrespective of the consquences. These journalists were primarily working at that time for newspapers such as the World and Weekend World, and socially-conscious journalists working for mainstream newspapers such as the former Rand Daily Mail, the East London Daily Dispatch, the Cape Times and Argus, the Johannesburg Star and the Durban Daily News. They tried to introduce a new and dynamic approach to journalism by tackling the social, economic, sporting and political oppression of the black majority. The struggle for freedom of the Press and the liberty of the people had just started in ernest once again. FRELIMO RALLY But no sooner had black journalists - with a black consciousness background - began to tackle real and fundamental issues affecting the majority - the System struck back with vengeance in 1974 when the Frelimo rally was scheduled to be held at Durban's Currie's Fountain. The apartheid regime banned the rally and prohibited newspapers from publishing any news item that would amount to publicising the event. This correspondent was at this time with the Daily News and assigned to cover the rally. This correspondent was not only detained and interrogated but my editor, Mr John O'Mally, was charged for publicising the event. Another colleague, Joan Dobson, skipped the country and fled into exile because the apartheid regime suspected she was in league with the organisers of the rally. After the dawn of our new demcoracy in April 1994, she began reporting from Harare for the SABC's AM and PM live programmes at that time. ROBBEN ISLAND
(The Daily News in Durban carrying a front page lead story about the banning of Zwelike Sisulu and Marimuthu Subramoney in December 1980) As a matter of interest, black consciousness leaders like the late Strini Moodley, Saths Cooper, Aubrey Mokoape and others were charged under the infamous Terrorism Act and as a result of the rally were convicted and sentenced to Robben Island. Further onslaughts against the media began after the 1976 Soweto uprisings when school children protested against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in their schools. Two months after the Soweto uprisings nine black journalists, who played a leading role in reporting events in Soweto, were detained under the regime's Internal Security Act, and two others were incarcerated under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act. TERRORISM ACT Among the very first to be arrested was Joe Thloloe, who was at that time working for the World Newspaper; Peter Magubane, South Africa's world-famous photo-journalist who worked at that time for the Rand Daily Mail and Miss Thenjiwe Mntintso, who worked at the Daily Dispatch in East London at that time.
(JOE THLOLOE, ONE OF THE DOYENS WHO WAS PERSECUTED, BANNED, JAILED, DETAINED AND HOUSE ARRESTED DURING THE DARKS DAYS OF APARTHEID) UNION OF BLACK JOURNALISTS The majority of them were held for about four months without being tried in a court of law. They were released at the end of December 1976 but some were re-arrested in 1977. Joe Thloloe was one of those re-arrested and he was held incommunicado for 547 days under Section of the Terrorism Act. The others were Willie Bokala, a reporter for the banned World newspaper who was held in detention for more than a year; Jan Tugwana, a reporter for the then Rand Daily Mail who was also held in detention for more than a year under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act; Ms Juby Mayet, a doyen of black journalists who was held incommunicado under the Internal Security Act at the Fort Prison in Johannesburg; Isaac Moroe, the first president of the Writers Association of SA (WASA) in Bloemfontein; and Bularo Diphoto, a free-lance journalist in the town of Kroonstad who was also detained under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act. Another journalist, Mr Moffat Zungu, who was a reporter for the World Newspaper, was an accused in the Pan African Congress (PAC) trial that took place in Bethal, near Johannesburg. He was first detained under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act. The blackest day in the history of Press Freedom in so far as the black majority was concerned took place on October 19 1977 when the notorious Jimmy Kruger banned the only two newspapers respected among black people - the World and Weekend World. Mr Kruger, who became infamous for describing Steve Biko's death two months earlier as - "It leaves me cold" - at the same time banned the Union of Black Journalists(UBJ) and 17 other organisations; the publication of the UBJ - AZIZTHULA; religious and student publications; locked up the editor and news editor of the World and Weekend World - the late Percy Qoboza and the late Aggrey Klaaste respectively; and banned for five years the Editor of the Daily Dispacth, the late Donald Woods. The regime also confiscated all our stationery and equipment and seized our funds. Six other journalists were also detained at this time - including Thenjiwe Mntintso, a former ambassador now based at the ANC headquarters in Johannesburg; and Enoch Duma - who worked for the Star newspaper at that time. He fled into exile after being released after more than two years in detention. He returned to the country recently and is currently writing his autobiography and also involved in the academic field. Almost every member of the UBJ was visited by the security police all over the country; their homes and offices raided and searched and interrogated. All the raids were carried out at the unearthly hours of 4am and 5am in the morning. I remember my mother knocking my door and saying in our Tamil mother tongue: "Some white people are here asking for you." My rooms were searched and all literature relating to the UBJ were confiscated. They even confiscated a letter I had written to the late Prime Minister of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi. I don't know whether that letter reached Mrs Gandhi because India at that time was leading the international struggle against minority rule in South Africa. After completing their raid, they took me to the Daily News in Field Street in Durban where they searched my desk. When representations were made to Mr Kruger for the release of the detained journalists, he had the temerity to announce that the detentions were not meant to intimidate the Press and that his Government had good reasons to detain the journalists. It was during this traumatic period that another publication of the UBJ, UBJ Bulletin, and all subsequent editions were banned. The UBJ Bulletin contained some revealing articles about the activities of the South African Police during the Soweto uprisings. Four UBJ officials - Juby Mayet, Joe Thloloe, Mike Nkadimeng and the late Mike Norton - were charged for producing an undesirable publication. Inspite of world-wide condemnation of the banning, detention and harrassment of journalists, the state security police continued with their jack-boot tactics. In Durban two Daily News journalists - Wiseman Khuzwayo and Quarish Patel - were detained without trial for more than three months.
( OFFICIALS AND MEMBERS OF THE UBJ DURING A MEETING AT THE WENTWORTH HOTEL IN THE LATE 1970S) PROTESTS MONA BADELA On November 30 1977, the day white South Africa went to the polls to give John Vorster another mandate to continue to oppress the black majority, 29 black journalists, including the late Zwelakhe Sisulu and Ms Juby Mayet, staged a march in the centre of Johannesburg against the banning of the UBJ and the detention of journalists. They were detained for the night at the notorious John Vorster Police station and charged under the Riotous Assemblies Act and fined R50 each. Some of our colleagues who found it impossible to continue to work in South Africa skipped the country under trying circumstances. They included Duma Ndhlovu, Nat Serache, Boy Matthews Nonyang and Wiseman Khuzwayo. Those who remained - including Juby Mayet, Zwelakhe Sisulu, Mona Badela of Port Elizabeth, Philip Mthimkulu, Joe Thloloe, Charles Nqakula, Rashid Seria, this correspondent and many others - vowed to continue the struggle. We committed ourselves in the belief that there could be no Press freedom in South Africa as long as the society in which we lived was not free. But the regime was also determined to make life difficult for us. In July 1978 when we scheduled to hold a gathering of former UBJ members in Port Elizabeth to chart our future course of action - the regime banned our gathering and prohibited us from travelling to the Easten Cape city. But being determined to take on the regime head-on, we quickly re-scheduled our meeting to be held in the town of Verulam, about 25km north of Durban. Unknown to us, the dreaded Security Police tapped our telephone conversations and had the Starlite Hotel in Verulam bugged. The Security Police were listening to the entire proceedings of our meeting and immediately decided that we were a bunch of "media terriorists" who should be taken out of society. NEW APPROACH At our meeting we decided to establish our own daily and weekly newspapers and a news agency because we were of the firm belief that the establishment media was not catering for the black majority. The white establishment media of that era, as you have already been informed, was aimed at protecting and promoting the privileges of the white minority. But sadly we did not have the resources to embark on such ambitious projects. Nevertheless many of us who became frustrated with the establishment media began to make arrangements for the establishment of regional newspapers that would provide an alternative voice to the establishment media and the National Party-controlled SABC. When the regime leaders realised that black journalists were not prepared to cow down and submit to their dictates, they intensfied their harrassment. In June 1980 when school children all over the country bocyotted classes against the unequal and inferior education system for black children, the security police once again targeted journalists. They detained many of us for lengthy periods, claiming that black journalists had been encouraging black children to boycott classes. Zwelakhe Sisulu was during that period of repression detained for nearly two years. In Durban, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, East London and other centres - black journalists continued to work with the community in an attempt to establish alternative newspapers. PRESS TRUST OF SOUTH AFRICA In Durban, the Press Trust of South Africa Third World News Agency was established as one of the first moves to provide the outside world with accurate information about the situation in South Africa. The news agency was established to operate alongside the running of the alternative newspaper, Ukusa. But just when the newspaper was set to start publishing with the blessing of the community, the state struck again and banned its Managing Editor - this correspondent; and also Zwelakhe Sisulu, Joe Thloloe, Philip Mthimkulu and Charles Nqakula in December 1980. This was a massive blow for the alternative media because all the journalists were fully involved in the various projects. Some of the publications that they were involved in were UKUSA in Durban, Grassroots in Cape Town, Speak in Johannesburg and Umthonyana in Port Elizabeth. The South African Council of Churches also sponsored the publication of a newspaper called The Voice. Philip Mthimkulu and Juby Mayet worked for this newspaper before they were banned. The journalists in question were put out of circulation for three years until the end of `1983 when their banning orders expired. But during their period of forced exile, the journalists did not remain idle - for instance the Press Trust of South Africa News Agency continued to operate under some trying conditions, intimidation and harrassment. All the banned journalists also kept in touch with one another and on one occasion two of us - Zwelakhe Sisulu and the writer - even met under secrecy in Johannesburg to discuss the establishment of alternative newspapers once our banning orders expired. During this period Charles Nqakula skipped the country to join the ANC. Upon his return he served the new government in various positions, including Minister of Defence. Between 1980 and 1983 - the Press Trust News Agency managed to supply news to the outside world about the struggles in South Africa. When our banning orders expired - most of us went straight back to our task of continuing to provide an alternative voice for the black majority. In Johannesburg - Zwelakhe Sisulu initiated the establishment of the New Nation newspaper with the assistance of the South African Catholic Bishops Conference; in Cape Town Rashid Seria initiated the establishment of the South Newspaper; and in other parts of the country many other progressive forces and journalists began to establish alternative publications. Student organisations and leaders also produced a variety of alternative publications. In Durban we continued with the Press Trust News Agency and supplied on the spot and analytical reports to radio stations in the United States, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and at one time we even supplied information to the Tass News Agency, which was based in Zimbabwe after that country's independence in 1980. Some of the radio stations we supplied reports to included the BBC, Radio Netherlands, Radio Deutsche Welle or Voice of Germany, Radio France Internationale and the Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation. In Durban some journalists also established the New African newspaper. UNITED DEMOCRATIC FRONT While we were determined to report the struggles for a free society - the apartheid regime was also determined to crush us. It began another round of repression through P W Botha and in 1986 introduced some of the most repressive methods to suppress journalists. At this time the regime had introduced the tri-racial parliament for whites, coloured people and people of Indian origin; while the progressive forces established the United Democratic Front(UDF). The UDF, together with the alternative media, the churches, trade unions and student organisations provided the regime with the biggest challenge - that the days of white minority rule are nearing an end. Most of us - who were in the forefront of the alternative media - were under constant surveillance. For instance during the emergency regulations in 1986 and 1987 - every time there was a knock on our door - we lifted our heads to see if it was the Security Police. On one occasion more than 10 Security Policemen raided our office situated at that time in Protea House in West Street in Durban and confiscated a pile of documents. On another occasion - our offices were mysteriously burgled and a computer, printer, computer discs, casettes, and even an automatic telephone were stolen. We reported the incident to the police and when one finger-print expert came to the office - we told him not to look too far for the thieves because the culprits would be either in the security police or national intelligence offices. SECURITY POLICE HARRASSMENT The period of sustained security police intimidation and harrassment we experienced was just an example of what the alternative media organisations and individuals encountered during that period. All of us were also denied passports to travel overseas - the regime pontificated that we were "a danger to the security of the state" and, therefore, our movements had to be restricted. The New Nation and the Weekly Mail - two alternative newspapers in Johannesburg - were banned several times from 1986 to 1990. The only time we were given respite was after the ANC, PAC, SACP and other organisations were unbanned early in 1990. The sad demise of Zwelakhe Sisulu and struggle journalists, who contributed enormously to the dawn of our new our new South Africa, was yet another occasion for us to reflect on the contributions made by "struggle journalists". STRUGGLE JOURNALISTS And now on October 19 2015, 22 years into our new democratic South Africa we must ask ourselves whether we still face problems in the new democratic order. There's no doubt that certain moves currently by the ruling ANC to introduce some measures to control the media is a reminder that those we have put in power have now become a threat to the freedom of speech, freedom of information and the freedom of the Press that we fought and sacrficied for. Personally I see no need for any law to protect any information - except for information that threatens the security of the state. But all other information are of interest and importance to the citizen. We need to know how state officials, politicians and others are ripping us off through bribery, corruption and state tenders. NO ALTERNATIVE TO A FREE MEDIA A country without a free media is not free at all and this must be communicated to the current people in political power. Our first democratic president, Nelson Mandela, repeatedly told us how much he appreciated the work we had done for their freedom and how it was important that we continued to keep a check on the new politicians. He made it clear that the new politicians are answerable to the citizenry and not the other way round. It seems our work is not finished. A La Continua - the struggle continues.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


THE SUFFERING OF TAMILS CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO CONTINUE By Subry Govender High-level Tamil leaders from Sri Lanka, India, and the diaspora have been invited to attend a conference in Durban early next month to support processes towards a "peaceful, free, just and democratic" future for Tamils in Sri Lanka. The conference, organised by the South African-based Solidarity Group for Peace and Justice (SGPJ) with the co-operation of the Government, follows the recent resolution adopted by the Un Human Rights Council in Geneva for a "special hybrid court" to be established in Sri Lanka to probe the violations of human rights. The court would include "Commonwealth and other foreign" judges, lawyers, prosecutors and investigators. Since the end of the civil war in 2009, when it's reported that between 40 000 and 140 000 Tamils were massacred, the Sri Lankan Government and soldiers are alleged to have continued to violate the human rights of Tamils in the North and East of the island. These human rights violations include the continued detentions of activists, invasion of Tamil land by the military and other Sri Lankan elements, lack of freedom of political expression, lack of media freedom, sexual rapes and harrassment and the general de-humanisation of the inhabitants. The SGPJ conference, which will be held on November 6 and 7 at the Coastlands Umhlanga in Durban, aims "to facilitate and encourage a discussion on the democratic future of Tamils in Sri Lanka". The secretary of the SGPJ, Mr Pregs Padaychee, said in a statement that the conference would also be "an opportunity for Tamil political organisations within Sri Lanka and Tamil diaspora organisations to meet and find common ground in the interests of our Tamil brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka". "The conference follows the highly successful meeting of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora organisations hosted by our South African Government and the Department of International Relations in London recently," said Mr Padaychee.
(TNA MP, M A Sumanthiran, invited to the conference) Some of the top Tamil leaders invited include Mr M.A. Sumanthiran, who is an MP for the Tamil National Alliance(TNA) in the Sri Lankan Parliament; Mr V Gopalsamy, popularly known as Vaiko, who is a relentless supporter of the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka through his Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), a political party active mainly in the state of Tamil Nadu; leaders of the AIDMK, which is led by Chief Minister Jayalalitha; and leaders of the DMK, which is led by veteran politician Mr Karunanidhi.
(Vaiko, a vocal leader for the rights of Tamils in Sri Lanka, also invited to attend the conference) There will also be Tamil representatives from England, United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Singapore. South African Deputy President, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa; other Government leaders; former Cabinet Minister, presidential spokesperson and ruling ANC stalwart, Mr Mac Maharaj; former UN Human Rights Commissioner, Justice Navi Pillay; former South African Constitutional Court judge and activist, Zac Yacoob; and Ms Yasmin Sooka of the Foundation for Human Rights, who has written extensively on the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka, are some of the South Africans who will address the two-day conference. ( PLIGHT OF TAMILS IN THE NORTH AND EAST OF SRI LANKA) The Durban conference is yet another gathering of Tamils from the diaspora and it's hoped that some positive developments will emerge at the end of the conference that will lead to freedom, justice and democracy for Tamils in Sri Lanka. There must be concrete changes in the lives of the people on the ground in the North and East of Sri Lanka. While the conference will be another opportunity for leaders to highlight the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka, it should not be a venue for those wanting to promote their egos. The freedom and human rights of the Tamils in the North and East of Sri Lanka are far more important. (MUCH-NEEDED UNITY ) It's also hoped that the Durban conference will lead to much-needed unity among the varied and disparate Tamil organisations around the world. - ends (Subry Govender/South Africa)