False claim ignores NGO’s credentials

2014-11-05 00:00

MEDIA for Justice (MfJ) does not do “township tourism”, nor ever has. This claim is both a gross misrepresentation of MfJ’s core focus and thus defamatory.

MfJ’s has the core goals to “include the voices of people living in marginalised communities in the public debate” and, through video advocacy, “to expose the ongoing abuse of community rights by both corporates and state”.

This global visual exposure of corporate and state abuse of citizen’s constitutional rights assists in putting pressure on the perpetrators to respond to community demands. This is the power of video advocacy for social justice.

It seems then that writer Busisiwe Deyi (The Witness, October 31), and the original platform for this piece, Africa is a Country, have an agenda to discredit MfJ. Instead of doing proper research on what MfJ stands for and its long history of pro-rights, pro-people activism, Deyi has decided to paste some sort of “commercial gumboot dancing facile white-madam township tourism” all over its advocacy work. If she was intending to analyse township tourism and its shortfalls, there are many such companies that offer tourists a township experience through “food and dance”. Why is she only focusing on MfJ? Good journalism would entail using a few examples of actual township tourism to make a point.

If Deyi had bothered to research the history of the founders as activists, journalists and academics, or their track record in video advocacy and building alternative and pro-rights pro-people media platforms, she would have discovered something quite different about what MfJ does. The social justice tours/solidarity engagements have been a small part of its programme for 16 years. It has facilitated the meeting of global activists from afar afield as Palestine, Basque country, Brazil and African states, as well as between communities in South Africa. The founders of MfJ will not stop now because a group of “social-media paparazzi” has decided that it knows more about what it does than the network of local and global activist organisations and communities it works with and for.

Deyi seems to believe, in what sounds like a paternalistic notion, that resource-deprived people are passive objects in their own lives. It states clearly in the in-depth, social-justice explanation, that community members are involved in this project and are actively part of the design of the programme. Perhaps it is she who objectifies people who are resource deprived.

Is it so hard for her to believe that communities in struggle seek to share their narratives and unite with communities on a wider platform, or that they would devise a community strategy to seek to generate some petty cash for the sustenance of struggles? As all activists know, the one thing that impedes access to justice is lack of resources and this is precisely what corporate and state perpetrators rely on in order not to deliver on community demands. But Deyi does not imagine that communities would strategise on this level — they would instead willingly become pawns in some imagined “poverty industrialist white-madam saviourist endeavour”, a concept that MfJ stands in direct opposition to.

MfJ is not township tourism or about performing poverty; it is about mobilising “because” of poverty and pushing capitalism back. It is about sharing global social-justice struggles and creating global solidarity networks. It seeks to shift the negative bias towards the poor from the general middle class so that they can see the intersections in their own struggles and the struggles of the poor, and join forces. It is another form of voice-power as the narratives of people in struggle become part of the public platform and thus begin to be heard beyond the sound byte.

It is difficult to see where Deyi finds “gumboot dancing and white-madam tourism” in a document that clearly outlines a strategy that stands in direct opposition to capitalism and objectification of people living in the margins of our unequal society.

But then the writer also seemingly imagines that a man of Sipho Singiswa’s history as a veteran activist, ex-political prisoner and MK operative, is now in the business of objectifying poverty. It is perplexing that someone who is a self-professed black social-justice activist would seemingly rely on second-hand whitewashed expedience to denigrate another black social-justice activist. Does this not feed into the anti-black agenda of the mainstream media and blogosphere?

Let me reiterate, MfJ is not in the business of township tours. Like other activist NGOs with which it has worked — social-justice tours, toxic tours and reality tours have become a vital extension of activist work — to enhance the understanding of the multiple transgressions communities are up against in a system that has placed vulnerable communities downstream, upwind and adjacent to toxic multinationals as a source of cheap labour; by a state that uses undue force and brutality on people rising for their rights; and by the collusion of the two profit-driven entities which ended in the tragedy of Marikana. — Media for Justice.

• www.mediaforjustice.net

• Full-length article on www.witness.co.za

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