Hlengiwe Mnguni

Redefining This Is Africa

2010-08-12 12:58

If history is anything to go by, then the future of South Africa has been foretold. We will go the route most African countries have gone after independence.

We will surf the highs of freedom for two decades and then we will come crashing down as our government tightens its grip on our hard-won freedoms. TIA: This Is Africa.

And for a while in the last two weeks it felt as if the descent into that dark prophesy could just come true as Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi Wa Afrika was spirited away by a contingent of policemen to be questioned about a suspicious document.
Apartheid-era repression here we come.

But the events that followed have proved that we have quite a long way to go before the 20-year nightmare comes true. No matter how strong the pull of history, the principles our country is founded on are strong enough to resist.

Too scary to believe

Within hours the news had broken on all media and the shock from within the industry and from other sectors of society was clear: South Africans were outraged.

In their letters to the press and on blogs they expressed their disappointment at the handling of the issue. Because it is difficult to believe that a show of force such as that could be reserved only for journalists.

It just plain scared people who perceived the situation as pitting freedom-loving South Africans against a power-hungry and secretive government.

While the government might say that is exactly what it is: a matter of perception, it is good to note that on this issue it lost the public's sympathy.

A moment of faith

But what gave me the most faith in our continued freedom is the circus that followed. That charges were dropped and reinstated all in one day of extreme confusion makes the impression that the Hawks were grasping at straws difficult to shake.

No matter how much certain sections of society try to impose what they deem best for this country the final word is not theirs. What decides our freedoms and limitations is the Constitution.

While it might not be possible (or ideal) to rule a country with reservations that always play to the sensitivities of each and every citizen, it would do a lot of good for the nation if our government tried to avoid those actions which seem to echo those of governments that always end up in serious human rights violation confrontations with sections of their population.

Many responsibilities

If those actions are unavoidable, surely delicacy is called for.

We are in a critical time, when some even within this country, are always poised to dredge up that TIA negativity at any provocation.

You can't propose restriction on information (with the Information Bill), a parliamentary media watchdog and then in the same breath arrest a journalist under shaky charges and hope to still inspire confidence in your resolve to enshrine media freedom.

Our government, like all others, has many responsibilities. But right now the overarching challenge is to beat the odds and redefine TIA.

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