Nat Nakasa’s values guide us, but we should do more

2014-09-14 15:00

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Nat Nakasa and Director in the Press Council Joe Thloloe were friends, colleagues and rebels back in the day. Dumisane Lubisi caught up with Bra Joe

What were Nat Nakasa’s lessons for today’s journalists?

There are two lessons from Nat Nakasa that we should always remember. The first is that we should never allow our country to go back to what it was when he left the country in 1964 – where there was no freedom of expression, no freedom of association and no freedom of movement. And it is because he was in that world that he died. The first thing he symbolises is that we should always guard our rights very jealously, especially the rights he stood for.

The second lesson we learn from him is that journalists have to ask difficult questions – whatever the consequences. He asked the difficult questions, and it was because he was asking those difficult questions that he wasn’t given a passport to go and study. And his choice was very simple: rather be free than be a comfortable dog on a leash here in South Africa.

What were the values he lived by?

Nat was a rebel, as were all the other people in that generation – the journalists. They refused to be cowed by apartheid. If you read one of the articles in there [pointing to a department of arts and culture pamphlet titled Life & Times of Nat], he talks about the fringe country.

So he lived in this island of people who disregarded the dictates of apartheid. If the law said to him, ‘you will not make a pass at a white woman’, he quickly jumped into a white woman’s bed. If the law said to him, ‘you can’t stay in the city after dark without a permit’, he lived in the city in the northern suburbs. So in that sense, he was cocking a snook at apartheid. And his writings also reveal that rebellion against accepting the dictates of apartheid. There are several other pieces where he says we don’t have to obey restrictions placed on us.

Are we living according to those values as journalists? Are we asking the tough questions?

I think we are living those values. We should understand that Nat and his generation – your Can Thembas, Nat Nakasas, Casey Motsisis – were right for that particular generation and context. I think we are seeing the same type of courageous journalists today. Different context, but in essence still asking the difficult questions.

There are publications that are investing in investigative journalism. You guys are an example – City Press, Sunday Times, Mail & Guardian. And the stories that you guys have been writing have in fact shaped our history. You look at the Dina Pules, the Nkandla story; so in fact, journalism is still doing what it is supposed to do. So those values are still being held high.


My only gripe at this stage is that we as a profession are not doing enough to make the ordinary man and woman in the street understand the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of the media.

Why are we not doing enough?

We assume that because we believe in freedom of the press, freedom of expression, that the ordinary person understands why it is important for him. Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are freedoms that every South African should be defending. But we haven’t been able to create that link that makes people understand that they are part of this fight to preserve what we have in our Constitution.

What more can we do to advance the values of Nat and his generation?

I hope by bringing Nat home, there will be a movement around his name where school kids will be educated about the importance of freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of association and freedom of movement, and that this will spread into the communities where we live.

The department of arts and culture is running a competition at the moment – these are things we should be doing, these are some of the things the SA National Editors’ Forum was created to do.

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