Tjatjarag: A new era. An old way of being


Black Wednesday. 1977 sometimes feels as if it was such a long time ago that we live in a completely new era. On other days, it feels as if it was only yesterday, that there are still long battles to fight and wars to win.

In 1977, the World and Weekend World were banned and their legendary editor, Percy Qoboza, was jailed. Later, he became editor of City Press, leading a line of luminaries who would follow: Khulu Sibiya, Len Kalane, Vusi Mona, Mathatha Tsedu and Khathu Mamaila.

I walk proudly on their shoulders. Often, I try to read copy through their eyes, view our world through their lenses. It is in their honour, and indeed the generations of black activist journalists like them, that we enjoy world-class media freedom.

They planted the seeds of the deep, free expression in SA that we enjoy today. There are few no-go zones, a Constitution to protect us and a vein of activism running through our journalism that is testament to a proud past.

When I veer too far towards celebrating success and lauding a pioneer generation, I feel them yank my hand back.

Don’t forget those left behind, they say, when I walk past the framed images of the editors we hang on a wall in our newsroom. Our poverty levels are deep, our dreams are paper-thin and our confidence is fragile.

So you’ll understand that it is with the greatest dismay that I find myself spotlighted in the most uncomfortable ways in this august week.

Or perhaps it is entirely appropriate for a City Press editor to prise open a new front in the debate on what transformation is and what it

is not. Who knows?

All I do know is that this week, my Piscean, rainbow-nation, marshmallowy self slammed violently into the unfinished work of transformation.

I want everyone to be happy all the time, to share my vision and join me in an exciting 21st century journey for City Press.

But that journey is contested, fundamentally, as is the South African narrative of democracy and transformation.

It is complex and painful.

It can also be exciting and revolutionary, if my colleagues and I find each other’s common humanity once we have had the tough debates, as we must do.

Our views of freedom are different, and so is our understanding of nonracialism. I prize constitutionalism. Others prize different understandings of freedom. They will be contested here as they are across our land.

I hope Qoboza et al had their celestial gaze fixed elsewhere as freedom’s children reached for their swords rather than their pens this week. I do pray they guide my pen as I undertake this journey with my colleagues.

Keep an eye on two important pieces of legislation now in Parliament. Both promise fierce political contestation but also great hope.

The first is government’s decision to push through a youth wage subsidy for first-time workers. It is absolutely imperative to get our three million-odd young people to work.

Without starting work, there is a good chance they will grow into jobless adults, as reams of research show that if you don’t find a first job when young, there is a good chance of remaining permanently unemployed and unemployable.

Labour federation Cosatu is set to go to war on the draft bill.

Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has set her face against civil servants being in business with the state.

Much of our corruption and poor delivery can be laid straight at the door of civil servants who are moonlighting. It is a huge trend, as we report this week, and South Africa has to deal with it.

Trade unions affiliated to Cosatu claim their economic freedom is violated if they are not allowed to run businesses.

They, too, threaten a battle to the end. The last session of Parliament looks set to be incredibly interesting.

I can’t wait.

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