SA’s Newspaper Industry Played Pivotal Role In Upholding & Perpetuating Apartheid: Mondli Makhanya At TRC Media Hearings


The following is the submission of now editor-in-chief of City Press Mondli Makhanya on behalf of the Forum of Black Journalists (FBJ) to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on the role of the media in propagating apartheid and suppressing information. UnCensored will publish a series of submissions in the context of the stories that are surfacing on the role of the media in vilifying Winnie Mandela. Until just shortly after her death, the media vilified her and faced with a strong united Black front, media houses have done an-about-turn singing praises about Mama Winnie and profiting in the process.

I start with the submission by Makhanya, not only because he was the first to present to the TRC on 17 September 1997 from what I can gather but he recently penned a piece “We must not want to be Winnie” Having worked for various newspapers, the headline of a column is written by sub-editors and unless you, the author, challenges it, as I used to at the Sunday Times (all the time in fact), it may not capture the essence of what you are saying. Read and interpret for yourself what Makhanya is saying. In my view, he warns us against portraying Mama Winnie as a saint but he doesnt contextualise this sainthood within the African context whereby the ills of the dearly departed are never discussed.  He also completely disregards the smear and vilification campaign of the apartheid regime of which he was well aware. It is his right. There are other issues in the column I will in a future article take umbrage with but I commend him for sticking to the narrative of “Winnie the villain” instead of his colleagues who have turned 180% to now praise her ad nauseam.

Submission by Mondli Makhanya on 17 September 1997 – courtesy of Department of Justice

Thank you, good morning and thank you for giving us the opportunity to make our submission today. The thrust of the submission by the Forum of Black Journalists and the Black Editors Forum is that the newspaper industry in this country played a pivotal role in the upholding of apartheid system and that it colluded wittingly with the apartheid system, with successive apartheid Governments to perpetuate the system of apartheid. This it did by enforcing discriminatory laws within their own institutions, by using terminology and language which was ideologically congruent with the National Party Governments and in conflict with the various liberation forces in this country. As a result of that, the, organisations such as the ANC, the PAC and the Black Consciousness Movement were known as terrorist organisations and they were demonised by the press, by the various media houses in the country and they were called terrorists and organisations which were operating within the country such as the United Democratic Front and the Azanian Peoples Organisation were coined radical organisations and extremist organisations and this served to demonise these organisations and paint them as evil bodies. Within these institutions there were separate amenities. There were different toilet for blacks, different toilet for whites, inferior canteens for blacks and better canteen for white staffers and newspaper houses also served to implement pass laws, job reservation requirements and preferential employment practices in the Cape for instance. We believe by doing so the press houses served as an extension of the apartheid State. They did nothing to oppose these, they did nothing to show that these acts were actually unjust and immoral acts, they merely implemented them as was. We also say that they took sides, openly took sides, in the apartheid conflict by saying that, by allowing white males to go and serve camps in the SADF, by allowing white males to be police reservists and, on the other hand, immediately anybody among other black staffers or white staffers who took part in anti-apartheid activity was victimised. If you were detained you would either have your salary cut off while you were in detention, if you were jailed you would be fired while you are in jail. We have in our greater submission details of people who were victimised in this manner, and we say that by doing so the media houses, both Afrikaans and English, took sides and said that this side of the conflict was the legitimate side and the other one was illegitimate. They actively discouraged active opposition to apartheid among their staffers by basically saying that once you took part in such activity you were taking part in illegal activity, but whereas if you were actively involved in establishment politics you were not victimised at all. What they also did was to oppose all the activities undertaken by anti-apartheid forces and liberation organisations in opposition to apartheid. They opposed the arms struggle, they opposed sanctions, they opposed consumer boycotts, they opposed the stayaways which were all acts which the liberation forces and the anti-apartheid organisations were using to crush the apartheid system and we say that by doing so they served to perpetuate the apartheid system. The only alternative which they put forward was that there should be peaceful negotiations, but these were all parts towards such negotiations and by doing so they actually helped to maintain the system. With respect to the advancement of black staffers, black staff were basically used, they were used by the system, by the media houses, basically to be running boys. They were used to go and cover the stories in the townships, the ones that white journalist, maybe, could not do because they were possibly scared of going into the townships, but in so far as career advancement there was none whatsoever. There you reached a certain ceiling at some point and the racism in those institution was highly entrenched. The pay scales were also basically determined by your race. White journalists always earned better than black journalists. In terms of how far you went in the corporation was also determined by your race. Mr Chairman, various people who will come to the platform later in the day will give further details of this. I will take questions at this point.

MS MKHIZE: Are you going to assist in answering questions or you are going to talk to the Commissioners as well, Mr Makue?

MR MAKHANYA: He will assist in answering some of the questions.

MR MAKUE: Assist in answering the questions.

MS MKHIZE: Thank you very much for giving us your perception of the past. If I may ask you, can you just tell us a little bit about the Forum of the Black Journalists as to when was it formed and the thrust of this forum.

MR MAKUE: The Forum of Black Journalist was formed roughly 24 months ago. It did take centre stage and attracted public attention when it was officially launched here at the SABC in January this year. The surprising aspect of it is that although we have been operating quite above the ground, we were equally taken aback by the amount of or the surprise that the launch of the FBJ caused especially amongst our white colleagues in the industry, in the profession in the craft. We started this Forum of Black Journalists basically to come together as a monolithic group, we shared same values, same experiences, the same problems, same joys, same sorrows in our career as journalists, as black journalists. Although from time to time we have been misconstrued to be a union, we had been at pains to explain to all and sundry that we are not, rather we are a pressure group, we are an interest group of Black Journalists whose main aim is to advance the training and development of black Journalist. As a cardinal point we recognise the fact that as black Journalist, by and large, we have been less trained and less skilled than our white counterparts in the news rooms and also the fact that our, if any development on our part, by our bosses, that kind of development and advancement has been determined by how good a boy or a girl you are unto them. We had decided that the time had come for us determine our own, to shape our own future, determine our own destiny within the profession. These are the basic aims on which the Forum of Black Journalist was found, but it is not an antagonist group towards the establishment as some critics may want others to believe, because since January this year we have been working in close contact with the bosses, I mean with editors with the proprietors of the media in this country we are, we had been in close contact with, for an example, Sanef, at its highest level, through also, members of us who happened to be black editors. That is about it.

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  1. Greetings Sisi Pinky

    Your points are clear, as things stands media is not doing justice (most serve interests of government) or those former media houses still in control and feeding people misinformation. Coming closer to PAC,how possible for it to revived after the total onslaught by Media? And lastly how possible for genuine journalists to dig information (videos or audios) of Sobukwe and other key figures?

    Because I strongly believe Sobukwe’s videos are still available out there.

    I personal believe each individul or organization must have its own media desk or strategy to address various issues. Moving forward.

  2. My own view is that no evil regime on earth has arisen without being built up from scratch by corrupt media. Looking through history the likes of Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Mugabe and Apartheid all had powerful allies in the media. The media only plays the tune of those in power and make the people dance. However there is a handful of genuine media people who selflesly put the people first and know the power of media. The rest play God and use their power to manipulate.

    In my view apartheid would never have been what it became without the news papers and journalists. The recent revelations of the innocence of Winnie are a clear testimony of the power that journalists hold. South Africa will be destroyed by the partisan media who want to serve a certain section of powerful and rich people. Truth is only told to advance a certain agenda, and if the truth will work against certain interests, then there is a black out.

    Unfortunately those few journalists who have a conscience do not have the resources and cannot get the word out there.

    1. Meluleki there’s the saying. Get the economy, get the media, get the judiciary and you are in power. Forget about political power. If you have control of these three aspects of our life, you’re good. This simple formula deludes us till today. The capitalists have so well buttoned up that they are not distracted and anybody who tries to intervene with this formula is dealt with harshly.
      I wait to hear what Blacks, Africans in particular, say. I find we talk a lot and do very little.

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