OPINION: In memory of Black Press

By Pinky Khoabane


In our series of Today in History, two days ago, we showcased a revolutionary, first president of the African National Congress,  Ntate John Langalibalele Dube. http://uncensoredopinion.co.za/today-history-john-langalibalele-dube-born/

One of the key issues is how this man – and others of their time – in the 1800s and early 1900s – were able to have the foresight of recognising newspapers as tools for agenda setting and as tools for forging and coalescing the making of modern political and cultural consciousness.

Dube was able to start a newspaper, Ilanga lase Natal something Black people in today’s world have struggled to do – not because they haven’t tried but the competition is fierce. A large section of the national media is a monopoly of a few privately owned newspaper groups. These groups are underpinned by large commercial sectors of the national economy. They have over the years represented those at the helm of the political and economic power – in the South African scenario white, rich and politically connected. This is the commercial or corporate media.

Dube denounced the injustices in this country and used his newspaper, Ilanga lase Natal and that of fellow comrade and activist, Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje’s newspaper Tsela ea Batho to write several articles. Incensed by the promulgation of the Native Land Act, he used these newspapers to vent his anger.

“If we have no land to live on, we cannot be no people,” he wrote.

Plaatje in his book in 1916 Native Life in South Africa wrote: “awaking on Friday morning, June 20th, 1913, the South African Native found himself, not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth”.

Comparing the rights of Black South Africans to inmates, he wrote: “Even criminals dropping straight from the gallows have an undisputed claim to six-feet of ground on which to rest their criminal remains”.

Developing alongside corporate media has always been the rise of alternative media which was meant to report stories which were closer to the general public and which were largely ignored by corporate media.

This genre of newspapers was started by men like Dube with his Ilanga lase Natal and Imvo Za Bantsundu which was edited by John Tengo Jabavu between 1887 and 1890. In addition there were religious newspapers. The Roman Catholics had  Izindaba za Bantu founded in October 1910, a “kind of Zulu Catholic mirror of contemporary events in Natal and Zululand”, according to the Black Research Collective. Moeletsi wa Basotho was to be its counterpart in Lesotho and was published twenty years later. Protestants were represented by, among others, the Anglican Church’s more militant Inkanyiso ease Natal (founded in April 1889), Izwe la Kiti (founded in September 1912), a newspaper sponsored jointly by the Lutherans and the Natal Missionary Conference, and the London Missionary Society’s Mahoko a Becuana (founded in January 1883).

There was a plethora of these newspapers aimed at the Black audience but even then Black journalists were harassed, denied access to news sources and their owners found it extremely difficult to sustain them without advertising from white companies.

WIthout the financial might many of these newspapers were either sold to corporate media or many of their journalists offered jobs in white-owned news publications that focused on black audiences.

The Chamber of Mines started Umteteli wa Bantu in 1920 and Bertram Paver, Bantu World. Bantu World was later taken over by the Argus Printing and Publishing Company – the biggest press monopoly in Africa.

Argus stamped its mark on Bantu World and developed it into a formidable force which owned several subsidiaries and  became a training ground for black journalists. Whites began taking an interest and liberals began contributing the narrative of what Blacks had to read. Anglo American for example, Africa’s biggest mining conglomerate, bought a third of Bantu Press.

Enter Jim Bailey, who carved a new kind of journalism on Black Lives – sex, crime and sport – and through Black Drum and Golden City Post, created mass media of the Black Press. With liberal influence, the journalists who told stories of Black people from their perspective, had to tell the story from an “objective” stand point – a case we see in today’s corporate media.

In the face of grave criticism regarding the concentration of ownership and control of the media in South Africa – which rates among the highest in the world – the white media establishment was forced to “unbundle”. Argus Holdings sold large parts to an Irish capitalist and international media mogul, Tony O’Reilly. It had also, a year before, sold Sowetan to a consortium of black businessmen, New African Investment Limited (NAIL). The O’Reilly Group had also assisted NAIL to buy the New Nation, the only alternative publication that was not owned by monopoly  capitalists.

The Black Press died. In years past, Black journalists joined the profession to advance a political agenda that would see them contribute to the battle against white supremacy and the advancement of a just society based on equal rights for all but today’s Black journalist must think in a white man’s world if they are to keep their jobs in corporate media. They must write through a Western prism, promote a commercial agenda and promote the fallacy of “objectivity”. It virtually makes them lapdogs of Big Business. Corporate media in South Africa represents what Franz Fanon aptly described as “Black Skins, White Masks”. Black journalists and columnists who advance a view against white establishment and racial capitalism are purged from mainstream media.

In the past five years of so, there have been new entrants in the mass media space in the form of the Gupta family and the Sekunjalo Independent Media Consortium  at The New Age and ANN7, and the Independent Group, respectively. Their entrance has been met with hostility by the white media establishment and unsurprisingly so.

Then there are the smaller, alternative media in the form of Black Opinion, UnCensored and African Times. Like the alternative media in the US that changed the course of history by exposing Hillary Clinton for the war monger that she is, these are also receiving the wrath of mainstream media here. The biggest producers of FAKE News are now spending copious amounts of column space writing about FAKE News. They are even to hold a seminar on FAKE News. The establishment is shaken – it no longer holds the monopoly on “truth” or agenda setting.

It is a bright day and future for information dissemination  – unlike Dube and Plaatjie, we live in a world where the means of producing news and agenda setting simply require a couple of Rands to start a blog instead of the hundreds of thousands that go into the printing press.

Armed with a mobile phone, the men and women on the street in today’s world can access the diverse voices that are so pivotal in ensuring they make informed decisions that are crucial to democracy.

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