In this controversy at the Cape Times, anger must be set aside and each of us has to hear what the other is saying, says Zubeida Jaffer.
Cape Town -
Former editor of the Cape Times Alide Dasnois was removed from her position on the weekend of Madiba’s passing. There seem to be different versions of why this happened. One version comes from her and the other from the new owners, led by Iqbal Survé.
Media companies shift and remove editors from time to time. Listening to Alide and then to Iqbal makes me uncertain about who is right and who is wrong in this instance. They both have a point from where they are standing. The truth, as it often does, lies somewhere in-between.
Only they can muddle through their differences. And muddle through they must. It is not in the interest of our province or in the interest of the profession that an issue like this should pit us one against another. I am not suggesting that the public should not express their feelings. However, there should be a bit of caution. The Cape Times has just acquired new owners and at last the company is back in the hands of South African owners after being plundered by the Irish O’Reilly group.
It is in the interest of all South Africans and journalists that this opportunity to bring change within this company should proceed in a healthy way. It is not useful if the new owners are seen as less than the former owners, nor is it useful for the journalists to be derided.
I left Cape Town last week and do not have access to all the details of the different points of view. What I have come to hear, however, is that Alide Dasnois and Tony Weaver have been called racists by some. At the same time, Iqbal Survé is being painted into a corner as a lackey of President Zuma.
Both these allegations are untrue. Alide and Tony are my colleagues of long-time standing. They are not racist. They have always made considerable effort to be fair over many years. They, nevertheless, come from a different life experience than a considerable part of the Cape population. For years now I have had to listen to complaints about how people feel they are not represented in the Cape Times. I myself have felt that when I look at the society pages it is all white. If I looked at the entertainment, it reflects very little about the talent in our communities.
Iqbal Survé is a medical doctor who has become a leading businessman. He comes from a well-respected Cape family held in high esteem and is known for his acts of charity. He is, however, new in the newspaper business and perhaps has to allow himself some time to understand what journalists accept as common practice.
The Cape Times has a very special place in my heart because it was one of my first places of employment and brought for me some of the most heart-wrenching experiences of my life. I have a particular kind of loyalty to the paper that is hard to explain. I want it to survive. I want it to be a happy place. And it has not been a very happy place for a number of years now because of the way in which the editor and her staff have been squeezed. Profits, and not the growth and development of our journalists, had become the driving factor.
When the O’Reilly group bought over the Argus company, the profit margins were around 7 percent. When they left the country this year and sold it to Dr Survé’s consortium, the profit margins had been set at 25 percent, most of which was sent out of the country. We must learn from our past errors and build a company that is South African and that understands our needs and requirements.
What would Madiba have said about this controversy? It is most likely that he would have encouraged the two protagonists to sit around a table and find a way forward instead of fracturing our communities and limiting the discussion about meaningful transformation
The readership of The Cape Times is majority black, and their voices need to be heard. If we want greater inclusivity, we cannot practise exclusion.
South Africa belongs to all who live in it and media professionals need to create the space for inclusive debate. In this controversy at the Cape Times, anger must be set aside and each of us has to hear what the other is saying.
Right now, if we remain in combative posture, the Cape Times will not be any happier under Iqbal Survé than it was under Tony O’Reilly. Journalism as a profession and the paper’s readers will be the losers in the end.
* Zubeida Jaffer is presently Writer-in-Residence at the University of the Free State. She runs her own website. See www.zubeidajaffer.co.za
** The views expressed here are not necessraily tose of Independent Newspapers.