RIP Karima Brown. World has truly lost a doyenne of black journalistic excellence
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I WRITE to you today as you are probably sitting with the likes of Henry Nxumalo, Can Themba, Percy Qoboza, Sophie Tema and other doyennes of black excellence in the netherworld of the living dead.
Last week I resisted an unbearable temptation to get bogged down in what has become a necessary uproar over eNCA journalist Lindsay Dentlinger.
It would have been easier to focus on Dentlinger’s treatment of some of the country’s elected officials (underline elected).
It would have been much quicker to pen something about the arrogance in her explanation to being “perceived as white”, something that betrayed her deeply ingrained attitude towards people who are not “perceived to be white”.
I would have taken such delight in tearing through her wanting to be seen as much a victim as the people she disgraced by asking them to wear masks.
And come to think of it, some have bought into her claim of being a victim. But why should I bother myself about her and her ilk when there are meaningful people like you in this country.
People who spent a huge part of their time trying to change what the likes of Dentlinger refused to see.
You may have been Dentlinger’s colleague, but your differences couldn’t be more stark.
You epitomised the very best and worst in us: a combative and an unapologetic social activist – the traits of a true journalist. Journalism is in itself a very social call.
To want to become a voice for the voiceless means taking a stance.
To want to speak truth to power means identifying a void in what is being sold to the rest.
It means siding with those that have no access to privilege and making sure that their views matter in the broader school of thoughts.
That they live beyond the attention they only receive during the elections.
But with people like you it was always easy to remind the powerful that there are serious issues that affect our national psyche beyond elections.
To some you were controversial. But what journalist isn’t?
I first met you at one epic conference of the Congress of the South African Students (Cosas) in the 1980s, when we wanted the student movement to reaffirm its commitment to the liberation of the country from apartheid.
We were both starry-eyed idealists who only had a blurred vision of what we wanted.
You attended the meeting with the likes of Nazeem Dramat, Thoraya Pandy and others from the Western Cape.
We, on the other hand, had come from what was then called the southern Transvaal region.
It was the first time I realised how passionate you could be in your convictions.
We were described as being militant – a term that could be very costly as the security branch at the time saw anyone like that as a threat to internal security.
Yet in all our discussions, you remained resolutely passionate, yet not overbearing.
Just clear on what you wanted. For days our delegations differed on certain positions, but came out of the conference with ultimate respect for each other and friendships that would last for decades.
I remember how I felt at a reunion of old pals when Cobus Bester recruited me to the economics desk of the fledgling national broadcaster in 1995.
You were already causing stirs at an SABC that was trying to find its meaning in a post-apartheid country.
Your distinct voice could be heard outside the PM-Live studio.
It was a new era and we were all trying to find our meaning at a broadcaster that had only been a propaganda tool for our former masters.
The SABC at the time was characterised by different accents, races, voices and even religions, raising the very fears and hostilities that have prompted the furore over Dentlinger.
Naturally, being new and largely out-gunned by the status quo, we resorted to what we knew best – activism.
We formed a black caucus to address what we felt was unequal treatment between black and white journalists in the newsroom.
You joined in to confront the then chief executive and now the late Zwelakhe Sisulu without batting an eye. The passion in your conviction was still as ablaze as it was before.
That was long before charlatans like Hlaudi Motsoeneng hijacked what would have been a beautiful project of re-engineering the public broadcaster to be exactly what it should be.
Our paths would later cross when I joined Business Report.
By then you had assumed the reins of the group executive editor.
Again you ruffled feathers, but still remained firm in your beliefs.
Your fearlessness was demonstrated again when you stood firm as the red berets tried to intimidate you for calling them out.
You could have easily taken the route of buckling under the pressure but you chose to be stoic and dignified in your response.
But why am I reminiscing over your death like a sentimental old fool?
Because journalism without you will never be the same.
Because in you, the country has lost an activist par excellence.
As your brother, Zain Semaar, said, your family has lost a mother, a sister, an aunt and a friend.
But most importantly, because power will now have space to plot more deceit against the people.
Last year, the SABC reported a R511 million net loss for the 2019/20 financial year.
Only beautiful brains like yours could have helped in arresting the continuing slide of this once proud national asset.
But as we continue to mourn your untimely passing, you have left us something to look up to.
In isiZulu we say uyibekile induku ebandla!
Sechaba ka’Nkosi is the Deputy Editor of Business Report
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