Songezo Mjongile

Nelson Mandela, whose death made headlines the world over, epitomised transformation. Whether it was from a freedom fighter to statesman; from prisoner to reconciler, Mandela insisted that, as a nation, we had to change.

There was opposition to his efforts from some quarters and most of the time these changes and compromises were difficult, but change had to take place.

As the ANC we recognise that the Western Cape and the City of Cape Town is in need of change; no matter who governs it.

However, the difference between us and other political parties and organisations is that we demand this change.

They, on the other hand, want to maintain the status quo.

It is in this context of the need for change and transformation that the recent changes at the Cape Times need to be reflected on and praised.

Given the important role that the media plays and the Cape Times in particular, the media, like Independent Newspapers, the city and the entire province needs to engage in a process of transformation.

At its Mangaung National Conference in 2012, the ANC pointed out that only the Independent group, among the big four players in print media, was foreign-owned. It is therefore without hesitation that we welcomed the local acquisition of the group, given the need for serious transformation of our media, and the print media in particular.

We recognised at the conference, as we continue to do now, that one of the pillars of the apartheid super structure, providing its propaganda, was the print media.

Needless to say, this point is fiercely contested and debated in the print media.

In fact, five years earlier, in Polokwane, the ANC had proposed that a media appeals tribunal be put in place to ensure decisive action, especially with regards to transformation and accountability in the media.

Through constructive dialogue with the sector, other concerned individuals and organisations, we were able to amend such a decision at Mangaung.

However, this must in no way be seen to diminish the importance that the ANC places on transforming this important sector.

We, more than anyone else, recognise the important role the media plays in strengthening our democracy and it is precisely because of this importance that the media plays in our democracy that it cannot be left untouched as it was and had been before 1994.

As the ANC, we recognise, too, that the print media remain a hostile territory for ideological battles of non-racialism, gender equality and questions of class.

In other words, it is important for us to realise that there is no ideological neutrality in the media.

Even in the media, there are those who wish to push for change and progress while others wish simply to maintain the status quo.

I don’t mean to publicise another medium over this, but I happen to be following a number of personalities, including journalists and editors on Twitter.

Like everyone else they air their views. They have strong ideological and political views on virtually everything. In their tweets they even canvas for their articles before they are published.

I remain convinced that the notion of an objective and neutral media is a pipe dream.

Where you expect the media to be the carrier or transmitter of facts and objective information, they turn out to be political animals.

No wonder some are surfacing in the parliamentary lists of some political parties.

Unsurprisingly, the proposed redeployment of the Cape Times editor, Alide Dasnois, by the management of the Independent group, to another position in the group, was met with suspicion, scorn and even attempts to create a scandal where clearly none exists.

There was no doubt that some inside and outside the Independent group would object to the acquisition of the group by a black consortium and the subsequent transformation that needs to take place.

In particular, the Cape Times, which has traditionally been a mouthpiece for neo-liberal fascists, would find this transformation particularly difficult.

Change, at one stage or another, would have had to take place and there was no better opportunity than with Madiba’s passing.

When the world’s headlines mourned for Madiba, the Cape Times simply pulled an old developed idea, pre-prepared wrap-around from the archive, but continued to pursue its agenda inside – on the front page.

The day after Madiba’s death, the then-editorial team demonstrated that one can never judge a newspaper by its cover.

One of the fallacies after 1994 was to think it was only the state that had to transform and many even confined it to the public sector, the executive and legislature. When transformation is pushed in the judiciary, we hear we are tampering with judicial independence.

When we demand economic freedom, we are told of the interests of foreign investors.

When we wish to advance transformation in the media, we are accused of limiting freedom of expression, among other things.

The freedoms of expression, in media and the press, cannot be separated from the question of diversity.

The diversity of our city and province must be reflected through these freedoms of expression, media and press.

One cannot therefore separate issues of transformation, reflecting this diversity, from these freedoms.

Yet transformation must have depth and be real.

Just as we cannot be satisfied with trickle-down economics, with a few coloureds and Africans reaping the benefits of black economic empowerment, so too can we not be satisfied simply, in this instance, of only the ownership of the Independent group and the new editor of the Cape Times reflecting diversity.

We must see more coloured and African journalists in our newsrooms, in our sub-editor and editorial teams.

We are told that under the former editor of the Cape Times many journalists of colour left the newspaper and she appointed only white journalists, rolling back the gains in diversity and transformation that had taken place at the publication.

If anything, the life of Nelson Mandela must spur us on to change for the better. Change must occur in every aspect of South African society, as apartheid affected every aspect of life – such was its devastating effect.

The ANC therefore welcomes and will work with any organisation and/or individuals who will advance with it transformation; transformation to a non-racial, non-sexist South Africa in which everyone shares in its prosperity.

l Mjongile is ANC provincial secretary. Peter Fabricius is away.