HAROLD Wilson, he of “Wilson is a paw paw” fame, once said “a week is a long time in politics”. Well, a week is a long time in the world of journalism.
Last week, I wrote a column headlined “How we made journalism history at the Cape Times the night Madiba died”. In the 13 years of writing as Man Friday, I have never had as massive a response. The column went viral on social media.
On Tuesday, the Right2Know Campaign and other social justice groups held a protest against the removal of Cape Times editor, Alide Dasnois, outside Newspaper House. I was in Joburg at a family wedding, so was unaware of what went down.
A group of counter-protesters under the never-before-heard-of Movement for the Transformation of Media in SA pitched up. They were led by the seldom-before-heard-of Pastor Wesley Douglas. After a press conference in a rented room at the plush Mandela Rhodes Hotel, they emerged with glossy colour posters. Three of them read “Fire racist reporters”, “Fire Tony Weaver” and “Away with Man Friday”.
Since all racist reporters have long since been fired or have died, that only left me in the firing line, so to speak.
So yesterday I interviewed Pastor Douglas. This is an edited transcript:
Me: So, why did you demand ‘Fire Tony Weaver’ and ‘Away with Man Friday’?
WD: We are happy to withdraw our call for your resignation and the call to ban your column. A lot of what was said was in the heat of the moment...
Me: It didn’t seem to be in the heat of the moment, you had high-gloss posters saying ‘Fire Tony Weaver’ and ‘Away with Man Friday’. What were your grounds for asking for me to be fired?
WD: Well, basically there’s a lot of information from other sources, in the same way that you have got sources, we’ve got confidential informants...
Me: So based on this information that you got from your confidential informants, you called for me to be fired. Now I’m trying to work out what that information was, am I a racist, am I...
WD: No, no, no, we never in our paper said that you’re a racist, you know there’s a whole, the whole Adelaide Dasnois...
Me: Adelaide? You mean Alide?
WD: Yes, the former editor. A lot of what was going on, with the Right2Know campaign, with your column, wasn’t adding up for us, so we were saying, we want to know about real transformation...
Me: I want to know about the posters calling for me to be fired. Do you know anything about me, Wesley?
WD: Uuuum. Well, um, we know what we have heard from different individuals.
Me: And what is that? What have you heard about me?
WD: What do you want to know?
Me: I want to know if you know anything about my history?
WD: Ja, we know quite a bit.
Me: Give me some examples?
WD: Well, I’m not in the environment where I can talk about it right now.
Me: Do you know anything about my history in the Struggle?
WD: Ja, I know that you were part of the Struggle and all that kind of stuff, but what you’ve come from is what you’ve done.
Me: So the fact that I’m widely known as a Struggle journalist, that I was put on trial by the apartheid regime for my journalism, that doesn’t count? Is it because I’m white?
WD: No, no, no, it’s not because you’re white, we never called for you to be fired because you’re white. It’s your role in projecting one case and not the other case.
Me: Are you saying that the version of events in my column is not true?
WD: Well, there are inconsistencies.
Me: What was inconsistent? If you weren’t here that night, how can you say there were inconsistencies?
WD: Well, there are rumours doing the rounds... we just want transformation of the media... until now we have made request after request after request to speak to the press, and nobody wanted to come and talk to us.
Me: But nobody knew you existed until last week, you didn’t exist until last week.
WD: No, people have, they’ve heard about the Economic Equality Charter Campaign, the Western Cape Social Economic Development Forum, others, we had to start a new organisation to deal with the media, because our voices must be heard.
Me: Wesley, people say you are very close to Marius Fransman.
WD: No, no, no, I don’t know why they say that, I’m not very close to Marius.