19/10/2012. Trade unionist Jay Naidoo delivers the second Percy Qoboza lecture at Unisa. Picture : Masi Losi

Must learners without textbooks thank democracy? And how did we fail to see the signs before things went wrong in Marikana?

These were some of the questions posed by Jay Naidoo, who during the second Percy Qoboza memorial lecture delivered on Friday at Unisa, lashed out at government.

The lecture was presented at the National Press Club and set to be an annual event.

Just as our forefathers stood up against the apartheid regime and the right to freedom, the citizens of this country must stand up today and not be complacent because we achieved democracy 18 years ago.

This was the message from Naidoo, anti apartheid campaigner and founding general secretary of Cosatu, as the country this week focused on “Black Wednesday”.

On October 19, 1977, the apartheid regime declared illegal 19 black consciousness organisations, banned two newspapers and detained scores of activists, including Percy Qoboza, editor of the then The World.

Naidoo spoke about media freedom in South Africa and the responsibility which came with it.

While he emphasised that this responsibility did not only lie on the shoulders of the media, but also on the community at large, Naidoo did not mince his words when it came to government failing the citizens in this country in many respects.

“Why do we have to go to court to instruct a minister to deliver textbooks and to say this is democracy… We have to go to court because the system failed us,” Naidoo said, in referring to the Limpopo textbook scandal.

“We know it takes courage to be a whistleblower – to take a stand and to know you might lose your job.”

He said his heart broke when he spoke to the mother of one of the pupils affected by this scandal. “She said ‘my child had a democratic right to textbooks. What is democracy if the director-general and the minister say that there is no problem? We know there is [a problem]… Must these people with no textbooks say ‘thank you for democracy’?”

He also referred to allegations that Gauteng MEC for sport Lebogang Maile spend R1.6-million on a recent trip to London to watch the Olympics.

“It is public money… it is the sweat of people working in mines and hospitals creating this money.”

Naidoo also questioned why there was an increase in the number of people extracting bribes from people who wanted to do business with the state.

He said many small black businessmen said they struggled to build up their businesses and make a profit as they had to “pay corrupt officials.”

He also referred to the estimated 350 000 people who had died of HIV/Aids, because of the denial of the government regarding this infection in the past.

“The latest flavour of the month is the massacre at Marikana. What caused it? This did not happen overnight… How did we all fail to see the signs when it was so clear,” Naidoo asked.

He said we had to go back and analyse what happened. Naidoo said while violence could never be justified, this was what happened when leaders and management did not listen. “Then violence becomes the language… This should be a wake-up call for us.”

Naidoo also questioned the wisdom of nationalising the mines, while we struggled to run schools and hospitals. “The people are feeling helpless… We are impacting on collective bargaining. Once this is a threat, we will have anarchy in our country.”

Naidoo said it enraged him when he heard people laying all the blame on the workers. He urged people to stand up and be heard and not to merely be bystanders.

Naidoo said 1976 was “our Tahir Square”, where the people took to the streets, believing the revolution was around the corner and they were set on fighting for democracy. He questioned “where things have gone wrong, 18 years later”?

Naidoo said the media today was facing constant pressure from all sides – from their media houses, as well as from the proposed secrecy laws. “Our fathers fought for freedom of voice and expression. When I took a stand against these laws, it was not to defend the media. It was to defend my right to know…”

Media freedom and the responsibilities which came with it, was analysed during a discussion with panellists Joe Thloloe, the Press Ombudsman, acting editor of the Pretoria News, Val Bojé and Nic Dawes, editor of the Mail & Guardian.

Pretoria News