Author of The New Apartheid, activist Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh. Picture: Supplied
Author of The New Apartheid, activist Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh. Picture: Supplied

At Percy Qoboza memorial lecture activist says apartheid did not die but was privatised

By Nokwanda Ncwane Time of article published Oct 20, 2021

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Pretoria - A lot still needs to be done to address the legacy of apartheid in the South African media landscape, especially in the digital age.

This, in turn, would help the media go far in terms of giving voices to the dispossessed in the country.

This was according to panellists during the 11th annual Percy Qoboza memorial lecture hosted by the National Press Club and Unisa yesterday. The theme for the lecture was “The role of the media in the digital age. How far will it go in serving as the voice of the dispossessed and as a channel of change and real democracy?”

It was hosted yesterday, which marked the 44th anniversary of Black Wednesday, a day which used to commemorate the journey to media freedom in South Africa.

The lecture is held annually in remembrance of Black Wednesday, October 19, 1977, the day the apartheid government banned black consciousness organisations, publications and people critical of the state, including Percy Qoboza, who was the editor of The World and Weekend World newspapers at the time.

To reflect on the importance of this day, the National Press Club, in partnership with Unisa and the Qoboza family, hosted the day.

The lecture was presented by the author of The New Apartheid, activist Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, while panellists included the head of news and current affairs at the SABC, Phathiswa Magopeni, columnist Lorato Tshenkeng and Professor Mandla Radebe from Wits University.

Qoboza was 50 when he died in 1988 after a career as an influential black South African journalist, author and outspoken critic of the apartheid government.

He had been the editor of several leading anti-apartheid publications and was recognised globally.

Mpofu-Walsh said apartheid did not die but was privatised, and to some extent this is evident in the media race, and gender is to be taken into consideration.

“My question when we celebrate victory over apartheid is how have we defeated the persistent patterns of racial inequality when the South African media landscape has failed in three decades to even begin to overturn the momentum of apartheid?”

He added that new digital technologies can expand freedom and allow people to interact in online platforms to organise and mobilise, but at the same time they entrench problems of apartheid inequality and give them new life.

“So we have only scratched the surface of apartheid by creating a democratic government but, in all the other spheres of South African life outside voting for our government, and the public nature of government, in all spheres outside of those spheres, apartheid continues to persist and the private realm is often more powerful than the public realm,” he said.

Magopeni said if one looked at how the news media was currently scrambling for survival, the interests of the dispossessed were not even a consideration.

“A good example is the paywall systems in private media. This means that somehow information is reserved for certain citizens and so the dispossessed pay a penalty for being poor and can only access news 24 hours or later when the information has become stale. So how far does the media go in terms of giving voices to the dispossessed?”

The Government Communication and Information System, talking about Black Wednesday, said this year coincided with South Africa’s drive to vaccinate the population against Covid-19, so that the sense of normalcy could return and the economy could grow.

Director-general Phumla Williams urged South Africans to get information from bona fide media and credible sources, and shun fake news and misinformation, which seek to derail the country’s efforts to fight the pandemic.

“Any form of threat to the freedom of the media is an attack on South Africa’s democracy. We all play a role in protecting our hard-fought-for democracy. Government also thanks all the journalists who have worked tirelessly to ensure the public is kept abreast of the developments related to the pandemic and remember those that have lost their lives whilst bringing the stories to our homes.”

Pretoria News

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