Mainstream media prefers to mute radical Pan-Africanist voices like Sam Ditshego and Andile Mngxitama
A Pan-Africanist voice in the media is taboo.
There is no large anthology of serial letter writer Sam Ditshego today. There will not be any in the future – unless he left manuscripts of his writing.
When a black columnist and journalist writes about South Africa today, they usually situate the discussions within a positive Rainbow Nation building framework.
To do this effectively, they must neither promote Pan-Africanism nor mention the thorny land question.
However, as a columnist or writer, you are encouraged and given space to write and speak about the Pan African Congress disunity and or the infighting in the ANC. You can add to that the death and irrelevance of Black Consciousness. Whatever is negative about the black world is acceptable.
The media’s refusal to provide opportunities and platforms to someone like Ditshego was part of the plan to delegitimise men possessed by the power of Pan-Africanist thought and spirit.
Andile Mngxitama is such a figure, too. You never read anything he writes in mainstream media.
Of course, this is a direct reflection of a long tradition to suppress and marginalise radical black singing. Pan-Africanism and or Black Consciousness must not breathe.
Over the last 26 years, more and more column and feature writing in South Africa has been turned into a discourse between white liberals and their black clones.
They are the ones that monopolise space for so-called insight and analytical writing.
It presumes that there is only one thing to discuss and that is nation-building and social cohesion, without any reference to the past and history.
Therefore, this confirms why someone like Ditshego was confined to the letters pages.
This means that he was neither acknowledged nor recognised as a relevant and meaningful opinion-maker and thought leader, that deserved a permanent column.
Since good black journalists exist to promote the Rainbow Nation and non-racialism, they will not betray their personal ambitions by raising the issue of the land or spreading the philosophy and ideas of Pan-Africanism. It limits career growth.
When someone like Ditshego was published on the letters page, it was one of those rare moments where some conscience-stricken editor pricked up their ears to hear what a real African man had to say.
Over the last 30 years also, I have worked and written for many newspapers in South Africa. Time and time again, I find that the men who are perceived to be Pan-Africanist are not given platforms to say anything on the national question.
Ditshego and very few men of his calibre chose to speak about what has happened to the Pan-Africanist philosophy from the standpoint of an insightful insider.
Whenever he made remarks about the background and context of the Sharpeville Massacre of March 21, 1960 – or clarified the difference between ideas of Pan-Africanist anti-racism versus non-racialism – he was seen as derailing the more important political discussion to promote the Rainbow Nation.
The unwritten law is that Pan-Africanism is not a necessary dimension in the redefinition of the new post-apartheid society.
When this suppression in silencing occurs, it usually happens with the complicity of top-dog editors who have, overtime, learnt to think of land dispossession and economic injustice as backward and primitive subjects. It spoils the beautiful picture of Nelson Mandela’s South Africa.
Not listening to or reading the thoughts and views of people like Ditshego or Mngxitama means that national discourse will always suffer from critical gaps in theoretical vision and concrete strategy.
Despite the advancement and success of black editors to run mainstream publications, most of them are not committed to challenging the status quo.
In fact, they will not make the issue of land become part of a daily discourse in South Africa or a standing item in their news agenda.
This means that there will always be a major gap between African aspirations and what the leadership settles for in the name of nation-building social cohesion and reconciliation. As a result, the voices that raise and lament land dispossession are diminishing. Ultimately, blacks will forget that this is their land.
At present, many black columnists and academics are self-censoring and self-silencing to protect and preserve their prominent positions.
They fear that raising critical issues makes them vulnerable and they may lose their position and status. They realise that to enter into this land discussion places one in direct conflict with the profit-making purpose of the media.
Certainly, fear of someone like Ditshego or silencing him is the only explanation as to why he never reached his full potential to be widely regarded as a leading thought leader in South Africa, over the last 30 years.
Above all, it hurts. It is painful to reflect on a man who was failed by his country and was not able to live up to his full potential.
No one in the top positions of the media seems to consider the impact that suppression and marginalisation of radical black voices has on the African psyche. Worse, it has an adverse effect on progressive citizens in general.
Thus, no one is equipped to tackle head-on some of the biggest questions – especially the land issue - that confronts this country.
It is a rare occasion to listen to or read the Pan-Africanist insights in a newspaper, magazine, radio or television.
As a result, many young people believe that it is the highest form of political consciousness and maturity when you talk about radical black politics because it is not allowed in South Africa.
By the time many young people read and comprehend material written by Ditshego, they will have grown into tired and exhausted souls, preoccupied with security.
The anti-African backlash to “writing what you like” like Steve Biko is so fierce that it can plunge one into poverty and homelessness.
It comes with prominence of riding the crest wave for the Rainbow Nation editor and journalist who hangs out with politicians, has got a big fat account, posh house in the suburbs, nice car and designer labels on his back.
For strong and influential voices like Ditshego to win awards, status and recognition, they must stop whining and complaining about land dispossession or pointing at economic inequality.
Worse, they must forget about espousing Pan-Africanism that excludes whites or claims they are descendants of European settlers and colonialists in Africa.
If only Ditshego succumbed to the lure of money and everything that it can buy, he would have been the superstar he was meant to be.
Presumably, he was aware that espousing pan-Africanism would shut him out. But he chose to keep his principles for his integrity.
We know why the caged bird cannot sing.
* Sandile Memela is a writer, cultural critic and public servant. He writes in his personal capacity.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.