Viva the Mail & Guardian, viva!

Ebrahim Harvey


At the outset I must make it clear that not only do I not represent this paper or work for it, but I also have some serious differences with the views of some of its columnists and editorials. However, the latest outrageous accusation of the ruling party against the paper compels me to defend it. That the African National Congress has orchestrated a vendetta against the paper, and particularly its editor, Phillip van Niekerk, is now beyond doubt.

Minister of Public Enterprises Jeff Radebe told the Human Rights Commission (HRC), in vitriolic terms, that the editor wrote an article in 1998 which was highly critical of President Thabo Mbeki, “unashamedly racist” and falsely presented it as the work of Lizeka Mda, a black female journalist then in the employ of the paper.

In the light of the vehement denial of this concocted lie by both Van Niekerk and Mda, the ANC, and in particular Radebe, has committed what must be the most shameful public lie and blunder since 1994.

This lie has exposed the hideous extent to which it will go in wanting to tarnish the paper with invective racist innuendo.

I contend that the allegations of racism in this paper, even if it did exist in the notoriously vague “subliminal” form, are largely a smokescreen for a more serious and deeper resentment of the paper for reasons other than allegations of racism.

I attended the HRC hearings into racism in the media and was present when the editor of this paper presented his submission.

None of the articles alleging to perpetuate racist stereotyping were factually incorrect. The Black Lawyer’s Association (BLA) representative was unable to claim any factual inaccuracy, and all he could do, rather lamely, was to suggest instead that how the stories were portrayed was indicative of racial or racist stereotyping.

Despite the failure to provide tangible proof of racist stereotyping at the first hearing the ANC went on in its submission last week to accuse the paper of the same thing with equally little proof. Its logic seems to be that the more often you say it the more likely it will be believed.

Racism is a big part of our problems, but it does not represent all our problems. The social malaise of mass unemployment and poverty, our biggest enemy, is not caused, per se, by racism, in its overt or covert forms, but by the bosses’ profits system, under which white unemployment and poverty are also growing. If the ANC is genuinely concerned with stamping out ongoing corruption in the government it should be equally concerned if the media does not vigilantly expose all such instances, regardless of who is involved. Instead the BLA and the ANC cry racist foul when this paper does so.

But what is revealing is that while other papers have also been exposing corruption, the ANC always points most accusingly to this paper more than any other. Not strange to see why. This paper, more than any other, has not only fearlessly and consistently exposed corruption in the government but has also provided a platform to commentators, like myself, who have been equally fearless in speaking their minds.

This is exactly what the ANC cannot stomach. It wants a nation and media of snivelling conformists and sycophants who sing to its tune on all important matters. This paper, with its many problems and weaknesses, has since its inception blazed a path of independent and courageous journalism which few others, if any at all, can compare to or equal. When it stood up to the previous regime it was a good paper. When it stands up to the new regime for good reasons it is a bad, and worse, racist paper.

This is the hypocrisy of a party that, while it cries out about racism in this paper, tramples upon and betrays many of the principles, values and rights enshrined both in the Freedom Charter and the Constitution.

This paper was prepared to publish my views, when several others were not, and it appears, still are not. Some white editors, while they espouse the principles of democracy, freedom of speech and a free press, appear to censor those views which strongly criticise the present status quo and challenge the dominant policies and thinking of the ruling party.

With some black “African” editors the prevailing but deceiving notion is that “we must not be seen to be criticising our own kind too strongly”. This is a ridiculous and narrow black nationalistic petit bourgeois nonsense, which in any case completely flies in the face of good journalism. And since they claim that I belong to the “coloured minority” I stand even less chance of being heard.

Beneath the surface of the debate on racism lie serious questions about, and contradictions in, our society, which fall outside of the scope of racism per se, and which I have tried to raise. I have said that white racism exists in all facets of our society, including the media, and must be vigorously fought.

That is one thing, but it is quite another to, in the name of anti-racism, attempt to besmirch this paper, which has exposed and criticised corruption, bad leadership and bad policies when necessary and provided a platform for others, like myself, to express dissenting views.

Despite my many differences with the paper I have no hesitation in saying “Viva the Mail & Guardian, viva. Long live the Mail & Guardian, long live.” But for now can the ANC please break its silence and tell the world of the source of the information upon which it committed this shameful lie and monumental blunder.

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