Media revert to black stereotyping

Many newspapers have been reporting on the labour court case heard in Johannesburg, Services Sector Education and Training Authority and Seven Others v the Minister of Higher Education and Training and 14 ­Others, and on Judge AC Basson’s judgment ­delivered on May 3.

It is worth noting the way in which the services Seta matter has been reported in the media. Of particular interest is an article in a major Sunday paper.
Basson’s decision, I understand, is being appealed, because it was perceived to have racial and sexist undertones. Dr Sihle Moon, who has an impressive professional profile, is reported only as an ANC-aligned former researcher and Nolwandle Mantashe is reported only as the wife of Gwede Mantashe, the general secretary of the ANC.

Some media reporting on the fracas in the services Seta conforms to a steadily evolving consensus in some sections of South African society that, on questions of morality, there is a simple dividing line: black incompetence vs white excellence, black sleaze vs white honesty, black illiteracy vs white literacy, black guilt vs white innocence—and so it goes.

So ingrained and acceptable has this characterisation become that no one bothers to contest it any more. Add to this a black person’s associations with the liberation movement for freedom (no matter how innocuous) then you have a lethal mix of racial prejudice tinged with professional devaluation.

How else is one to explain the carefully constructed narrative, yes, with extremely backward racial undertones sold by some journalists? The narrative goes something like this: Ivor Blumenthal, a white administrator, well educated at Wits and other institutions, in charge of a highly successful Seta, highly competent and extremely honest and ethical, is being targeted by the black government precisely for these attributes.

Blumenthal (the “former” chief executive of the services Seta) is removed from his position by a new chairperson, who takes over the running of the services Seta as administrator. All the readers get to know about this administrator is that he is black and has associations with the ANC—both cardinal sins. In their blind hatred and prejudice, some of our so-called journalists completely lose sight of the primacy of the need for factual reporting, being informative, balanced, fair and objective.

If journalists are going to insist on setting out the academic and professional achievements of Blumenthal, does it not follow that these must be counterbalanced with those of Moon, who is portrayed as an incompetent and illiterate black and whose only claim to fame is his association with the ANC and his South African Communist Party membership?

A cursory internet search reveals that Moon defies the stereotype. Like Blumenthal, he spent a bit of time in institutions of higher learning. The result is a BA from the University of Cape Town and a master’s (public administration and public policy) and a PhD, both from the University of York in the United Kingdom.

Similarly, regarding Nolwandle Mantashe, the internet reveals that she holds a BA (Hons), business management programme (Wits Business School) and also serves on some boards, including Mvelaserve’s. There is a further indication that she is currently a transformation executive at Pretoria Portland Cement. Isn’t this enough proof that she is a professional in her own right?

Clearly, we are writing about a person who exists and acts in her own right with a public professional life, competent or otherwise. For a country committed to transformation and gender justice, this sexist and racist approach is certainly not on. Is not the task of any self-respecting journalist to ask and/or research such basic information—indeed is this not the very essence of fair, balanced and objective journalism?

Should skin colour, ANC membership and being a wife of an ANC/SACP leader qualify South Africans for the status of pariahs? Given our difficult, racially explosive history and our struggle for gender equity, one would expect our journalists to be ever so circumspect in the value judgments they attach to an individual South African. The internet has made things easy for anyone who cares to find out more in an instant.

Apart from an extensive self-promotion campaign, what is the basis of this supposed excellence? Indeed, what informs the implied honesty and ethical conduct when there are many allegations of rampant conflicts of interest.

Blumenthal’s preferred council chairperson, is a person known to be the beneficiary of countless contracts from the services Seta, while she remains on the services Seta board. Patronage is rumoured to be widespread in the services Seta. Unfortunately, this angle does not fit the racially and sexually defined narrative, so it will never see the light of day from some of those journalists who are reporting on the services Seta.

How some journalists and, by extension our country, buy into this narrative leaves one thunderstruck. But not to despair, one day the true story of the services Seta will be revealed and I suspect this will turn the current racial and sexist narrative on its head.

From the credentials of Moon and Mantashe publicly available, it is very clear that their skills and abilities cannot be questionable or reduced to just a former ANC researcher and the wife of the ANC secretary general or SACP chairperson. The public deserves more from the courts and the media than what has appeared so far regarding the services Seta case.

Lumko Mtimde is the chief executive of the Media Development and Diversity Agency and a board member of the media, information and communications technology Seta. He writes this in his ­personal capacity

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