‘We need to take a critical view of a complicated history’

Central to the discussion was Pascale Lamche’s ‘Winnie’ documentary, which was released in January last year. (Still from 'Winnie')

Central to the discussion was Pascale Lamche’s ‘Winnie’ documentary, which was released in January last year. (Still from 'Winnie')

Since the death of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and her funeral this past weekend, allegations surrounding the documentation of South Africa’s history and smear campaigns to tarnish Madikizela-Mandela’s reputation in the early 90s have come to the fore, triggering renewed interest in archival information on struggle heroes and villains.

On Eusebius McKaiser’s show on Radio 702, journalist Thandeka Gqubule, columnist Palesa Morudu and senior researcher and analyst Angelo Fick discussed the importance of historical context when assessing news reports of the time.

Fick argued that contemporaneous media reports cannot be expected to share the same moral judgments as those made in contemporary South Africa.

“It is important to realise that we make judgements all the time. But the key is not to look at history and assume the same judgement has always been the same.
Looking at history from today, we forget to realise that thirty years ago, [South Africa] was a time of censorship,” said Fick.

“I grew up in a totalitarian society,” said Fick. “So, we never believed the news we read. We would take the news we read and compare it to our political party affiliations, plural.”

Central to the discussion was Pascale Lamche’s ‘Winnie’ documentary, which was released in January last year. Fick said the film could not expected to tell the whole story.

“No documentary can be complete. All documentaries will tell a component [of history],” Fick said. Although the documentary was well received last week when it was broadcast on eNCA, Fick said critical questions were only asked about 48 hours later.

“There were several flaws in the documentary, like there would be in any piece of art or journalism. If I wanted to understand Winnie’s history, I would read her own works in her own words.”

Stratcom allegations

Gqubule has spent the last few days setting the record straight with regards to allegations linking her to a list of 40 journalists who were allegedly part of the apartheid regime’s Stratcom (Strategic Communications) project.

“Mrs Mandela did not make the claim that I was a Stratcom spy.” Gqubule told McKaiser. She said the allegation emerged from an Economic Freedom Fighters’ press release.

“Sometimes I feel like I am being bullied by people who were seven-years old in 1987,” said Gqubule.

To clear up confusion, Gqubule said she was “not quoted in the [Winnie] doccie at all.” The clip originated from a HuffPost video that was filmed last year in July on the sidelines during the screening of the documentary Winnie.

Gqubule told McKaiser that since the allegations erupted, she has done her best to keep her head, “while everyone is losing theirs”.

“There are a lot of hotheads saying a lot of unsubstantiated things. I have a responsibility as a journalist to be responsible and as truthful as possible and to honour history in a meaningful way. To say this is what happened, this is what I reported and this is my interpretation of what I reported.”

When questioned about who her sources were when she reported on the murder of Stompie Seipei, she said that none of her sources were “police sources”. Gqubule added that she did not name her sources because, as a journalist, she was responsible for the safety of her sources.

“Winnie never said we were spies. She said we may as well have been Stratcom, because we dared to be critical of the Mandela FC and criticise its activities,” Gqubule added.

READ MORE: Thandeka Gqubule hits back at Stratcom allegations

In the video, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela named several journalists who had written articles critical of her, saying they were doing the work of Stratcom, which launched media smear campaigns against her. However, Madikizela-Mandela did not say Gqubule was a Stratcom agent but said she was “doing the work of Stratcom…”

Gqubule told the SABC on Monday that she believes the reason Madikizela-Mandela named her was because “she [Mam Winnie] didn’t want to disband the [Mandela] football club and we wrote stories that were not flattering of the club and its activities. So that would obviously get her to believe that we were against her. But we were not.”

Since the documentary aired nationally, several political players and journalists who were named or linked to the documentary as those who had acted against Madikizela-Mandela have spoken out.

The director of the documentary, Lamache, has expressed her concern that criticisms of the documentary are only emerging now.

In an interview with media following Sydney Mufamadi’s press conference on Monday, Lamche told News 24 that she was confused why the allegations and criticisms of the documentary were only coming out now after the death of Madikizela-Mandela, when the film had been released in 2017.  

Gemma Ritchie

Gemma Ritchie

Gemma Ritchie works in the Mail & Guardian's online department. She majored in English Literature at a small liberal arts college in the USA.  Read more from Gemma Ritchie

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