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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Zwelinzima Vavi`s address at the launch of Mzilikazi wa Africa`s Book

11 September 2014

“Freedom of expression. - (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the press and other media” Constitution of the Republic of South Africa
"A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens." Nelson Mandela

After reading Mzilikazi wa Africa’s book –“Nothing Left to Steal”, it dawned on me how lucky we are that Nelson Mandela lived in our time and said all these things to all of us, and how fortunate we are that we have the Constitution that reflects our people’s dreams for a free and democratic South Africa.

These two are the biggest gifts this nation has received which we must cherish every day of our lives.

Anyone reading this book will realise that every story in it is something we have read about in the media before, except the roots and life of Mzilikazi wa Africa, yet the book exposes the extent to which we are sitting in denial about the real challenges facing our young democracy.

To me Chapter One of the book succinctly summarises the dangers that we must mobilise our society to be on the alert for. It demonstrates that power was abused to cut corners to award a tender to buy a R500 million building. This happens notwithstanding the existence of such a brilliant policy framework as the Public Finance Management Act.

It exposes the ever-existent family connections, and how politicians and state bureaucrats connive to inflate prices and milk taxpayers dry. It demonstrates that when it comes to the power of money, very few are not gullible.

Money turns a journalist against a journalist. It demonstrates how some of our police get easily used to undermine the very principles of our Constitution, how even the judiciary can be manipulated to obfuscate and divert attention away from the real issues and the contempt with which it can be treated by those abusing power and authority.
It demonstrates that in this manipulation not even those who are members of the ANC, whose struggle gave birth to the Constitution and produced luminaries like Nelson Mandela, are immune from manipulation by powerful elites who occupy strategic positions within the party and the state.

Yet at the same time this book is actually a celebration of our democracy and supremacy of our Constitution. It underscores the importance of the separation of power, in particular between the Executive and the Judiciary. The book is a celebration of press freedom and whistle blowers.

After reading Chapter One, I jotted down a mental note, wondering what the heroes and heroines of Mpumalanga would make of this fiasco. Gert Sibande was one of those arrested in the longest treason trial that ran between 1956 and 1961. He dedicated most of his adult life to liberate farm workers from the daily humiliation at the hands of their racist and brutal farm bosses.

In 1947 he helped Michael Scott and Ruth First compile their press exposure of the near slavery conditions of Africans on the Bethel farms.

What would he say when reading this book, discovering the role of the racist land barons that he dedicated his life to defeat, have been substituted by crooks who have infiltrated his organisation - the African National Congress,- and are carrying forth with the command to kill his people?!

The book not only underlines the critical importance of the freedom of the media but the extraordinary tenacity of some of the journalists in our country. Mzilikazi wa Africa and his colleagues, Stephan Hofstatter and Rob Rose, have endured everything the hyenas can throw at them.

Mzilikazi has faced stared death in the face and survived countless death threats, illegal imprisonment, torture at the hands of criminals, attempts to bribe running at millions, all to get him to co-operate with jackals to keep the truth away from the unsuspecting public.

This trio had an opportunity to join the gravy train and to enjoy birthday parties where life is nice and where millions are spent on the most expensive whiskies and wines, as the elites flaunt their newly acquired opulence. They had a choice to look at the other side and cosy up to those with power and money.

They were inspired by what George Orwell once said: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”. They went to extraordinary lengths, including in hostile foreign countries, in search of the truth, so that we may be better informed about what is happening around us.

The countless death threats you received, the insults, name-calling and labels, the torture, beatings, and attempts to pull the wool over your eyes did not succeed. Today we are celebrating the work of these three who are special gifts to South Africa. In celebrating you, let us be reminded of what our international icon said about goodness: "Man`s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished." (1994).

Today we are celebrating the work of these three special gifts to South Africa, which is collated into a book that will serve as a reminder to the coming generations of the challenges we faced in the first two decades of our democracy.

Often it is assumed that changing the colour of the owners of the monopoly- owned media houses is the end of the struggle to challenge the dominant ideas in our society. We have come to terms with the reality that this is a simply untrue. We are making a monumental mistake if we think that the neglect and marginalisation of news that matters to the working class withers away along with the substitution of white for black in terms of ownership of our media houses.

ETV is largely owned by black South Africans today. The Independent Newspapers group has been taken over by blacks with strong links to the labour and liberation movements.
Yet that has not guaranteed that the bias of the news against the economically marginalised is ended.

Throughout this week for example eNCA have been feeding us stories about some rich young man, living a life of glamour and fame, who killed his girlfriend. Yet the stories of working class people, who are robbed, maimed, raped and denied their right to justice do not enjoy same prominence.
Independent newspapers immediately dismissed one of the most pro-worker, pro-poor editors, Alide Dasnois, as soon as the so-called revolutionaries took over, replacing her with someone else who is more likely to sing praises to what is, at the end of the day, an anti-black, anti-liberation stance and against the workers’ and women’s agenda.

What does this book tells us? The book communicates a categorical message that things have gone very wrong in many respects. Let me hurry to say I don’t belong to that school of thought that says nothing has been achieved in our democracy.

We are not exaggerating or forming wrong opinions based on a “few examples” of rotten apples exposed in newspaper headlines. If this was the case we would not be worried. Please do not let anyone tell us we should not be worried and that things are under control.

This 268-page book gives us a summary of why this nation should be extremely concerned. The biggest concern is that not a single person exposed by the heroic work of these journalists is languishing in prison. There is irrefutable evidence, confirmed by parliament, courts and the Public Protector that some should have been imprisoned.

A country in which so much looting has been exposed should be ashamed that such a small fraction of those exposed have been in the courts and even the handful who have been convicted are playing golf and continuing with their looting spree.

This is what lies behind the culture of impunity and arrogance amongst the hyenas – there are Absolutely No Consequences. Society is watching this daily, speaking about it at their dinner tables, in the taxis, trains, stockvels and social media.

The power is slowly shifting away from the critical mass of the people to the powerful elite. Daily we are seeing a new culture creeping in, replacing the culture of robust debates and accountability of the leadership with fear, whispering and gossip in safe corners with many just shrugging their shoulders in the face of this rampant arrogance and looting.
The second reason why we should be extremely worried is the invasion of the foreign capitalist culture into the liberation movement, the capitalist ‘dog-eat-dog’ mentality and the ‘survival-of-the-fittest’ mantra. It is as if we have accepted our fate. The most corrupt receive unequivocal support from us and this comes out clearly in the book. We love them corrupt and sing praises and threaten to kill anybody who shows to us that those we support have countless questions to answer. Revolutionary morality is on the back-foot, taking a pounding from a marauding new culture of selfishness, individualism and greed.

Thirdly, and most worrying, is the ease with which the masses have been manipulated to defend and praise what is indefensible.

Mzilikazi’s book reminds us of how a clearly rented crowd came to the court wearing the sacred symbols of one of the most respected liberation movements, which was led by at least two Nobel Peace Laureates – Chief Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela - who came to taunt, insult and threaten a journalist they should be praising, for exposing abuse of power that eventually leads to delaying every of their demands, enshrined in the Freedom Charter, by many more years.

It is this crowd has become more vocal and - threatening, diverting attention away from the real issues and forming a formidable wall of sycophants behind which the most corrupt hide.

Che Guevara said: “Patriotism is used by rotten third world rulers to cover up their robbery of the land and its resources”. We would say to Che, comrade, the only patriotism which we should teach our generation is that they should love their country and that no political party, no union, no newspaper, no anything else should be rated as important as the country. All of these formations were created by us, for the sole reason of building a better country than what we have now. How many times have we heard the phrase: “Lets close ranks comrades for the sake of our movement”, which means “let us hide this rot and looting, comrades, for the sake of our movement?”

The masses are now “beginning to sulk”. There is a dangerous resignation and alienation of ordinary people from politics. Increasing numbers of ordinary people no longer trust anything tagged as politician. Cynicism has taken root and negative perceptions about politics deepening.

Days are going where a mere mentioning of political leaders such as OR Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Chris Hani and countless others invoked emotions of nostalgic pride at their heroism and selflessness. Increasingly too many people regard politicians as self-serving aliens, only interested in promoting the fortunes of their families.

I strongly recommend that those who have not yet read Frantz Fanon’s book,– The Wretched of the Earth, should read this timeless piece alongside Mzilikazi’s Nothing Left to Steal, and draw the profound parallels between the two worlds depicted in these books.

The danger we face from the resignation of the masses is that a new minority will rule whilst the silent majority is sulking. Already an analysis of the recent elections shows that this is where we are going. Out of 36 million South Africans of voting age, only 25 million registered to vote and only 18 million of those registered actually cast their vote.

This means 50% of our voting population has not been inspired by anyone or any party to go and exercise their hard-won right to vote. That is where the danger lies. This, accompanied by the ticking time bomb of unemployment, poverty and inequality really places our society on shaky ground.
The consequences of all this, is that corruption is out of control and until citizens wake up from their slumber it will continue to grow until every dream we have has been sidelined and smothered by new powerful interests.

Faced with all this – what are we to do? How do we liberate ourselves from the tyranny of the minority within our political formations masquerading as the majority when we know too well that they have secured their power through death squads, distribution of patronage, abuse of power and trust and corruption networks?
Where is a national dialogue in this country, a real discussion about our situation, which resembles a rudderless ship in a deepest ocean in the darkest night?
I hope this book will force a discussion about what is to be done?

Thank you for coming and thank you for listening.

Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
110 Jorissen Cnr Simmonds Streets

P.O.Box 1019
South Africa

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E-Mail: patrick@cosatu.org.za