Vol 11 No 32

26 August - 1 September 2011


Viewpoint | by Kgalema Motlanthe
Ruth First thoughts in post-apartheid South Africa and post-colonial Africa

Viewpoint by Kgalema MotlantheRuth First was such a remarkable human being who made a lasting impression in almost all areas in which she immersed herself. It is all the more advisable to pay heed to the generation that shaped the character and value system of the struggle for justice based on morally commendable claims as we build a people-centred democracy. >>> MORE

Readers Forum
We have a revolutionary responsibility to our predecessors

The centenary celebrations will again reaffirm the relevance and the outstanding role of the African National Congress as the only political formation capable of leading effective transformation of the South African society. We owe this revolutionary responsibility to our predecessors, to all unsung heroes and heroines of our struggles who paid their dear lives in defence of this monumental foundation of the generations to come. >>> MORE

Readers Forum
Peer review amongst the media important

Readers Forum: Phillip MusekwaThe publishing of the story in sexual scandal of a Prison Warden who recorded his canal intrusions into a police reservist, with their explicit photos. Much reaction focussed on what the images do to society, as though society was the primary victim, when the primary victim were the two officials, the male prison warden and the police woman, and their families. >>> MORE

VIEWPOINT | by Kgalema Motlanthe

Ruth First thoughts in post-apartheid South Africa and post-colonial Africa

Viewpoint by Kgalema MotlantheRuth First was such a remarkable human being who made a lasting impression in almost all areas in which she immersed herself. Such was her commitment to and level of brilliance in her work that I dare say it will take volumes to capture her life and its meaning for us today.

Because the present is but the synthesis of the contradictory forces of the past, learning to reflect on our past helps inoculate us, as far as possible, from the malady of repeating past follies. So it is all the more advisable to pay heed to the generation that shaped the character and value system of the struggle for justice based on morally commendable claims as we build a people-centred democracy.

There could be no sufficient understanding of modern day South Africa and hence the future we are constructing if such understanding does not proceed from the historical consciousness set off by earlier generations. In this connection, a peek into Ruth First's biography affords us an opportunity to grasp the permissive conditions from which she emerged to become a titan of our struggle for justice and democracy.

Ruth First was a communist born to communist parents. Her parents were Marxists who became active in the formation and life of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), later the South African Communist Party (SACP).

Continuing with the family tradition, Ruth First joined the CPSA, which was beginning to forge tentative but steady ties with the African National Congress, the South African Indian Congress, the African People's Organisation and the trade unions. This turn of events signaled the beginning of the CPSA's long and tested commitment to the fight against national oppression.

At an earlier stage in her life as a young white South African woman, Ruth First would have developed a clear if nascent conception of the race/class nexus in the developing South African capitalism. Her own family background enhanced her grasp of national oppression. Her parents had come from Eastern Europe, a region reeling under the noxious conditions of religious and ethnic persecutions.

This made it possible for Ruth First to develop a heightened sense of justice. Her developing moral universe was thus based on the concerns of international solidarity and exalted humanism. In consequence, coming from an activist family predisposed her to cultivate a sophisticated understanding of the historical process as it unfolded in South Africa, manifested in this symbiotic relationship between race and class.

It is worth remembering that like all key leaders within the Congress Alliance, Ruth First's thought processes occurred within the ideological parameters of her political home, the SACP. She was first and foremost a communist who saw, read, and comprehended external reality in Marxist categories.
Be that as it may, being part of a collective did not mean forgoing her individuality; at any rate, her rugged, independent intellectualism could not countenance the culture of conformism and parrotry.

This made it possible for Ruth First to flourish as a thinker, a researcher, a writer and an activist, contributing to the intellectual growth of the organisations she served, just as these organisations created the social milieu propitious for her development. This and other exceptional qualities that Ruth First possessed should inspire us to take a leaf from her copybook today.

What is the meaning of Ruth First's thoughts in post-apartheid South Africa and post-colonial Africa? I hope we can identify some of the lessons we can learn from her life with the view to advancing her vision in the present tense. Since Ruth First's life was versatile, I will therefore attempt to identify at least three areas, which seem relevant to her contribution. These are:

  • Post-apartheid democracy;
  • Journalism and Academic work; and
  • Internationalism.

In whatever we do, our strategic goal as a nation is the building of a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, just and prosperous society. This is no mere rhetoric. This vision galvanised the life of Ruth First and her contemporaries in the struggle. It remains the political framework guiding all our efforts in post-apartheid South Africa.

In keeping with this vision, post-apartheid South Africa has brought about meaningful changes in the lives of many South Africans who had been previously excluded from the benefits of the South African nation-state. While the many difficulties we still confront cannot be underplayed, there is universal acknowledgement that South Africa today is better than it was before 1994.

Such is the importance of the relationship between the quality of life and democracy that if we fail the first time in this regard there is virtually no chance of recovery. Without palpable, material changes in the everyday lives of the people, democracy is reduced to a pro-forma status. In substance, we cannot claim to be free when we are only enjoying freedom to vote but not freedom from poverty or the freedom to educate our children and to also extend effective health services to our families; in sum, to create a better life for all South Africans.

A passing glance at history shows that conditions of socio-economic stagnation breed social malaise and discontent. In itself, poverty is antithetical to social cohesion and has the propensity to tear the social fabric apart, creating feelings of insecurity and marginalisation, especially among national groups and the poorest of the poor. Scarcity of resources leads to social fissures based on a subjective understanding of social conditions, in turn impacting negatively on the process of mobilising our people behind a common vision of equality and justice.

As a result, a nation with such a brittle historical identity as South Africa can ill-afford to neglect growing the economy to address the basic needs of its people while working to deepen common national consciousness. Conditions of want in societies with a history of fragile social relations are bound to undermine the process of social cohesion, which is often manifested in perceptions of racism, feelings of group marginalisation and pronounced ethnic consciousness. Our case in South Africa is not made any easier by the fact that we are still nursing wounds from the past as a people. As you know it is easier for wounds to hurt than to heal.

Given our aforementioned strategic goal, I am disposed to admit that government could have used national symbols more effectively than it has been doing till now in weaving this fabric of social cohesion. At a symbolic level, the enthusiasm with which the people of a country accept and react to national symbols constitutes a useful barometer of how united a country is in its diversity. Going by the experience of the last 17 years, one would be hard put concluding that at this level we have hit the mark. ?

Nevertheless, even though a room for improvement still exists, from its side, government remains amenable to partnerships that seek to assist in building a united country driven by the values of solidarity and progressive humanism; a society with a clear understanding of the history that has shaped its present character. And yet if unity of our people is pivotal, the pestilence of corruption menacing the soul of our democracy is a life and death matter on which our future depends. I would contend that after racism, corruption is the second most serious malady staring humanity in the face today.

Corruption is cancerous; it eats away at the vitals of society, since it ultimately chokes off key societal institutions. ?With this concern in mind government has over time put together a battery of anti-corruption systems. However, in the end it is up to individual members of society occupying positions of trust to heed their conscience. No matter how effective the laws of the land are the fight against corruption boils down to the individual's sense of right and wrong. ?It follows that we need a conscious intervention at the level of education to enable our nation to appreciate the devastation corruption is causing in the long term. We may need to begin exploring creative ways of introducing subjects related to ethics into our school curriculum very early in the development of the learner. ?

In the end corruption is not a matter of government alone; it concerns all of us, since it affects society at large. It takes political leaders, the media, business leaders, civil society, public intellectuals, academics and communities to identify the root causes of corruption and to mount a sustained struggle to liquidate it from society's system of thought. Once again we know that during her lifetime, Ruth First fired consistent broadsides at all defaulters on principles. We know that she rejected the creeping Stalinism of the 20th century with the same determination that she castigated corrupt, autocratic post-colonial African states.

Her forthrightness, eloquence and ability to research issues of social concern with the object of identifying appropriate remedial action would have made a notable difference to the quality of our public discourse on challenges such as the insidious culture of corruption. Ruth First spent her life fighting censorship. She had envisaged a South Africa where freedom of expression was as essential as the air we breathe. Today's democratic South Africa stands as a monument to her quest for this noble goal. Accordingly we must commit never to betray these ideals, now or in the future.

South Africa is a constitutional democracy, based on the principle of separation of powers. As you know, the principle of separation of powers means that the legislators make the laws, which the executive implements and the courts interpret. As a constitutional democracy, South Africa has as one of its pillars the principle of judicial review. All her life Ruth First steadfastly held on to the notion that the people are the prime movers of history and therefore believed in their ability to change their own conditions.

She clearly understood that people are not just passive recipients. She viewed organisations, institutions, leadership and publications as raising agents and not a substitute for the people in the course of the struggle. Therefore she played the role of an organiser in the media context, using media space to empower ordinary people. In addition to her journalistic prowess Ruth First is also known for her exceptional academic work. She was an engaged, empirical and activist intellectual both as a journalist and as an academic.

Opposed to ivory tower academia, she carried out research with the intention of making a difference in the lives of the people. Her conception of the role of a university in society leaves us today with some notable tasks. An obvious one among these is the dire need for the African university to be at the heart of African development by leading the charge in the continental efforts to seek African solutions to African problems, while contributing to new forms of knowledge systems. That is the legacy that Ruth First has bequeathed to posterity and us.

Her academic and journalistic endeavours reflected her political orientation. A prolific writer, some of her works include:

  • 117 Days-an account of her imprisonment in South Africa;
  • South West Africa - a study of colonial oppression by Germany and South Africa; ?
  • The Barrel of the Gun - a study of military rule and political power in Africa;
  • Libya - a profile of colonel Gaddafi and his objectives;
  • Black Gold, the Mozambican miner - a study of the lives of Mozambican migrant labourers in South Africa.

In addition she assisted with other works, such as Kenyan leader Oginga Odinga's Not Yet Uhuru, Nelson Mandela's No Easy Walk to Freedom, Govan Mbeki's Peasant Revolt and also co-authored South African Connection and Olive Shreiner.
Beyond being an academic Ruth First was also a teacher, she dedicated part of her life to teaching so as to empower others.?As her colleague at Eduardo Mondlane University Bridgette O' Laughlin said in testimony at the TRC:

"In Mozambique (they) started work at seven thirty, Ruth was religious, she got into that car at seven thirty she was at the centre.... She didn't have much time... Occasionally (they) went to the beach...She wrote the Olive Schreiner book, she wrote most of Black Gold, she learnt Portuguese and did lectures in Portuguese, prepared teaching.... she continued to say that besides this she had little time for anything else."

We are inclined to use Ruth First's labour of love approach to teaching and her other qualities not only as a way of benchmarking our teachers today but also, as a source of inspiration. We need the selflessness and commitment of Ruth First in putting the interests of our country before anything else. We continue to remind our teachers that they are expected to be in class, on time, everyday, teaching at least seven hours a day.

Inversely, Ruth First and her generation epitomised the ideal teacher; self-motivated and always eager to impart knowledge or to help learners find knowledge themselves. She valued the inherently transformative impact of education on human development and growth. Similarly, education will play a catalytic role in changing the lives of ordinary South Africans if all of us join hands and launch ourselves into the task of educating society. In this task, one expects our teacher unions to take the lead, equally inspired by these ideals.

Strengthening democracy presupposes an informed citizenry with the ability to make sense of their world, to penetrate the interplay of political dynamics and be able to understand the democratic process and their place in it. We know by now that freedom, human rights, democracy and development are better guaranteed in an educated society. We should remember that at the time she was killed, the most potent weapon in Ruth First's armoury was ideas and her urge to use them so that they bear on social life. As it later turned out, Ruth First's death was a cold, calculated murder motivated by the perceived effects of her thoughts on intellectual and political centres in Southern Africa.

As her husband and comrade, Joe Slovo, said: they knew that the whole thrust of her teaching tended to counter some creeping illusions and wishful thinking about PW Botha; that he might be ready to retreat from the essence of apartheid towards a policy of true reform....' He goes on to say 'And Ruth was not working in an ivory-tower; the students at the Centre were cadres from the Party and the government, and the dynamism and vigour at the Centre were beginning to influence researchers and scholars from other institutions of learning in Southern Africa.'

Those who work with ideas today face a similarly weighty task of helping bring about positive changes in the lives of people through the medium of a pen. It remains an indictment of historical proportions that despite our democratic space today our public discourse is still bedeviled by the poverty of ideas. Again I think Ruth First would have had a few choice words for this situation.

In substance, South Africa's foreign policy today is not inconsistent with the internationalism of Ruth First. Although the changing geo-political make-up of the world has imposed certain imperatives both on our country and our continent since Ruth First's demise, the character of our foreign policy remains consistent with the progressive vision of the world that Ruth First heartily embraced.

In this regard, the preface of the White Paper on South Africa's Foreign Policy, entitled 'Building a Better World', The Philosophy of Ubuntu, says:

'This philosophy translates into an approach to international relations that respects all nations, peoples, and cultures. It recognises that it is in our national interest to promote and support the positive development of others. Similarly, national security would therefore depend on the centrality of human security as a universal goal, based on the principle of Batho Pele (putting people first). In the modern world of globalisation, a constant element is and has to be our common humanity. We therefore champion collaboration, cooperation and building partnerships over conflict.

This recognition of our interconnectedness and interdependency, and the infusion of Ubuntu into the South African identity, shapes our foreign policy.
South Africa therefore accords central importance to our immediate African neighbourhood and continent; working with countries of the South to address shared challenges of underdevelopment; promoting global equity and social justice; working with countries of the North to develop a true and effective partnership for a better world; and doing our part to strengthen the multilateral system'.

In addition to this humanism, we are also driven by the reality that South Africa cannot make headway in terms of development surrounded by conditions of under-development, which, as it turns out, constitute a dead weight on the development of the whole region. We should also emphasise that South Africa's foreign policy is not a government possession; it is a policy for all South Africans. What follows from this view is that, as Ruth First did, South Africans of different backgrounds have to interact with the rest of our region on business and social levels.

The free movement of people, goods and services in our region is the goal we want to see achieved, because at the end, a strong regional economy will provide us with the opportunity to attract much needed direct foreign investment so that ultimately we are able to improve the quality of our people's lives.

On the international front, much still needs to be done in terms of transforming the institutions of global governance. The recent examples of Libya and Côte d'voire point to challenges of unequal global power relations and how the developed North continues to ignore the yearnings of the rest of humanity in the developing South, with impunity.

Notwithstanding this scarred global political landscape, we will, together with the nations of the South, and using such vehicles as BRICS, continue to press for reform of the global institutions of governance and raise up the voice of the downtrodden South, and in this way strive to achieve an equal, peaceful and better world that Ruth First envisaged.

On a different note, history has taught us that even the most glorious liberation forces are no exception to what in most former liberation movements across the world have come to be known as 'the sins of incumbency'. It is easier to mobilise the masses of oppressed people behind a common vision than to hold them to higher ethical standards once the goal has been reached. This is a challenge that has faced all post-colonial societies over the years.

The humanist vision that held us together under the rubric of social justice can very easily deteriorate into individualism, greed and selfishness that go against the grain of our ideals as a people. Ruth First saw this deformity of principle playing itself out in some post-colonial nations on the African continent and spoke out against it with a rare clarity of mind. But she also understood that the creation of national states on the African continent was an outside imposition often not reflective of local realities. Present day African states did not evolve as socio-historical entities defined by internally coherent subjective consciousness.

Unlike European nation states, they were designed from outside to suit external interests. In Africa this contrived political process separated ethnic communities, leading up to unmanageable post-colonial socio-political difficulties. Post-colonial Africa suffered this congenital affliction, which, in turn, shaped the nature of African political relations. The notion of a one party state is an offshoot of this reality. In many cases the political leadership took the decision to impose a one-party state with the stated aim of managing the complex poly-ethnic dynamics.

As you know a one party state has a limited life-span, invariably marked by civil wars, revolutions or other forms of social upheavals. The situation in Libya and many other African countries today typifies this history. This is a perspective that is often ignored outside the academic environment in trying to make sense of modern day Africa and its unique difficulties. I am convinced that this legacy that Ruth First has left us, is imperishable. It also throws up a number of lessons.

First, the killing of Ruth First was 'an act of ultimate censorship', to cite the memorable words of Ronald Segal. And yet ideas do not cease to exist just because their thinker is no more. In fact ideas attuned to the needs of the age tend to assume a life of their own. Ruth First's ideas are immortal because they come out of and speak to the human condition. Her empirical orientation meant that she would focus her research on the material conditions of the oppressed.

We recall here her investigation into Namibian conditions (then South West Africa), the series of reports exposing these conditions to international and national readers that galvanised international pressure on South Africa to give up its control of Namibia. All along she was doing all this work in service of a vision, which ultimately materialised when Namibia attained freedom as a sovereign state.

The life of Ruth First reminds one of the words of Che Guevara, the South American revolutionary, that 'if you tremble with indignation at every injustice, you are a comrade of mine'. Not only did Ruth First quake with anger at the injustices visited on fellow humanity, she made an effort to change them.
Secondly, our social background should not prevent us from criticising others with the aim to correct or build.

Her social provenance as a white woman on a continent under European colonialism did not limit nor inhibit her desire to speak her mind, all along bolstered by the primacy of principle. She would not be silenced, and for that earned the respect of all her comrades, including those from African nations to which she had made a contribution.

Thirdly, basic humanistic precepts should prevail on us to volitionally acknowledge that colonialism and apartheid have wrought damage to our nation at all levels. If we accept the history of our present conditions we may be well-disposed to accept that some conscious action is needed to undo the damage we have suffered. More than anything admitting to mistakes of the past promotes a climate of reconciliation and helps us move on.

Fourthly, no government is perfect; mistakes will always happen. Accepting criticism and conceding to our errors without imputing evil motives to those committed South Africans who point out our mistakes with the best interests of our nation at heart should be as normal as voting for any party we choose.
Lastly, if we are to make anything at all from the life of Ruth First, and if we are to learn lessons that can serve our current needs, we need to learn to appreciate her in totality, the inter-connection between her politics, her activism as well as her journalism and academic orientation.

After all it was this unique combination that equipped her with the strategic orientation that enabled her to better appreciate the particulars and universals of human experience, and to act accordingly.

As the American Civil Rights leader and the universal icon of freedom, Dr Martin Luther King, would say, '...when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of nobodyness - then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait'! None of our people should be expected to wait.

>> Kgalema Motlanthe is the Deputy President of the ANC and of the Republic of South Africa

Readers Forum

We have a revolutionary responsibility to our predecessors

Some few weeks ago the South African Communist Party held a magnificent event decorated by solemn red colours that represent the blood of the fallen heroes and heroines of our struggles who perished in the cause of the emancipation of the poor across the globe. Thousands of our people across the length and breadth of our country gathered at Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium, Claremont, KwaZulu-Natal to mark 90th anniversary celebrations of this vanguard party of the working class.

This historic anniversary celebration was a culmination of ninety years of relentless, unbroken and uninterrupted struggles waged by our party in consolidation of the immediate tasks of our national liberation struggles and more importantly the creation of necessary conditions for the building of socialism that remain the ultimate future of humanity.

We congratulate the collective leadership of our party for galvanising this fortress and vanguard of the working class, holding its red flag high in the mist of the complex and hostile world environment dominated by the aggressive imperialist powers. In the same vein our national liberation movement the, African National Congress, which is to date the oldest liberation movement in the continent, will be celebrating glorious hundred years of existence and struggles for national liberation on January 8th 2012 in Mangaung.

The centenary celebrations will again reaffirm the relevance and the outstanding role of the African National Congress as the only political formation capable of leading effective transformation of the South African society. These epic events like many others on the calendar of the world history are celebrated 22 years after the world communist movement and the entire progressive movement suffered a major setback when the soviet block and many other communist states in the Eastern Europe collapsed.

The demise happened like an earthquake that sent devastating shock waves not only within the communist movement but also the entire progressive movement representing millions of the people of the world.

It also resulted in the ushering of the present international class balance of forces that remain predominantly in favour of the hostile and aggressive uni-polar world, steered by the US led imperialism and the international monopoly capital. These historic events take place at a conjuncture when the world capitalist system is at a stage of a virtual collapse. The financial crisis has wrecked the two most powerful world economies led by the USA and European Union into turmoil as their inability to pay their debt continues to fuel market uncertainties. It is evident that the mismanagement of the world economy by the big powers has plunged the world and its people into the worse crisis in history.

The economic meltdown has compelled some governments in the world to impose severe austerity measures that are extremely becoming a burden to the living conditions of the poor. However, irrespective of these harsh economic realities, we see the military industrial complex continuing to increase its budget on military spending whilst the levels of poverty, unemployment and disease are inflicting misery to the millions of the suffering people of the world.

The catastrophic effects of climate change are exposing society into severe vulnerabilities whilst in contrast propelling the captains of industry to explore the possibilities of an alternative living space on the moon. You wonder as to how many in the world will afford to buy just an air ticket to reach there. It therefore becomes important that in the wake of these hostile world relations, we ask ourselves questions that may help us understand how these trends relate to our own concrete conditions.

Some of these questions will obviously provide a platform for a critical analysis of our environment and the extent to which this fragile world arena influences the cause of our national democratic revolution. In other words how the present hostile uni-polar world impacts on the posture and character of our national liberation movement and equally the terrain of struggles in which we seek to create a new world social order.

One of the most important questions will be whether we are able to locate the role of the enemy of our revolution in these difficult conditions imposed against our choice. Throughout world history it has been proven on a number of occasions that the enemy of the revolution has enormous capabilities of reversing back the gains of the hard won struggles led by the people.

Its ability to change character and form and appear more revolutionary than the revolution itself has always caused many progressive movements to vanish into dustbins of history. Throughout all these decades of struggles the African National Congress together with its alliance partners have demonstrated that unity is a precondition and a barometer to measure the success of our revolution.

It is therefore necessary that given the challenges posed by the prevailing conditions of tendencies that seek to plant divisions and erode the cohesion of the movement, that all members of the ANC and the broad democratic movement occupy the forefront trenches and defend this monument that remains the only hope for the generations to come. Though we cannot rule out the deliberate possibilities of the monopoly capital taking advantage of the fragile world environment to infiltrate and destroy the rich history of our movement and its traditions, cadres should conduct themselves in consistent with the discipline, culture and always within the provisions of the framework of our constitutional imperatives.

Our movement has proven throughout its history of existence that it has the capacity to cleanse itself like the river Nile and in some instances acted decisively against those who are determined to destroy it. One thing sure is that the ANC belongs to the family of the big five, always walking slowly but surely like an elephant.

One of the fundamental principles that guided the membership of the ANC over all decades of history of resistance has been its ability to respect and defend its leadership. However, it is worrisome to observe the appalling levels of disrespect perpetuated against the leadership of the organisation including our own President, Comrade Jacob Zuma and other officials.

A mere few months after the historic national conference in Polokwane, a faction inconsistent with the norms and values of the organisation, orchestrated a campaign to undermine the elected leadership of the movement in public and openly launched a campaign to mobilise for their replacement in the next conference in Mangaung. The challenge with this approach is that instead of working on the consolidation and implementation of the resolutions of conference and assisting the ANC led government in accelerating service delivery, their daily conduct and behaviour has been worse than that of the opposition parties.

We are not rebels without a cause, we are members of a revolutionary movement guided by principles that are first and foremost democratic but secondly that need to be adhered to. Such acts of instigating membership to call for the replacement of our leaders, even before due transparent nomination processes can commence amount to bringing the organisation into disrepute and therefore counter revolutionary.

As we traverse this historic milestone achievement of celebrating the centenary of this glorious movement, ours is to work for its unity and cohesion and jealously guard against any tendency that has the propensity to divide the organisation and also reverse back the gains we have achieved in the centuries old struggles against imperialism and colonialism of a special type.

We owe this revolutionary responsibility to our predecessors, to all unsung heroes and heroines of our struggles who paid their dear lives in defence of this monumental foundation of the generations to come.

>> Justice Piitso is an ANC member at Nelson Diale Branch, Ward 27 in Sekhukhune Region

Readers Forum

Peer review amongst the media important

Readers Forum: Phillip MusekwaIt is ironic that during the Women's Month when we celebrate gains in women empowerment and advancement, the Sowetan newspaper, in the most gruesome and insensitive manner, put on public space pictures of a young woman in a compromising position.

Some gender activists have rightfully characterised that front page and other pictures in the Sowetan, together with the accompanying detailed and graphic story, as pornographic. There is no doubt that an overly zealous Sowetan went into the extreme in abusing the notion of public interest and freedom of expression, merely to accrue profits, albeit without showing any sensitivity to the impact this might cause to those concerned and people close to them.

What is worse is that it was not a newsworthy or new story as it had already been sensibly and considerately covered earlier by the City Press, but what the Sowetan just did was to sell sex through re-publishing the still pictures and a detailed gory narrative. In fact Sowetan is no better than the criminal behaviour of the people who now circulate the video for the express purpose of financial gain. In recent times, the role of the media in society has come up, for good and bad reasons.

For good reasons, the national debates resulting from the drafting of the Protection of Information Bill helped to demonstrate that we as South Africans want a framework that promotes democracy, with a careful balance between what is called public and private interests. In this context, the sphere of freedom of expression endorsed by our constitution is primary enabling tool for the media as supposedly outposts for public interests, while emphasis on other rights such as the right to privacy by both individual and public institutions also came into the light.

On a bad note, it was the phone tapping scandal that has besieged the British media consequently resulting in the fall of one such media empire, and the aftermath of what still unfolds into the courts of that country. There is a lot we could learn from this saga in order to protect our rights as people against the vulture kind of culture espoused by the media.

There was also the perspective of Eric Miyeni, who fired salvo at the editor of the City Press, and was subsequently fired by the Sowetan, the latter whose editor later resigned. This was followed by an incoherent rumbling or pretence to apology, by the collective of editors under the auspices of the AVUSA group and by SANEF, the latter whose actions can be interpreted to have been influenced by the desire to protect one of their own. It seems editors and others in the media have this feeling of being perpetually under siege, and as a result, any criticism see them cuddling together as though they were allergic to criticism, also as though criticism is reserved for other lesser mortals in society except the media.

The publishing of the story on the sexual scandal of a Prison Warden who recorded his canal intrusions into a police reservist, with their explicit photos, is detestable. Indeed cheating is anathema in as far as our collective moral values show. It is a social conduct detested by many, but ironically daily committed by possibly an even greater number. So the issue is not to debate the merits of moral values as that is a continuous subject of concern every Sunday when churches congregate, and in the various spheres of social life that entertain this important subject.

However, at issue is the manner in which this story was carried out by the Sowetan to the detriment of the people covered in the story. Much reaction focussed on what the images did to society, as though society was the primary victim, when in fact the primary victim were the two officials, the male prison warden and the police woman, and their families.

From all these issues stated above one may raise the issue of peer review amongst the media, as mechanism to ensure that such poor and yellow reporting is addressed. Why is it that society would have perpetual outcry against the media, yet the media itself always respond by cuddling together as though it has the phobia of the unknown threat where such criticism is concerned?

We now know that it is anathema to implement peer review amongst media outlets, as Eric Miyeni's experience would tell of his shave with that option. In qualifying the issue of peer review and its negation by the media, perhaps we must first look critically at the events surrounding Miyeni's firing by the Sowetan.

Firstly, Miyeni was accused of having suggested in his article that the City Press editor 's behaviour with regards to her expose of Julius Malema's assets amounted to a behaviour which in the 1980's would have been met by the necklace around her neck. Owing to the gruesome of the pastime of necklacing, which was duly condemned by the liberation movement and other esteemed members of society such as the esteemed Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, the response from the Sowetan and SANEF was kneejerk, fire the columnist! There was no consideration of the figure of speech self evident in Miyeni's writing by a collective that boast of experts in the operation of the media.

As some would possibly know, IsiZulu has a saying in this regard, "ukuqhuba intwala ngewisa!", translated meaning to drive/guide the flea with a knobkerrie! To understand this idiom properly, you would have to know the size of a flea versus the size of a knobkerrie. Perhaps to even attempt to speak against this injustice by the media, one may refer to a converse idiom, that such an attempt would be continuously farting against thunder!

Be it as it may be, yet another scenario that dominated our public media space can be brought into the picture to help highlight the hypocrisy of SANEF in this regard. The cartoonist Zapiro has perpetually depicted the President of the ANC as having, with the aid of a select ANC leaders, "raped" the symbol of lady justice, with pants depicted already lowered and the zip ostensibly opened with the belt hanging wide loose. Could it not be said that Zapiro, and by extension SANEF being his guardian angel, underestimated the gravity of rape, in as much as Eric Miyeni analogously possibly underestimated the gravity of necklacing? What are the contexts in which figures of speech are permissible or not?

Let us illuminate the point further. Eric Miyeni used a rhetorical and a historical cast of events, to highlight a point in the current space and time. He knew very well that society was disagreed with necklacing, and he himself most possibly did too. On the face of the article, in no way was Eric Miyeni suggesting that the City Press editor must be necklaced! Surely, if Eric Miyeni was that murderous, he had the basic genius to do it without calling for national help through his article!
All he was doing, which I suppose is permissible in journalism, is to figuratively use the gravity of what is frozen in history to highlight the gravity of the current challenge, which is alive today, as posed by the behaviour of the City Press editor. Similarly, it could be argued that Zapiro was doing the same where the President of the ANC was concerned, in that he was not undermining "rape" but drawing analogy between his perception of the stances by the ANC leadership and the gravity of rape.

One may actually dismiss both scenarios as not fair media practice, which could possibly be fine. However, it is sheer hypocrisy to allow the one and dismiss the other, as the inconsistency speaks volume to the perception of the usual ring-fencing amongst editors, as opposed to the advancement of the public interests through fair public discourse.

Perhaps Sowetan and SANEF need to tell us as to what public interest is served by scandalising the two? Before one is misinterpreted, it should be amplified that it was abominable that the two officials could do what they did, more so inside government owned property, and during working hours. And to add, very serious action ought to be taken against them as there is no doubt about that. In this regard, where the public space is concerned, the administrators of the hospital building where this act allegedly took place must take appropriate action. Where infidelity is concerned, the appropriate measures reside with the relevant spouses to the two officials, they need to make decisions not assisted or worsened by the gravity of public exposure.

However, the point is not about that. The point is when the media acts as prosecutor and judge of our moral values, it violates other parties' right to exercise this as it has not only violated the alleged culprits' right to privacy, but also their partners and their children's right to their respective future relations with the two, respectively. There are other institutions in society that were best suitable to deal with the misbehaviour, which was no crime at all by the way if one may dare say, but nonetheless socially unacceptable.

That it is a dismissable offence, that remains the prerogative of the employer after following due processes and not informed by a kangaroo court whose amphitheatre is the Sowetan. That it may break their respective marriages, that again remains the prerogative of their respective spouses, but the Sowetan has possibly removed any possibilities of reconciliation in their respective marriages by making this a national scandal.

Very serious with regards to the issue is that it has killed any human factor in the two individuals involved, by treating them in an inhuman way. Even those most concerned about morals in society, such as Christians, they must be wary of throwing the first stone, as the central figure in the Christian faith being Jesus Christ himself cautioned against "sinners" condemning others in public. In this ee had said that if we say we have no sin in us we make him a liar because we mean he died for nothing!

It was only in private after all the hypocrites failed the challenge of the one without sin throwing the first stone that Jesus Christ then interrogated the woman who was allegedly found on the act of sexual infidelity in private and in dignity. Immediately, Jesus then forgave her because he had come to die for sinner like her but then cautioned her not to do it again, putting in the generic terms, "go and sin no more!".

What moral code informs the Sowetan and SANEF, the latter whose silence on such instances questions their impartial role in as far as interest beyond those of media institutions are concerned? Even our African culture which partly informs the sources of our law is against such ruthless exposure of sexual misconduct in public so recklessly, particularly where no crime was committed. On whose behalf or public interest was the story sold until the shelves were without a copy by midday?

There is no doubt that the media has special space in our democracy and no one must dispute that. There is not an iota of doubt that the principle of freedom of expression must be defended at all times. However, all freedoms have limitations, including the freedom of expression. The notion of public interest cannot be stretched unreasonably far, more so inconsistently, as this amount to injustice. The dehumanisation of individuals as though the media had superior rights to the Bill of Rights as conferred on individuals by our constitution only help to create a society of people who feel they have nothing to loose to act badly once they have been exposed in the open disproportionately to their social misconduct.

The principle of privacy is important tenet of our constitutional democracy and must be enforced at all times. In fact, traditional African societies had solutions in this regard. They had the wisdom that not every scandal must be brought into the public domain, unless there was crime involved. They seemed to be wiser than the action of the Sowetan as acceded to by SANEF by virtue of its conspicuous and selective silence.

Lastly, this matter brings into the fore the issue of peer review amongst the media establishments. While the media is outspoken on the need for integrity in the exercise of political power and the relevance of the peer review mechanism continentally within the African Union, it seems the thrust of peer review as principle is anathema amongst media establishments.

This explains the usual kneejerk response that saw Eric Miyeni fired. It is one of the most important things that we must encourage in our democracy; that is peer review amongst media outlets. What kind of a world where each media institution has right to say nonsense and other media institutions gang up through silence? It seems to be the unwritten law of SANEF that peer criticism particularly across the various media houses is forbidden.

This consequent thrust is the direct opposite of democracy and the freedom of expression where plurality and dissent are key tenets. If freedom of expression is only when salvo is directed against non members of the media, then we need a revolution with regards to the space that media occupies. It would mean media houses are ganging up against the individual, and how different is the media with the autocratic rule whose tendencies across the world the media is notorious for rebuking?

As the two officials who I would here refer to as victims of the Sowetan bite the dust, the Sowetan had the audacity to indirectly tell the nation that it smiled all the way to the bank, by reporting that all copies were sold by midday! Profit making at the expense of two powerless and defenceless souls! This must be a new low in our democracy and we must collectively be ashamed! The irony, particularly where the woman is concerned, is that her dignity and pride to womanhood was shredded on the same month as we celebrate a month where women dignity must occupy centre stage!

As for the religious Pharisees and Sadducees who cry immorality, those ones must go and read their bible anew and comply or literally go to hell! They must pay special focus on the woman who was found red handed on the act of sexual immorality and brought before Jesus Christ, never mind nothing was said about the man who tangoed with her owing to the patriarchal society that informed those biblical times! Who said our dignity depends on us being morally perfect? Perhaps only hypocrites would say they know the answer, which is themselves.

The principle of human rights is sacred hence it is dominant in our constitution as the values to which many paid the ultimate sacrifice during the struggle against apartheid to enact our constitutional order. It is why the media must instead promote a culture where we temper our own moral persuasions no matter how deeply rotted we are in them, with the rights to freedom of creed, belief, association and I dare say even of moral ethics. The space to which the two officials operated is disproportionate to the eventual national space to which the Sowetan exposed its hypocritical disapproval of their immoral act.

The locality of where the act was performed should remain the same locality within which the alleged act is judged or dealt with, unless the Sowetan and SANEF can prove otherwise that there is national public interest, which I am sure it would be like finding a needle in a hay stack! I say Sowetan and SANEF because as I have pointed out, SANEF is quick to act when its own fellows are seized with whatever phobia against criticism, yet when other people's human rights are shredded, it cuddles up with the offender of its own kind, possibly with many editors gnashing their teeth in privacy and in silence.

Unfortunately this does the media no good as it is an affront against the proposition of self regulation. This is my last salvo against the Sowetan and SANEF jointly, even though I am fully aware that such perspectives may amount to farting against thunder where the role of the media is concerned. It is a figure of speech I learnt recently which I think may be relevant to the intransigency of the media with regards to the rights of individuals as opposed to the so called public interest.

I hope I will not be judged to be encouraging farting in public or wherever, or against thunder literally, as I know there is even some country in the world that apparently sought to criminalise that kind of misbehaviour. Finally, if the behaviour by the two officials, say with regards to public indecency were to be suspected to be criminal, why not lay charges and have the courts deal with that as opposed to what is analogous to a Kangaroo court which is what the notorious necklacing was afterall?

>> Phillip Musekwa is an ANC member in Ward 85, Tshwane