Nwabisa Makunga: Journalism is not a crime

Nwabisa Makunga

I have watched that video over and over again. Perhaps out of a strange sense of shock at the thuggery displayed or maybe a desperate need to make sense of it all in my mind.

Of course it may be that I watched it repeatedly because it was indeed a sobering moment.

Twenty-three years into our democratic journey, we have reached such a point of political descent that a group of imbeciles is allowed brazenly to intimidate journalists to protect the interests of a rogue mafia running our country.

As you know by now, a start-up group of nobodies calling themselves Black First Land First (BLF) held a so-called protest outside the home of our editor-at-large, Peter Bruce, in Johannesburg last Thursday.

Black First Land First representatives confront editor-at-large Peter Bruce, right, outside his Johannesburg home

They spray-painted “land or death” on his garage door.

They attacked another colleague, Tim Cohen, who had gone to check on Bruce that day.

The “protest” followed a series of articles by Bruce which laid bare how much the Guptas had plundered our country with the help of President Jacob Zuma and some ministers.

Ironically, BLF’s demonstration un- folded on the same day that industry colleague Suna Venter’s brave heart finally succumbed to despicable savagery unleashed on her by a similar network of criminals in the past year.

The BLF’s “protest” was the latest in a well-orchestrated operation attempting to scare off journalists from reporting on the Gupta family’s shenanigans.

They’ve been at it for a while now.

Their strategy is well known.

It includes cyber-bullying, the creation of the most bizarre propaganda and, lately, that good old tactic straight out of the apartheid handbook: illegal surveillance.

Their narrative is simple.

It is to portray any media critical of the Guptas as part of a grand scheme by white monopoly capital to oppose transformation and the emancipation of black people.

It is untrue.

Yet it was carefully crafted and pushed – ironically with the help of a scandalous British PR firm, Bell Pottinger – because it somewhat resonates with those who believe that our media industry is elitist and racist.

First, allow me to state yet again my belief that our industry, like the nation it mirrors, is by far not perfect.

Therefore precisely because ours is such a crucial pillar of our democracy, I believe as journalists we are compelled continuously to introspect and take responsibility when our behaviour undermines our mandate to report ethically, without fear or favour.

Importantly, I believe our newsrooms across the board must up-skill and transform.

This is the only way we can tell accurately the compelling story of our developing nation with authority and
credibility.

Yet, dear reader, here’s what you and I already know.

The BLF campaign is not about that.

It has nothing to do with a righteous crusade to compel the media to a higher journalistic standard.

Frankly, it has nothing to do with black people or their struggles for that matter.

Nor is it even about radical economic transformation.

It is simply paid thugs practising thuggery on behalf of their puppet masters.

It is about shutting down the truth to protect a criminal enterprise whose grip on our public purse is increasingly exposed and threatened by the day.

As tempting as it may be to dismiss these idiots, it would be unwise to do so for two reasons in particular.

They are a shameless front to a much larger and more powerful network within the ANC that is firmly in charge of crucial organs of state.

The BLF’s increasingly brazen attitude suggests that their masters are getting more and more desperate.

Second, the grand mandate behind these efforts is a dangerous one.

We have seen it in many parts of our continent and the world.

It is to break down democratic boundaries which safeguard our constitutional order.

Indeed these campaigns often target individual journalists that you may or may not agree with.

But they are not about those individuals and thus must not be treated as such.

They are about creating an environment in our country where there is no right or wrong, where corruption is legitimised and any voice of dissent is crushed.

They are about demonising accountability and normalising crime.

Theirs is a divide and rule scheme which uses a legitimate South African struggle against racism and class domination to delegitimise, particularly in the eyes of the black majority, those who speak out
against looting.

It undermines our intelligence and ability to discern right from wrong, regardless of our different world views.
We must fight it at all levels of our society.

It will not work. It cannot.

Whatever Zuma may have promised to his criminal friends, he will never deliver to them our silence.
Journalism is not a crime.

-Nwabisa Makunga is The Herald deputy editor.

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