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By unknown | Feb 29, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Last week's re-launch of the Forum of Black Journalists (FBJ), which was addressed by ANC president Jacob Zuma, has generated an intense debate around the issue of racism in the country.

Last week's re-launch of the Forum of Black Journalists (FBJ), which was addressed by ANC president Jacob Zuma, has generated an intense debate around the issue of racism in the country.

At the core of this debate was the decision by the FBJ to have an exclusively black tete-a-tete with Msholozi.

Many have argued that such a move was racist and against the spirit of South Africa's Constitution and did not generally promote the spirit of non-racialism.

Some went further and questioned whether "after 14 years of democracy we still need organisations based on racially exclusive membership".

To come out of this whole melee it is important that we charter a way forward that will, firstly, address the concerns of the black journalists, who after about 14 years of democracy still feel that they are confronted by problems relating to their racial profiles.

Secondly, address the concerns raised by those who argue that by excluding white journalists from its events, the FBJ is undermining the objective of building a nonracial South Africa.

In this regard, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) must be commended for the step it has taken to organise public hearings on these issues.

While supporting this initiative, I personally believe that what happened last Friday at the Sandton Sun Hotel needs to be interrogated.

It is important to do so because what happened will invariably have an impact on the content and quality of the inputs delivered during the public hearings.

For example, it is ethically dishonest for the white journalists who went to the event to pretend that their actions were noble.

Firstly, the FBJ made it clear beforehand that the event was a no-go area for white journalists. The organisation also made it clear that their meeting with Zuma was off the record.

One could go into the hazards of journalists (in general) holding off-the-record meetings with politicians - but that is a topic for another day.

The issue is that the white journalists went to the meeting fully aware of these conditions - complete with their tape recorders.

Their behaviour was therefore disruptive, to say the least. By bringing their tape recorders along they also breached the basic ethics of journalism.

If it was just a question of recording the conversation with no intention of using it, then a notebook would have sufficed.

If the issue was really about their racial exclusion, they could simply have complained to the SHRC, without going to fan the racial tensions the way they did.

There is also the issue of the Democratic Alliance calling on the FBJ's steering committee chairman, Abbey Makoe, to explain his involvement on what transpired last Friday.

The DA's argument is that Makoe is political editor of the SABC - a public broadcaster - where he is accountable to a wide spectrum of people regardless of race, creed and religion.

Anyone with a semblance of political honesty will acknowledge the fact that Makoe was at the event as a black journalist and not as SABC political editor.

To further show its political mischief, the DA is linking Makoe's relationship with the blacklisting of some political commentators by the SABC.

The inference drawn here is that Makoe was at the FBJ representing "the demagogic government mouthpiece".

So, as far as the DA is concerned, the whole exercise by the FBJ is eventually aimed at delivering black journalists at the alter of government thought control.

This is typical of the DA's political gerrymandering. Under its previous leader, Tony Leon, the party used such tactics to racially attack the ANC.

This is the same tactic applied during the party's "fight back" election campaign in 2004. The voters saw through the campaign's racial connotations and and did not vote for Leon.

When Helen Zille took over there was hope that she would deliver her constituency from Leon's conservative liberalism.

As a person, Zille comes from a more progressive background than Leon.

She is a former journalist of the Rand Daily Mail, where she helped to expose the truth behind Steve Biko's death.

She was also involved in several civil society organisations, including the End Conscription Campaign.

This was a campaign run mainly by white activists opposed to young white males being conscripted to fight against the anti-apartheid liberation armies.

In resorting to the tactics of her predecessor, Zille is unfortunately proving that the DA still finds it difficult to shed its baggage of being a neo-conservative liberal organisation, serving the interests of conservative whites driven by Afro-pessimism.

On whether there is a need for exclusive racial organisations like the FBJ, I agree with the position taken by Professor Tinyiko Maluleke, a chief researcher at the University of South Africa.

Maluleke says the fact that such a huge number of journalists attended the re-launch is an indication that black journalists do have issues they regard as pertaining to them as a group.


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