Our True Leaders Can Be Found in African Culture

Cape Times (South Africa), October 25, 2007 | Go to article overview

Our True Leaders Can Be Found in African Culture


BYLINE: Simphiwe Sesanti

Among many descriptions, journalism has been referred to as the first draft of history. This means, therefore, that journalists are historians. The role of historians, more than just recording yesterday's events, is to help us to critically reflect on our successes and failures and reasons thereof.

A glance into history reveals that black journalists who were silenced on October 19, 1977, were inspired by black consciousness. Steve Bantu Biko, articulating the Black Consciousness Movement's vision, noted: "The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa - giving the world a more human face."

Biko's vision of a humane democratic South Africa remains elusive. The media inform us almost daily of humans' inhumanity as people rob, rape and murder fellow human beings. Black teenagers, the media inform us, are giving birth in school toilets. In the words of the Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, "things are falling apart".

Decades ago, the South African poet, Samuel (SEK) Mqhayi observed that ubunzima bomthwalo budala ugxekwano. This means that when the going gets tough, human beings easily resort to the game of blaming one another.

Mqhayi's observation so accurately describes the attitude of many South African journalists. Editorials and columns are full of denunciatory declarations towards the government in respect of perceived and real failures. Words such as "delusional" and "drivel" have become President Thabo Mbeki's middle names.

Dismissive attitudes should come as no surprise from angry pedestrians, but from the historians that journalists are or should be, this is disappointing. What is to be done to address the miserable conditions of the poor? A good study of Allister Sparks's Beyond The Miracle, Luli Callinicos's Beyond the Engeli Mountains and Sampie Terreblanche's The History of Inequality, suggests there are no easy answers. Perhaps we have been looking for answers in the wrong places.

The African-American writer Maya Angelou's reflections in Even The Stars Look Lonesome may help South African journalists as we grapple with our challenges: "In these bloody days and frightful nights when an urban warrior can find no face more despicable than his own, no ammunition more deadly than self-hate and no target more deserving of his true aim than his brother, we must wonder how we came so late and lonely to this place. …

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Our True Leaders Can Be Found in African Culture
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