Prejudice Exposed in Black and White

Cape Times (South Africa), October 29, 2012 | Go to article overview

Prejudice Exposed in Black and White


BYLINE: Simphiwe Sesanti

ON OCTOBER 19, South Africa observed the 35th anniversary of "Black Wednesday" that is now celebrated as Press Freedom Day. On this day, in 1977, apartheid South Africa banned organisations and newspapers that associated themselves with the philosophy of Black Consciousness.

Black journalists of the day understood that "blackness" did not just refer to the colour of their skin, but to their mental attitude as well. They regarded themselves as black first, and journalists second, using their journalistic skills to advance the agenda of black liberation.

While for some the formal end of apartheid marked the end of the Struggle, for others it was just the end of one phase and the beginning of another.

In 2001, addressing the role of black journalists in post-apartheid South Africa, Professor Es'kia Mphahlele observed that the role of black journalists should be to "Create a cultural vision" for Africans: "Are we forever going to be totally derivative, that is, a copy of the Western world, forever running to catch, maybe even overtake, the express train to the never-never town of globalisation?

"Should we not forever be trying to create literature, journalism, discover philosophic constructs, rediscover the essence of religious truth as we experience them in Africa, cultural practices that shape the paradigms that we want, in short that express us?"

Mphahlele further pointed out that "Echoing the litanies of an 'African renaissance' is useless if we do not develop an African consciousness, which expands to the outer reaches of the world from a position of self-knowledge".

Mphahlele was acutely aware that during the colonial period in Africa, as the historian Basil Davidson points out in his book Black Star: A View of the Life & Times of Kwame Nkrumah, "white men in Africa were contemptuous of 'natives', above all when these were educated men. They insisted on their own superiority, and thought that Africans had no history, culture, or civilisation of their own."

Where colonialists acknowledged the existence of Africans' unique ways of doing things, they did so grudgingly and mocked them. Listen to one such observation recorded in Cheikh Anta Diop's civilisation or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology: "Also, among all the art forms that the dark-skinned creature prefers, music holds first place, because it caresses his ear with a succession of sounds and requires nothing of the thinking part of his brain... How foreign he remains to the delicate conventions for which the European imagination has learned to ennoble its senses...Thus the Black possesses to the highest degree the sensual faculty without which art is not possible; and, on the other hand, the absence of intellectual aptitudes renders him completely unfit for the culture of the arts, even for the appreciation of what this noble application of the human intelligence can produce of significance."

The view that Africans make little use of their brains exists to this day. Nothing demonstrated this clearer than the media coverage of the Marikana massacre two months ago. The media - both electronic and print - reported that a medicine man told the miners that if they used muti on themselves, they would be invincible to police bullets.

Strangely, throughout this calamitous event, not once did we see any media outlet identifying the "medicine man" so that we could hear directly from him what really happened.

Why did the media not do this for us? Had this happened, the media would have fulfilled journalism's task of not only informing, but also educating their audiences.

The "medicine man" would have had the opportunity to explain himself, thus making sense to us, or exposing himself as a charlatan. As it is now, and as it has always been, African traditional healers are painted with the same brush as shenanigans.

As if this omission on the part of the media was not bad enough, one weekly newspaper, in its editorial, asked: "Why did adults believe that a concoction of herbs could make them invincible? …

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