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Who will tell the South African story?

For a while now I have been wondering who will rescue us from the scandalous and agenda-driven reportage of political and social developments in our country as we labour forward in search of a common national consensus and national identity.

I have long concluded we will never be the people we aspire to be as reflected in our Constitution and other nice-sounding documents if we allow the view that we are doomed to fail to dominate our intellectual.

I have, however, decided I will not sit in a corner and sulk while our achievements as a people are being undermined and the story of the people we are and what we aspire to be are distorted by those who believe we are doomed to go the way of Zimbabwe.

I have therefore resolved that the true South African story, behind the sensationalist headlines and the racist analysis, will be told by the country’s young writers who carry less or no apartheid-era baggage.

I have noted that both black and white participants on the national debate seem to be betting on this or the other camp and use the public platform that is the media — TV, radio, newspaper and books — to outdo each other in settling old political scores.

Those who once batted for the apartheid government seem to be intent on working behind the clock to undermine our achievements as a society.

Similarly, those who fought for liberation using the might of the pen seem to have established life-long allegiances with the liberation movement, which is now the ruling crowd in our country.

This, I think, is one of the reasons behind the revolving door between the media and government that has seen many media practitioners flip-flopping between the two, resulting in the so-called juniorisation of the South African newsroom.

The rest of us wet-behind-the-ear cadets are launched into this space, straight out of college, and are expected either to conform to those who believe our liberators could actually turn out to be our butchers or to fall in line with comrades-in-media who seem to think we are still engaged in guerrilla warfare. Either way, we are reluctant participants in a them-and-us saga.

Being a participant in this climate, I have resolved to reject conformity — as the ANC Youth League would say — with the contempt it deserves.

I suggest young writers, both black and white, who — like me — carry little of the political hangover of the pre-1994 era, should reject conformity and instead take part in a new revolution to chronicle the South African story, which is indeed the greatest global story of the last decade of the 20th century.

There is absolutely nothing wrong, in my view, with us as a people enjoying the attention and glory that comes with being admired by peoples of the world for our near-perfect transition from apartheid rule to a democratic dispensation.

Why should we want to downplay this achievement that has put us ahead of the world on the subject of conflict resolution? We as South Africans — all of us, not just the ANC or the NP — made it happen.

We could have hacked each other to death during the highs and lows of the peace talks between the two political groups, but we did not. We marched in step with them. We embraced this process. It would have been impossible without us. The attainment of freedom is our achievement and its defence our responsibility.

It is the responsibility of all of us to defend the national interest with the same vigour with which we defend public interest (I have argued this in the past and will argue in future.)

The level-headedness that brought us this far was not imported somewhere. It’s in us.

We are still separate but equal in that the life of an African is still less important than that of a white person in our country. Black kids in this country still disappear without a trace and no one seems to give a shit. In the same way that white people are trembling in their beds fearing when criminals will terrorise their families, Africans are exposed to the same. Yet I have never seen a single police officer patrolling in my village or the next village.

Who will tell this story? Who will let the world know of the plight of these people? Newspapers do not reach these people. The nation seems intent to move on, with this lot following like dead fish flowing with a current.

A new breed of writers and reporters is charged with telling this story and others that make us the people we are, or the people we aspire to be. The power-mongery and the political madness that characterise our politics will not be told by anyone but this lot. Young writers need to awaken the giant within them and deliver this service to the nation.

They need to get out of space that is dominated by individuals, friends and old boys’ clubs that seek to be gatekeepers of what we read and learn in this country. They need to set the new and rise about the mediocrity.

Again I submit that it is no secret that those who seek to dominate our intellectual space and the national dialogue have, in fact, failed to tell the South African story to its people and the world. Instead, they have been engaged — and continue to be — in fuelling non-existent swart gevaar stories that are increasingly making a mockery of our great achievements.

It is true, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has assured us, that we were an ugly caterpillar that metamorphosed into a beautiful butterfly.

Amid the growing concerns about the high rate of crime, a pothole in Sandton and an overrated influx of Zimbabweans into our country, there is also the exciting and untold story of hope.

The lives of ordinary people in this country — that group that is reduced to be a mere statistic indicating how much our rulers have failed — are, in fact, improving.

The people of Umvuzi village — and any other village — suffer in abject poverty and disease and have yet to access the most basic of government services. But boy, oh boy, do their eyes sparkle and glimmer with hope.

Those who have already received these services can testify that something as basic as a water tap or an electric light bulb in the home is not only liberating, but also a giant stride in the restoration of the human dignity of these people who were once accorded a status below that of a dog.

While our media celebrate broken dreams and exaggerate our failures, there is a real story of an emerging black middle class that seems energised by the realisation that success is indeed within reach.

No matter what we read after the gatekeepers have edited the story of our lives, there is no taking away the fact that today is a million times better than yesterday and tomorrow brings with it new opportunities.

I submit that young and emerging writers carry the responsibility of telling this exciting story of the new South Africa and mirror this society to itself without conforming to racist convictions that will only divide us and deny us our quest to become the rainbow nation that we aspire to be.

Emerging writers are standing on the brink of history and have imbibed enough of this euphoria and excitement that is evident in all sectors in our country. They should get out of the camps and tell our story, to ourselves and outside the racist pre-1994 camps.

It is a story that is yet to be told, or is being edited out of our newspapers, but it is true; our democracy is maturing and this country is working.

The ANC will change guard in Limpopo in December; a new leadership will continue leading the nation towards a better day and the sky will not cave in. Contrary to what we read each day, the natives are getting it right.


  • Zukile Majova

    Zukile Majova is Head of News for YFM 99.2. He is a former Mail & Guardian Investigative Reporter. He writes politics for Sowetan Newspaper. Contact him via Facebook, Twitter, [email protected], 011 280 0300 and 071 681 0192