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28 June 2016

 

Open Letter to the SABC, Minister of Communications, CRL Commission, Human Rights Commission, Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, President of the Republic of South Africa, South African Parliament and every equality-loving South African 

After 22 years of democracy in South Africa, it’s easy to become complacent and think that this country’s public institutions have been thoroughly purged of all the oppressive, vile laws that the apartheid state had implemented. The sad reality is that there exists, embedded deep within the heart of this country’s state media broadcaster, a particularly malignant, exclusionary, oppressive and insidious manifestation of outright racial discrimination. This discrimination is so outrageously brazen and indifferent to the effects it has on the people upon whom it inflicts its inter­generational damage that it would be well at home in the legal tomes of apartheid apparatchiks.

 

Our purpose with this letter is to increase the awareness of the plight of the marginalised in our democratic dispensation and snap the South African public from their deluded lull, in which we have all convinced ourselves that governmental institutional discrimination has been completely eradicated ... it hasn’t. At stake in this matter is the future well­being of a particularly dysfunctional and existentially mired group, the Coloured population of South Africa.

Have you ever wondered why, when you flip through radio stations in your car, there are frequencies that cater to every indigenous language in South Africa – even Lotus FM, which caters to the specific needs of South Africa’s Indian minority – there is a conspicuous absence of a Coloured specific radio station? The reason for this is quite simple – the SABC does not have any official policies to cater to the media needs of South Africa’s Coloured population. I’ll give you a minute while that sinks in.

The issue around the provisioning of state media facilities to South Africa’s Coloured population has been an unnecessarily long, protracted and, ultimately, somewhat fruitless endeavour dating back to 21 July 2008 when the first correspondence was sent to the then Chairperson of the SABC. Before we continue, however, let me first state the parameters around which we wish to articulate and interrogate this shameful discrimination by our state broadcaster against people who identify as Coloured.

Our state broadcaster’s mandate is set out in both the Broadcasting Act and the SABC Charter. The preamble lyrically uses statements such as “... maintenance of a South African identity, universal access, equality, unity and diversity; South African broadcasting services are owned and controlled by South Africans; the broadcasting system must reflect the identity and diverse nature of South Africa, is controlled and managed by persons or groups of persons from a diverse range of communities, including persons from previously disadvantaged groups and must reflect the multilingual and diverse nature of South Africa by promoting the entire spectrum of cultural backgrounds, religious backgrounds and official languages; Encouraging the development of South African expression by providing a wide range of programming that refers to South African opinions, ideas, values and artistic creativity by displaying South African talent in radio and television programming and by making use of radio frequencies that are public property and that provide a public service necessary for the maintenance of national identity, universal access, equality, unity and diversity; and Resolving to align the broadcasting system with the democratic values of the Constitution and to enhance and protect the fundamental sights of citizens”.

We forgive any Coloured who, for a brief moment after reflecting on the contents of this preamble, thought that this is not the country where Jan van Riebeeck met Harry, die Strandloper ‒ and we will certainly not indulge the notion of who was here first. We will also not seek to expound on who is defined as a Coloured.

Instead, our departure point is that South Africa’s most fundamental population registry document, the census form, has a clear category for “Coloured”. So, the identity enjoys Legal and Constitutional recognition as well as legitimate social validity, and whether you approve of it or not, your objections and reservations are moot. The fact of the matter is that Coloureds are the second-largest population group in South Africa and they speak Afrikaans, which is the third most spoken language of the eleven official languages in the country. This begs the question: When will the state broadcaster take this group seriously and stop paying lip service to both its Act and Charter?  The SABC’s objectives, as listed in the Charter, are to "encourage the development of South African expression by providing, in South African official languages, a wide range of programming that: (a) reflects South African attitudes, opinions, ideas, values and artistic creativity; (b) displays South African talent in education and entertainment programs; (c) offers a plurality of views and a variety of news, information and analysis from a South African point of view; and (d) advances the national and public interest”.

This sounds like much the same of everything until you read the preceding statement which states that: The Charter is dealt with by Parliament as part of the broad national policy framework. The Authority (Parliament) monitors and enforces compliance with the provisions of the Charter of the Corporation”. This is another sad reality for Coloureds that has not been acted upon by the most important organ of state meant to protect the citizens of South Africa. We talk of racial equality, equality before the law and equal access to state resources. But do these idealistic notions, which so many South Africans hold dear, actually hold true when one considers that the state broadcaster has effectively deemed the Coloured community so societally and culturally deficient and unworthy of equal access to its media resources that it has not, after 22 years of democracy, seen it fit to do more to include this group in the SABC’s media offerings? The sheer audacity of this brazen discrimination is staggering. The fact that this media discrimination has played out on our airwaves, in plain sight for 22 years, is a shameful indictment on all equality-loving South Africans. To understand the implications of media exclusion, imagine you are a Xhosa person, born in South Africa, but the SABC simply does not have any policies on how to target Xhosa people. How would you feel as a citizen of this country? Would you feel that you belonged? Would you feel that you were equally empowered in this country, that you had an equal voice as everybody else? Or would you feel, like large swathes of South Africa’s Coloured community feel, that you’ve been rejected by the system, excluded and discriminated against with a pernicious form of cultural apartheid so diabolical that it is surprising it has been allowed to persist for so long without any semblance of contrition on the part of our government, which sanctions and endorses it?

When one considers that media is the cornerstone of the modern economy and that the SABC, as the custodian of this country’s media properties, is in a powerful position to influence the economic trajectory of this country through effective use of mass media, the ugly truth becomes painfully clear. If access to targeted state radio media is a barometer of a country’s economic efficiency, then it must be conceded that the continual exclusion of South Africa’s Coloured community from enjoying an equitable, just share of access to state media resources means that the South African economy is not running at optimal efficiency. In fact, with the Coloured community constituting over 10% of the South African population, then it must be conceded that as long as we deny this group media equality and the means to give justice to its constitutional rights to freedom of expression, then we must resign ourselves to the reality that we are content to have a South African economy that is run at under 90% efficiency. For as long as over 10% of the population remains ignored, excluded and rendered mute in the cacophony of discourse on South Africa’s airwaves, then we should also not be alarmed at the resultant fallout in this community, of which we are all too aware.

Is it any surprise then that the only census-defined race group in South Africa that does not enjoy official recognition and policy legitimacy by the SABC is also the group that is typified by the most severe socio­economic dysfunctions? These range from the drug epidemics consuming our communities (proportionally more and historically longer than any other community) to the gang wars that become so severe that they warrant the calling in of the country’s army to restore order and the fact that the Coloured community of South Africa has the highest rate of foetal alcohol syndrome in the world. As a result, you will soon realise that this community, in particular, is in dire need of the state media tools with which to have a deep, enduring and long overdue conversation with itself in order to normalise the community and make it feel a part of the greater South African discourse.

Instead, however, we have gatekeepers at the SABC who see nothing wrong with denying the second largest population group equal access to the state media resources that they control. They see no hint of irony in their espoused support of local content, as expressed through the recent 90% local content edict, while they continue to deny more than 10% of the population a way to meaningfully benefit from this local boon. The SABC clearly has no qualms about continuing to stunt the South African economy by ensuring it runs at under 90% efficiency, with over 10% of the population excluded and rendered invisible oddities on the periphery of the mainstream South African society, with little recourse and no real voice to participate in the national dialogue.

So, this is our plea, to all equality loving South Africans: Please join us in bringing an end to the shameful exclusion of South Africa’s Coloured community from the SABC airwaves. The Coloured community of South Africa demands access to a National Radio Frequency and a Television Station with dedicated programs through which the community can broadcast its content, tell its stories, spread a message of hope and inclusion and enjoy the fruits of media equality, as enjoyed by other groups in South Africa and as envisaged by section 192 of the Constitution of South Africa.

The continued exclusion of the Coloured group by the SABC is an appalling, disgraceful display of how the oppressed can become the oppressors.

We do not believe that the SABC gatekeepers, who continue to veto and deny the legitimisation of the Coloured group on their public radio channels, are motivated by racial discrimination. However, we do believe that they are guilty of being cultural supremacists who deem the Coloured society illegitimate, a nuisance, unworthy and lacking in the cultural pomp, pageantry and richness that the Black African cultures enjoy. This unfortunate lacuna is a rather telling and glaring exposé of the SABC board’s limited view of its constitutional mandate. As such, we believe that in South Africa we have simply exchanged racial apartheid for “cultural apartheid”... and the Coloured community remains societal pariahs, just as we were pre­1994. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The SABC is a creature of statute answerable to almost all of the Chapter Nine institutions that are the “Guardians of Democracy”. We also call on them to account for their lack of action against the continued perpetration of wilful exclusion of Coloureds by the SABC.

 

“History will judge societies and governments — and their institutions — not by how big they are or how well they serve the rich and the powerful, but by how effectively they respond to the needs of the poor and the helpless.” – Cesar Chavez. In our case, it’s the marginalized.

 


Rev Ronald Dyers

Chairman: Kullid Foundation

 

www.kullid.org.za  |  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  | Tel  011 474 3214  |  Fax 086 606 3700

 

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