#Marikana and #Ferguson: The importance of having our own media

By Panashe Chigumadzi (@panashechig)

After seeing the (lack of) coverage of these two events in mainstream media, whilst observing the contrasting brilliance of independent media of bringing issues to the fore, in particular, ‘black internet’ in the States which includes ‘black twitter’ as well as blogs and other independent media outlets such as VICEVerySmartBrothas and Complex I’ve never felt so convinced about my choice of career.

For the longest time, I’ve had an inferiority complex about choosing media as my career path. I was someone who did above average at school and in fact was en route to becoming a chartered accountant. Given that some of the primary social groupings I belong to (‘black ’, ‘women’, ‘black women’ ) are all underrepresented in more ‘serious’ fields, particularly where STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects are required, I felt that media and my pursuit of ‘new narratives’ was in effect copping out.

I’ve always felt that I should be ‘deployed’ elsewhere because ‘my people’ don’t really need another Oprah, Khanyi or any other great black media personality, particularly when these people had other real options in other fields. Nor that we necessarily need another Powerfm, Ebony, TrueLove or any other black-owned and black-targeted media outlet because, ‘it’s not that serious’. At least, ‘not that serious’ in relation to the need for ‘our people’ to have more engineers, scientists and other career paths that require technical expertise.

This week, however, changed that for me completely. If you had a look at my twitter timeline over the last seven days you would see that, I was what you would call an ‘angry black woman’. The torrent of tweets and retweets (and a number of emails to friends), came after feeling the helplessness, rage, anger, despair and just plain disbelief that I experienced this week over the second anniversary of the Marikana massacre and the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Although circumstances were considerably different, these were two events connected by the fact that they involved the murder of black men by the service deployed by the state to serve and protect, the police.

After seeing the (lack of) coverage of these two events in mainstream media, whilst observing the contrasting brilliance of independent media of bringing issues to the fore, in particular, ‘black internet’ in the States which includes ‘black twitter’ as well as blogs and other independent media outlets such as VICE, VerySmartBrothas and Complex I’ve never felt so convinced about my choice of career.

One of the most ingenious hashtags I have seen this week and on social media to date was #Iftheygunnedmedown [what picture would the media use?]. This is an example of how so-called ‘black twitter’ (and the wider ‘black internet’) has taken control of the conversation about themserve and used it to undermine and subvert the negative imagery used to demonize black people in general and black men such as Ferguson’s Michael Brown who have been killed by the police in particular.

Locally, a poignant campaign came from the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) twitter timeline and website where they display their tribute to the 37 men who were murdered in the Marikana Massacre by showing their pictures and including short bios. The number of people who, upon seeing the photo album, tweeted that the pictures changed their perspectives because the men transferred from body counts to people both made me happy and disappointed. Happy for the change in perspective, but sad because it was a reminder of how easily the black body is disregarded.

On Wednesday last week, Vanguard joined up with Amandla.mobi and Aljazeera to publicize and discuss the screening of the Marikana documentary, Miners Shot Down. (Amandla.mobi is not only interested in dialogue, but also in action. On Friday the organisation handed in a 3000-signature petition to get the SABC and eNCA to screen the documentary). That was my first time watching it and I, a middle class black woman, came away with a much more heightened sense of urgency about the brutal conditions many poor black people face in South Africa.

These stories humanized my fellow black people to me. Where before, even as ‘conscious’ as I attempt to be, I had felt somewhat detached from these events because it was not happening to ‘black people like me’. Twitter and independent media opened my eyes to the stories of my own people’s marginalization. They made them real to me.

After this experience, I’ve never seen more clearly how important our stories are. Not so much for our other races to see, (because I think it is useless and unproductive to continue to expect anyone but black people to be telling black people’s stories authentically and accurately) but for us as black people to wake up to our own realities and do something real.

I do believe that conscientizing people through the media is not enough. There needs to be, to use the (ironic) words of Deputy President Cyril Ramphosa, ‘concomitant and pointed action’ taken once the business of conscientizing has been done or even just begun. If not, the media and the dialogue it generates will only serve as a tool to have us get angry and then go about living ourselves the same way again.

 

I’ve heard it said that there is no such thing as objective reporting, only perspectives. Likewise, it is often that I hear that perception is reality.

One of the aspects that I enjoy and take the most pride in things about getting to be an owner and editor of this platform is the discretion that I have on the various slants we take on stories – what we choose to highlight, what we choose to omit. Those decisions are made everyday in every media house and have real impacts on the meaning of stories.

There are a number of choices that we at Vanguard make:

When there are allegations of racism, as in the case of the University of Pretoria blackface scandal, you will unlikely find us using apostrophes – it is racism not ‘racism’. When we refer to different social groupings we make a point to use person-first-language, so it is not ‘gays’, ‘retards’, and ‘Jews’, it is instead ‘gay people’, ‘retarded people’, ‘transgender people’ and ‘Jewish people’. When we include vernac in our writing we do not use italics, because that ‘others’ our indigenous languages and would not reflect the seamless nature of vernac’s incorporation in everyday.

You will not find us using terms such as ‘ethnic’ or ‘black hair’, because, in a country where we are the majority, it is simply ‘hair’. You will not find us justifying the need to treat women with respect, because she is ‘someone’s sister, mother, wife, [insert whatever other possessive noun]’, because that respect should simply come as a result of her personhood. Nor would you find us justifying the injustice of an unarmed black man being killed with the fact the said man was about to go to university, because it is an injustice that he lost his life saint or not.

I sometimes take this for granted, but it is really a privilege that we are part of a new generation that are becoming the gatekeepers of our own realities. We do need more Oprahs, Khanyis, Powerfms, Ebonys and TrueLove, even a ‘black CNN’. I’ve never believed in how important that is more fiercely than I have in the past few days. Without a sense of inferiority and instead with a strong sense of pride I now take ownership of my path and value the power of media to give a voice to those of us who have had our experiences marginalized.

Panashe Chigumadzi is the editor and founder of Vanguard magazine.

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