By Sandile Memela
A pan-Africanist voice in the media is taboo.
There is no large anthology of serial letter writer Sam Ditshego today.
There will not be any in the future – unless he left manuscripts of his writing.
When a black columnist and journalist writes about South Africa today, they usually situate the discussions within a positive Rainbow nation building framework.
To do this effectively, they must neither promote Pan-Africanism nor mention of the thorny land question.
However, as a columnist or writer you are encouraged and given space to write and speak about the Pan African Congress disunity and or the infighting in the ANC.
You can add to that the death and irrelevance of Black Consciousness.
Whatever is negative about the black world is acceptable. Point out the flaws don’t give solutions. Bombard them with self hatred.
A columnist is expected to highlight the greed, corruption and the fragmentation of the liberation struggle to factions.
The struggle of the oldest liberation movement must be projected as culminated in disaster for Africans. They have been betrayed and must look to whites for a messiah.
The media’s refusal to provide opportunities and platforms to someone like Ditshego was part of the plan to delegitimize men possessed by the power of Pan Africanist thought and spirit.
Andile Mgxi is such a figure, too. You never read anything he writes in mainstream media.
It is a tradition now that speaking about the issue of land dispossession and economic justice is not allowed.
Of course, this is a direct reflection of a long tradition to suppress and marginalized radical black singing. Pan Africanism and or Black Consciousness must not breathe.
Over the last 26 years and more, column and feature writing in South Africa have been turned into a discourse between white liberals and their black clones. They are the ones that monopolize space for so-called insight and analytical writing.
It presumes that there is only one thing to discuss and that is nation building and social cohesion without any reference to the past and history.
It presumes that the business of a columnist or feature article writer is not to rock the boat but two promote and uphold the notion of a rainbow nation.
Therefore this confirms why someone like Ditshego was confined to the letters pages of various newspapers.
This means that he was neither acknowledged nor recognized as a relevant and meaningful opinion maker and thought leader that deserved a permanent column.
Since good black journalists exist to promote the rainbow nation and non-racialism, they will not betray their personal ambitions by raising the issue of the land or spreading the philosophy and ideas of Pan-Africanism. It limits career growth.
When someone like Ditshego was published on the letters page, it was one of those rare moments where some conscience-stricken editor pricked up their ears to hear what a real African man have to say.
No one is allowed to interrupt the program to make blacks forget about the issue of land dispossession.
To allow uncontrollable and radical voices like Ditshego or Andile Mgxitama, for example, is seen as to court trouble.
Thus their institutionalized exclusion is not a surprise to the few men and women who truly understand the significance of their voices.
Over the last 30 years also I have worked and written for many newspapers in South Africa. Time and time again, I find that the men who are perceived to be Pan Africanist or black consciousness adherence are not given platforms to say anything on the national question.
Ditshego and very few men of his calibre have chosen to speak about what has happened to the Pan Africanist philosophy from a standpoint of an insightful insider.
Whenever he made remarks about the background and context of the Sharpville massacre of 21 March 1960 – or clarify the difference between ideas of Pan-Africanist anti-racism versus non-racialism – he was seen as derailing the more important political discussion to promote rainbow nation. It was a ‘maverick’ thing to do.
The unwritten law is that Pan Africanism is not a necessary dimension in the redefinition of the new post-apartheid society.
When this suppression in silencing occurs, it usually happens with the complicity of top dog editors who have, overtime, learned to think of land dispossession and economic injustice as backward and primitive subjects. It spoils the beautiful picture of Nelson Mandela South Africa.
The prevailing assumption is that black political opinion makers are only those who will pose no threat to the status quo.
Not listening to or reading the thoughts and views of people like Ditshego or Mgxitama means that national discourse will always suffer from critical gaps in theoretical vision and concrete strategy.
Despite the advancement and success of black editors to run mainstream publications, most of them are not committed to challenging the status cool.
Thus, they will not make the issue of land become part of a daily discourse in South Africa or a standing item in their news agenda.
This means that there will always be a major gap between African aspirations and what the leadership settles for in the name of nation building social cohesion and reconciliation.
As a result, the voices that raise and lament land dispossession are diminishing. Ultimately, black will forget that this is their land.
At present many black columnists and academics are self-censoring and self silencing to protect and preserve their prominent positions. Everybody wants to survive, enjoy the good life.
They fear that raising critical issues makes them vulnerable and they may lose their position and status. They realize that to enter into this land discussion places one in direct conflict with the profit-making purpose of the media.
Popularising Pan-Africanism and or black consciousness is the contemporary challenge to all black media and journalists in the country, especially those who hold decision-making roles.
Certainly fear of someone like Ditshego or silencing him is the only explanation as to why he never reached his full potential to be widely regarded as a leading thought leader in South Africa over the last 30 years. The man deserved a column.
But he was perceived to be too radical and thus posed serious danger, a maverick.
I find it necessary to speak about Ditshego because it is very important to contextualize what his voice meant and why he was condemned to the periphery.
Above all, it hurts. It is painful to reflect on a man who was failed by his country and was not able to live up to his full potential.
Of course, confronting the hegemonized white supremacist perspective on interpretation and analysis of life in South Africa is what is accepted discourse in South Africa.
The new mantra of 1955 is: South Africa belongs to all who live in it – black and white.
Harping this mantra is the new gospel. And it is so lucrative and inviting that anyone who wants success and achievement will throw themselves back into silence.
No one in the top positions of the media seems to consider the impact that suppression and marginalization of radical black-voices has on the African psyche.
Worse, it has an adverse effect on progressive citizens in general.
Thus no one is equipped to tackle head-on some of the biggest questions – especially the land issue – that confront this country.
It is a rare occasion to listen to or read the Pan Africanist insights in a newspaper, magazine, radio or television.
As a result many young people believe that it is highest form of political consciousness and maturity when you talk radical black politics because it is not allowed in South Africa.
Worse, it is suicidal.
By the time many young people read and comprehend material written by Ditshego, they will have grown into tired and exhausted souls preoccupied with security.
These days Pan-Africanism, Black Consciousness or speaking truth to power has become taboo.
If you want to succeed to be a super achiever in the media, you must hold everything in, swallow it even.
The anti-African backlash to ‘writing what you like’ like Steve Biko is so fierce that it can plunge one into poverty and homelessness.
the lucrative alternative comes with prominence of riding the crest wave for the Rainbow nation editor and journalist who hangs out with politicians, has got a big fat account, posh house in the suburbs, nice car and designer labels on his back.
It is for this reason that someone like Ditshego was not a popular figure in the press, television, advertising, radio and other social media platforms. He was not your typical dial-a-quote analyst.
In many ways to self-censor and to self-silence is the a new vernacular for those who are desperate to fake it to make it.
The treatment of a man like Ditshego – where he is reduced to a serial letter writer – tells us that Pan-Africanism will always be in the margins.
Highly conscientized Pan-Africanists will most likely be given a little space so that they can immediately be made to disappear as a warning to those who don’t tow the line.
For strong and influential voices like Ditshego to win awards, status and recognition they must stop whining and complaining about land dispossession or pointing at economic inequality.
Worse, they must forget about espousing a pan Africanism that excludes whites or claims they descendants of European settlers and colonialists in Africa.
If only Ditshego succumbed to the lure of money and everything that it can buy that he would have been the superstar he was meant to be.
Presumably, he was aware that espousing pan Africanism would shut him out. But he chose to keep his principles for his integrity.
We know why the caged bird cannot sing
Pan Africanism is not yet part of the mainstream in South Africa. It is not allowed.
Those who uphold and promote Pan Africanism are condemned to stay in the margins – except as serial letter writers.
Sandile Memela is a journalist, writer and cultural critic.