The following email is doing the rounds and we trust that we are not stepping out of line in publishing it. We salute Ismail Mahomed’s courage in speaking out against the Secrecy Bill and against the actions of our government which are so abhorrent to so many of us.
Viv & Kim
Ismail Mahomed: Black Tuesday is not just about a protest in favour of media freedoms but it is the day on which we mourn the biggest betrayal of our nation.
Dear President Jacob Zuma
I was a high school student in Lenasia on Black Wednesday. I remember it as a solemn day. On the Friday that followed a number of my fellow students were detained at a protest meeting held at The Barn just across the road from the Trinity Secondary School. These were high school students who wanted to make their voices heard against the Nationalist government’s banning of the media.
That Monday in our mathematics, geography and science classes we discussed the pitfalls of a government that censors the media because it wants to hold the monopoly on truth to corruptly and immorally stay in power. White youth my age were in their schools discussing details about their conscription into the South African Defence Force and how they would be casting their first vote in the next general elections. There was nothing general about that election. African, Coloured and Indians did not have the vote. We spent our youth discussing what life would be like when the Nationalist Party would be defeated by the African National Congress. That, Mr President, is the party that you lead.
Progressive teachers at our schools led us in discussions silently but vigorously because the ANC was a banned organisation. We discussed how the ANC would become the mainstream of South African politics and how it would bring us the freedoms that were denied to us by the South African government. We spoke about personal freedoms and public freedoms. We spoke about a media that would be allowed to be free and critical. We hailed our peers who had the courage to protest and be detained in their teens to fight for a South Africa that would be free, just and transparent.
I’ve often remembered Black Wednesday and that miserable weekend when high school students from Lenasia were detained at John Vorster Square Prison (now Johannesburg Prison). That weekend detention did not kill the spirit of our school. In fact, that fateful weekend was in many ways an affirmation of the vision that we had that freedoms would be attained in our lifetimes.
On 27 April 1994, I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving that South Africa was freed in my lifetime. I thought that 1994 would be the turning point from which we would be able to look towards a future where the horrors of the Nationalist Party would be buried forever and that we would always be able to celebrate our freedoms. That day when I cast my vote I honoured the blood, sweat and lonely nights that many people endured so that we could be a free nation.
When President Nelson Mandela promised that South Africa need never fear of not having media freedom, I felt a proud moment because I know that those words resonated through the heart and bloodstream of every one of those students in Lenasia who attended the protest meeting to observe Black Wednesday.
This week as the momentum for protests against the Protection of Information Bill which you’ve now made law was building up, I was overwhelmed with anger. I am angry with you because you betrayed the freedom that President Nelson Mandela promised our nation. I’m even more angry that I could be so naive to believe that successive presidents after Nelson Mandela would continue to guarantee us our freedoms. I am angry that the ANC is increasingly becoming the coward that has stolen and worn the clothes of the Nationalist Party corpse.
The ANC’s determination to push the bill through parliament despite the protests from large sectors of our society smacks of a political party that is becoming the playground bully. You and your political henchman are so determined to crush any attempt to expose how large numbers of your leadership have become like selfish octopuses who have their tentacles greedily grasped on milking public funds for their own personal benefits.
You, Mr President, should have been so much more vigilant to protect the freedom of the media to demonstrate your integrity, particularly because you came into office under a cloud of corruption charges. It is not surprising that you have failed us. You have reaffirmed your complete lack of integrity and immorality.
You and your political henchmen have adopted this Bill so that you can all continue to stand behind an armour that will allow you to plunder public resources and turn this country into the basket case as is the case with large parts of this continent.
What will come surprisingly to you and your leadership is that even after the Nationalist government’s clampdown on Black Wednesday, we were still able to access information and share information with our communities. Black Wednesday only strengthened our resolve. As artists, we shared information through our poetry, music, dance and other art forms. Even when the firm hand of the Nationalist government’s came down strongly on a number of artists our artistic expressions became so much more creative and vociferous and they continued to expose and challenge the horrors of the Nationalist Party.
There is no doubt that the current threats facing the media will inevitably come down just as hard on the arts. Censorship inevitably comes down on every aspect of our lives.
As sombre as Black Wednesday was we drew inspiration from it. We knew that bannings and censorship were the symptoms of a Nationalist government that feared the truth. Someday, perhaps just someday, our children’s children will write in their obituaries that Black Tuesday was the day the ANC tried to steal space in the Nationalist Party’s coffin by pushing through the same laws that the ANC once fought against.
Black Tuesday is not just about a protest in favour of media freedoms but it is the day on which we mourn the biggest betrayal of our nation. And you, Mr President, and everyone in parliament who voted in favour of the Bill have led that betrayal. Lower your head in shame, Mr President.
Ismail Mahomed is the Director of the National Arts Festival. He writes in his personal capacity.