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An Analysis of the Engagements of Intellectuals and Intellectual activity in the South African Media: A case study of the Native Club.

An Analysis of the Engagements of Intellectuals and Intellectual activity in the South African Media: A case study of the Native Club.
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  Philile Masango: 0413794j: An Analysis of the Engagements of Intellectuals and Intellectual activity inthe South African Media: A case study of the Native Club. MA Journalism and Media Studies 2009. 1 CHAPTER 11.1   INTRODUCTION May 3 rd 2006, saw the birth of the Native Club, which was launched in Pretoria, SouthAfrica. Its founders, defined it as „ a public initiative ‟ (Native Club, 2006) focusing onissues of identity, representation and the positioning of black people in society and theblack narrative in reshaping the socio-political and economic debate in South Africa. TheNative Club also justified its existence as a forum mobilizing black intellectuals toregenerate their communities to balance the injustices of Apartheid which had led to cultural divisions and marginalization. “Furthermore the legacies of our past has been the detachment of many leading black people from the cultural processes that are central tonurturing good values, ethos and morals as well as programmes that help to buildleadership in poor and marginalised communities and ensure that there are role models who can help mentor young people” ( Native Club, 2006).A few days after the launch of the Native Club, the first opinion pieces started to emergein the media, particularly in mainstream newspapers. During the first few days, thesewere mainly articles, advocating for the objectives and existence of the Club. One of thefirst was written by Sandile Memela from the department of Arts and Culture, one of thesponsors of the Native Club. In this article, which appeared in the  Mail & Guardian  (May, 2006), Memela named and personally attacked those who in his view were “celebrity, coconut intellectuals” who were always ready to attack the governmentinstead of promoting its ideals, which include a democratic society. In his account, healso criticised the media for seeking expert opinion from the same public commentators(who are usually anti-government) instead of sometimes referring to “intellectuals withingovernment”. This article by Memela , which appeared under the headline “  Black brainpower  ” alongside one by Ebrahim Harvey (“ Where are the black thinkers of theleft  ?”), was to mark the beginning of an eruption of media articles abo ut the Native Club.In the following weeks, commentary appeared thick and fast across the mainstreamnewspapers and on some internet websites; through journalistic articles (written by  Philile Masango: 0413794j: An Analysis of the Engagements of Intellectuals and Intellectual activity inthe South African Media: A case study of the Native Club. MA Journalism and Media Studies 2009. 2 journalists as news stories) as well as through opinion pieces. Those who engaged in thedebate came from diverse backgrounds, including those from influential structurescritical of government such as the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).The commentators who responded to the formation and existence of the Club raised awide range of contentious issues including its perceived link to the ruling party and theoffice of then President Thabo Mbeki. This is because one of its key founders, TitusMafolo, was a political adviser to the former president. Mafolo himself contributed somemedia articles that promoted the existence of the Club.The commentary made by individuals in reaction to the Club, appeared to focus on itsmotive and whether it was relevant to South Africans today. Some authors, especiallyproponents of the Club, questioned the way the media had covered the Club‟s launch only after the ensuing controversy about it. 1.2 AIM This study explores how intellectuals and intellectual activity is engaged in the newsmedia. It investigates this issue by focusing on how the Native Club entered publicdebate and by tracking the issues and debates raised in response to its launch, covered inand carried by the media. These are responses of commentators in and outside of theNative Club. Some of the questions asked included how the Native Club had positioneditself in society and the issue of how the Club was put on the media agenda and why itremained there. This study asks what kind of public debate happened in relation to thisparticular issue by investigating the prevalent themes in media articles, and who exactlyspoke in the media, in response to the launch of the Club and the issues aboutintellectuals flowed from the launch of the Club. Posing this question was also key as themedia plays an important role in the making of public intellectuals by choosing someindividuals ahead of others to comment on news stories appearing in the media.  Philile Masango: 0413794j: An Analysis of the Engagements of Intellectuals and Intellectual activity inthe South African Media: A case study of the Native Club. MA Journalism and Media Studies 2009. 3 1.3 RATIONALE South Africa has gone through major changes in politics, economics and education sincebecoming a c onstitutional democracy in 1994. The country‟s policies have put great emphasis on uplifting previously disadvantaged communities in all sectors. These communities include black people who make up the majority of South Africa‟s population. Such policies include Affirmative Action and Black Economic Empowerment(BEE), a policy which has now been widened to Broad-based Black EconomicEmpowerment.In relation to intellectual activity we saw calls from the new order for much greaterparticipation by intellectuals and in particular black intellectuals, in public debate. Inmany of the speeches he had presented at various forums, former President Thabo Mbeki,consistently asked the black intelligentsia to be more visible and vocal in the socio-political arena. Mbeki had not only made the call in South Africa, but throughout thecontinent as well. In one of his earliest attempts to call for the vigorous participation of intellectuals, Mbeki used the forum of the Z.K. Matthews Memorial Lecture held at theUniversity Of Fort Hare on the 12 th October 2001. In paying tribute to Matthews, Mbeki used some of the Professor‟s respected writings to highlight the fact that Matthews (who was also the first black person to obtain a BA degree from a South African institution)h ad been among the few African intellectuals who “had awakened to his responsibilities” because “at all times these Africans refused to be so de -humanised and deprived of their identity and pride that they should submit to becoming „mis - educated Negroes‟ or     Natives as the case may be”. (Mbeki, 2005: 4)  On January 2 nd 2005, in Khartoum, Sudan, in his acceptance speech for an honorarydoctorate from the Africa International University, Mbeki called for greater participationby intellectuals in improving Afri ca‟s many impoverished societies as he lamented the invisibility of the intelligentsia in this regard:  Philile Masango: 0413794j: An Analysis of the Engagements of Intellectuals and Intellectual activity inthe South African Media: A case study of the Native Club. MA Journalism and Media Studies 2009. 4 …our continent is littered with half completed or  failed projects in part because the intellectualdiscourse has remained within the confines of thehallowed halls of universities, where only a select andfortunate few, among the Africans, have the privilegeof creating and obtaining knowledge (Mbeki, 2005:2). Mbeki repeated his call for intellectuals to “arise” a few weeks later in Cape Town in his address at the Conference of the Association of African Universities in February 22 nd  2005. Here the former president reiterated the need for institutions created by Africans tonot only help analyse problems faced by the continent but also offer practical solutions toaddress these problems. Mbeki‟s position appeared to influence the country‟s intellectual activity as several commentators and intellectuals have noted the calls made by the president through theyears. One such Wits University academic Dr. Devan Pillay (2006) writes, “When, a fewyears ago, President Mbeki asked: „where are the intellectuals?‟, he seemed to be inviting black intellectuals to participate more vigorously in a public discourse that continued tobe dominated by white intellectual s”. The issue of intellectual activity has also been takenup and canvassed in the media by various commentators. In recent times the issue of intellectuals, particularly black intellectuals, resurfaced with the launch of the NativeClub in May 2006. The case study of the launch of the club offers a potentiallyilluminating window into contemporary public intellectual engagement and its treatmentin the media.The  promotion of „transformation‟ policies by the new South African government filtered, and continues to filter, into almost all spheres of society including the transformation of the media. “The new ANC government made a strong push for  transformation of the media industry. This kicked off with sharp criticism of theunrepresentative racial breakdown of senior media management positions and newsroompersonnel, and moved on to a complaint that this generated a preternatural hostility towards the new order” (Harber, 2006). The 1999 ANC policy document highlighted  Philile Masango: 0413794j: An Analysis of the Engagements of Intellectuals and Intellectual activity inthe South African Media: A case study of the Native Club. MA Journalism and Media Studies 2009. 5issues of unequal access to the media and defined the transformation of the media intothree central elements according to Harber.    The diversity of ownership, particularly the need for black owners    More representative staffing and management    Content less hostile to the ANC-led transformation project. (Harber, 2006)This thinking by the new government put journalists and media managers in a positionwhere they were under pressure to transform their way of thinking and ideologies inrelation to the policies of building a new democratic society as outlined by the newgovernment.Although, as discussed earlier, the place of black people in general as well as black people in the economic realm of the country has always been a great part of the contextof the „ new South Africa ‟ , the launch of the Native Club, whom its founders claimedaims to mobilize black intellectuals to encourage greater partici  pation in the country‟s issues, stirred great controversy. Issues of identity, notably racial identity, are central tothe discussion around the controversy of the Club. It also appears as though, in deciding to form the Native Club, its founders had a particular idea of what an “intellectual” is and the importance of intellectuals.The South African media are themselves a site where an assertive black presence hasbeen called for in shaping public opinion and deliberation. The new post-apartheidgovernment, as mentioned earlier, called on the media to provide a forum for all voices insociety, especially the previously marginalised. Therefore the other interest of the study isto examine the way in which the media has chosen to follow the debates around theNative Club, (which is a „ private ‟ public forum), and put them in the mainstream media.The manner in which the media engages in the debate will provide answers on what thistells us about the media as a public space for discussion. This relates to theories on theuse of public spaces for discussion and critical deliberation, coined by theorists as thenotion of the public sphere. In certain understandings of public deliberation or the notion
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