Bosasa, Esidimeni outrage exposes our disengagement – Redi Tlhabi.

There is no agenda against your favourite people. But there is a disengaged citizen who does not react when he or she is first told about a brewing injustice, writes Redi Tlhabi.

Literary theory teaches us that the reader is not passive. He or she is an active agent who creates meaning to what is written through interpretation and reaction.  

The written text comes into existence through the reader’s performance and action. We thus, as readers, have enormous power to act on what we read and create a value system that determines what is and isn’t true; what will and will not be allowed.

And so here we go again, being quintessentially South African and refusing to do the difficult thing – self-reflecting and locating ourselves within the emerging chronicle.

The vivid testimony of former Bosasa (now African Global Group) COO Angelo Agrizzi has the nation gasping and the usual sideshows have started.

The first side show is the unenlightened accusation that the media has not covered and is not covering the Bosasa rot because those accused are white. What a potpourri of nonsense.

The names falling from Agrizzi’s fervent tongue and affidavit are black – from senior ministersto MPs and the former president himself. Which “racist” media would suppress the “breakthrough” of exposing such high profile black politicians and a white man whose brothers were one of the first white South African rugby union players to take part in multiracial rugby games? An audacious act forbidden by apartheid laws! 

Gavin Watson’s brothers, Cheeky and Valance, were thorns in the side of the apartheid state; they defiantly played rugby in the black townships of Port Elizabeth and travelled with their black team mates in taxis. And thus the Watson family was drawn into the anti-apartheid struggle and paid a high price – threats, intimidation, ostracization and even had their home torched.

Why would a “racist media” protect a family that fought against apartheid? Especially if such reportage would bring black Cabinet ministers, MPs and a president down?

When these facts are put on the table, the next sideshow begins, namely: “You reported more on VBS than Bosasa.”

There is no point asking for actual evidence to support this because such empirical evidence does not exist. If it did, it would transcend a debate based on “this is what I think,” and defer to a qualitative and quantitative analysis of media coverage over a period of time. But that is too higher grade, I guess. 

Bosasa was not covered extensively? Ithi awazi (Say you don’t know).

Ironically, the same journalists, publications and editors who tirelessly covered Bosasa, who put it on front pages, over many years, were vilified for their coverage of Nkandla and the GuptaLeaks.

I can already hear the responses to the small bit of history I have generously shared – Stratcom, White Monopoly Capital, House Nigger, hater. The pattern is tedious and painfully boring.

Public representatives don’t lose sleep

Whilst these sideshows are sucking the air out of our very existence, the people who should be getting all our attention escape without losing a single night’s sleep.

These are the people entrusted with your sacred vote. They visit your children’s schools to distribute learning material. They come to your churches as you “pray for the nation”. They visit your families when your townships are hit by floods and fires. But, they do other stuff too. 

Despite the perks and benefits of their jobs, they live off bribes and kickbacks paid with your hard-earned tax. We call them public representatives.

They talk Radical Economic Transformation, yet the companies to whom they give contracts, and from whom they receive gifts and “loans”, are disconnected from the ethos of empowerment and transformation. This has to be the most painful oxymoron of our time. And the joke is on you.

‘No agenda against your favourite people’

There is value in a conversation about media coverage and space. In this era of fake news, click bait and sensationalism, it is absolutely necessary to scrutinise the media and challenge its editorial decisions. The way some media report about race and gender-based violence has been appalling and we must all amplify our voices in rebutting these cases of deliberate and subliminal imprecision.

But Bosasa is not a case study for the above. It was reported on extensively over many years. And your “shock” today reflects a national malady. The malady of disengagement. 

Instead of admitting and confronting your lack of interest when awful acts are first reported, you’d much rather claim conspiracy theories. So disengaged are you, that you are publicly revealing your ignorance and memory lapses. So disengaged are you, that you will not bother to find easily accessible records.

There is no agenda against your favourite people. But there is a disengaged citizen who does not react when he or she is first told about a brewing injustice. By the time the public reacted to Life Esidimeni, NGO Section 27, its former director Mark Heywood, the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadeg), and yes, the DA’s Jack Bloem, had spent months warning that a catastrophe was about to unfold.

They were interviewed on radio and in newspapers. So was Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, who was on a PR mission, defending the indefensible. Still you did not react. You did not speak. And now, you hide your well-earned shame behind “the media never reports…” You delay the much needed confrontation with yourself.

The side show is easier than a truthful and brutal confrontation with the self. It is easier to say someone is at fault, rather than admit to being a disengaged, uninterested and uninformed citizen.

The politicians are going to play you in this dirty game. You will rue the day you gave them your absolute loyalty and devotion.

– Redi Tlhabi is an award-winning author, journalist and talkshow host.


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