What Marikana Meant for Me.

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write now.

In The Public Interest

I wrote this for Press Freedom Day recently.  Working on the Marikana story revealed how important it is that we get counselling and psychological help for people experiencing trauma (the widow I interviewed specifically asked for some kind of psychological counselling) it also revealed to me that though I was empathetic and wanted to help I could not help her since I needed counselling myself. I did try though. She was suicidal.

It’s not a classic Censorship Story.

By Jedi Ramalapa.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation( SABC) broadcasts news and current affairs daily to more than 48 million South Africans, through 18 radio stations in all the 11 official languages, including Swahili and French through Channel Africa. The public broadcaster has  three television channels which can be accessed  and are available  in the remotest parts of the country.   It is more powerful than any of the broadcasters put together in swaying public opinion and more importantly winning votes.  Having control over the “public broadcaster” is having control of the country.  Business and Politicians understand this fact all too well.  As long as it’s not on SABC, it can’t be completely true. It is a powerful machine which has consistantly made vulnerable to grave abuse.

I think I only realized a moment after they walked outof the editing studio just what had happened.  I was busy editing an interview with one of the Marikana widows, whose husband was killed along with 50 or so other mine workers on the 16th of August.  It was the kind of interview I had done a thousand times before, speaking to grieving relatives about their loved ones. It was in my opinion nothing out of the ordinary nor controversial.

But this time and for the first time in a 12 and a half-year public broadcasting career,  at the South African Broadcasting Corporation,   they asked to listen to the final cut of the interview which we planned to air later that day.   They listened as the widow spoke of her grief and her anger. “I blame the government, the police, the unions and Lonmin for what happened” she said on tape.   Play that again, said the executive producers. They listened and said cut out that part.  Which part I asked? Like a naïve little girl. That part where she says “I blame the government, the unions, the police and Lonmin for what happened”. Why I asked. “Because there’s no one to blame, we don’t know who is responsible and we just don’t want to have to deal with questions.” What questions I asked myself in disbelief thinking that even in her grief the widow had managed to be “impartial” in apportioning blame to everyone involved in the Marikana massacre, not many people were able to do that.  But I couldn’t fight it. I had woken this woman up at 6am to do the interview, which had taken me at least three days and a string of phone-calls to convince her to speak to me.  We cried together during the interview in which I tried to convince her that life was still worth living. She had trusted me with her heart.  I was not going to let her down.  So I did as I was told and cut out the offending parts like a surgeon saving a life.

The widow had been censored in the most subtle of ways, by omission and not only was I not prepared for it, I was a part of it an accomplice.   Even today I don’t know who to blame for that moment in my life, myself for doing the interview in the first place? Or for failing to defend her / my work when I was told to cut out certain parts? I don’t know.   But I am writing this to honour the Marikana Widow who in a moment of great loss and pain managed to do what I and Public Broadcaster failed to do, speak truth to power and remain impartial.

 

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