It was my first time here. The plastic seats of the auditorium steeped up for 12 rows and opposite the (media’s) designated seating area was an impeccably-lit stage. It had 6 seats and microphones and at its centre was the proud ANC insignia. We were at Luthuli House. On Thursday 20 March 2014, my colleague Thapelo Mosioua and I found ourselves seated at the nationally-televised ANC press conference on Nkandla amongst members of TOP international and local media. Just 24 hours earlier Public Protector Thuli Madonsela had delivered a four-hour speech that may have dented the ANC’s majority at the national elections by 4% just two months later.
Once Jackson Mthembu had enacted the formalities and Gwede Mantshe had read out the ANC’s official statement, I – confident as always – naturally raised my hand to ask a burning question. My turn came quickly after Xoli Mngambi from eNCA had had his. I took the microphone, uttered my name and when it came time to mention the platform I work for – the VIP Campaign – Jackson Mthembu responded with a piercing “WHAT? WHO DO YOU WORK FOR?” to muffled giggles from others around the room. Not expecting such a jagged response, I continued, THE VOTING IS POWER project. Twice. Three times. He then asked: “Are you a journalist?” This was live on national television. Many of the journalists present, chuckling under their breath, turned to look at me as if to ask: this is the big boys’ press club little guy, why are you diving face-first into the deep end for a blog? I was shaken, but determined not to let it show, continued with my question. Check it out on Youtube here. It’s at 1:40:16. I had ticked all the journalistic boxes – the question was historically referenced, topically relevant and most importantly, would force Gwede Mantashe into clarifying himself on a contentious yet vague point he had made in the statement. I was proud of my question, but it eventually went unanswered. Instead, my efficacy as a journalist was placed under intense scrutiny by the national spokesperson of the ANC because I work for neither the City Press, The Star, The Sunday Times or any other major news publication. No, Rofhiwa Maneta (23), Thapelo Mosioua (22) and I create news for a digital platform run by young journalists for 18-25 year olds.
During a media briefing after the announcement of the election results on 10 May, former public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba gleefully said to the media, “You campaigned hard against the ANC and we beat you. We defeated you. We know you never loved us,” according to an article in The Citizen. He echoed an age-old ANC mantra: that privately owned media like eNCA and the Sunday Times have continually conspired to present the party in a negative light due to the “white-capital” inspired effort to undermine the democratic revolution and maintain the economic status quo. Fuck knows why he only wants to speak to these guys then. Such is the love-hate relationship SA politics has with SA media.
In her article Politicians: The Good, The Bad and The Pretty, M&G journalist Verashni Pillay paints a vivid picture of how South Africa has a strong journalistic culture and with it, an ANC-dominated political culture to match. Painfully obvious that morning was that I, a 23 year-old digital content editor, was privy to neither. I’ve never been called and “scolded” about the VIP Campaign’s reporting by Helen Zille like Verashni Pillay and Ferial Haffajee have. I’ve never sat in an editorial room turned “anti-ANC” by hovering boardrooms like the ANC claims the Sunday Times is, nor do I have Winnie Mandela’s cell number. I work for a digital platform called the VIP Campaign run by an NGO. I don’t understand nor identify with any of the conventions that inform South Africa’s journalistic & political culture today. None.
Born at the death of apartheid, the tone and focus of mine and my colleagues’ journalism is trained by a wildly unique world view. We have a different agenda altogether inspired by an unrelenting desire to understand the greater context of the society we’ve been BORN into. We write, record and photograph in a way unblemished by the propaganda of 400 years of racial oppression and more-so, dare I say, the 20 years of nation-building pseudo-propaganda that followed it. We focus naturally on the shifting dynamics of our society and the varying racial & social contexts that exist within it. That morning I was reminded of how young and inexperienced I am and yet equally of why the VIP Campaign is so important. I wondered, as I sat, if Jackson Mthembu knew that a platform such as ours is best placed to identifying new patterns and trends in SA political behaviour because we hold an entirely unexplored perspective. (Can anyone say transformation?) Our ground-up outlook exposes us to the rising complexities, concerns and attitudes of the young people that will be shouting Turn Up! in Rosebank tonight but will run corporate South Africa in twenty years. This is what the VIP Campaign is. It’s what we need to be. Political news that is wholly new and uninhibited. News that is as brave as it is naive and explores South African politics from a wholly new, unguarded perspective. I walked out of that ANC presser with no greater faith in SA politics, and two months later, after interacting with Mmusi Maimane, Julius Malema, Lindiwe Mazibuko and even young ANC minds such as Shaka Sisulu, I and many other young people still had no idea who to vote for. That’s because our world-view motivates us to aspire to a political landscape that is ideologically and culturally more vibrant and relevant than what it is today, meaning our political reporting and interactions are driven purely by a standard of excellence that is by no means measured against any pre-existing notions of what South African life HAS been in any way and what it now. This aligns the VIP core team of yours truly, Rofhiwa Maneta – a writer with an ever-refreshing take on things with an excellent turn of phrase – and Thapelo Mosioua, a magical digital guru, with the anxieties around identity that make today’s political landscape unappealing to most.
That morning, in the heart of Luthuli House, I was shaken and – even embarrassed – admittedly, by being inexperienced, young and from a largely unknown platform. But I soon remembered all of the above – that it’s a national youth platform that will unearth new ideas, conventions and patterns in South African politics from a wholly new, youthful perspective – precisely what a young democracy needs.
It was Einstein….or was it Rofhiwa Maneta? No, it was JFK who said “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” Simply put, friend, we will not and in fact cannot conform to South Africa’s already-existent journalistic and political culture. We’re young and need to enrich SA’s political discourse with an entirely new perspective. The VIP Campaign is Live Magazine SA content proper, mind. We scrutinise, analyse, debate, innovate and have a hell of a lot of fun doing it.
Real life, real opinion, unapologetic.
The next six months of the VIP Campaign will be our best yet.
Follow the VIP Campaign’s Content Editor Lee Molefi
The #2014Elections have set an exciting and vibrant context for the future of South Africa politics to unfold upon. What happens now that you’ve voted? How do we gauge whether we’re “moving the country forward” and if indeed we’re “bringing change” or “economic freedom in our lifetime”? Stick with #LiveVIPZA and we’ll give you all the analysis, debates, comments and polls YOU need to understand, enjoy and interact with SA politics.