Funding Journalism: An Insurance Policy for Our Nation

“It may not always feel like it but South Africa is in a better place than it was this time in 2017 – and the media played a critical role in getting the country to this point.” Jessica Bezuidenhout: “Journalism in a time of State Capture” Daily Maverick 15 August 2018

I feel extremely challenged as I read the stories of the whistleblowers who brought #GuptaLeaks and State Capture to light. Some of them spoke at this week’s 10XDaily Maverick Media Gathering in Cape Town. The #Guptaleaks pair appeared for the first time in a pre-recorded interview from an unknown location outside South Africa, faces blacked out and voices distorted to protect their identity. Ex-Trillian CEO Bianca Goodson appeared with Eskom’s former head of legal and compliance, Suzanne Daniels. These (extra)ordinary people – amongst many others – risked their lives and careers to help save South Africa from ruin. Then there are the journalists and editors who work with the whistle-blowers to bring their stories into the public domain. This too is gritty work. Without their skill and bravery nothing would come to light.

I feel challenged by these people’s work because – whilst I am enjoying the enormous benefits of living in South Africa – there are people out there putting their lives on the line to ensure that I continue to do so. They have been willing to sacrifice their place in this country – and indeed their personal safety – for you and me. What kind of person is willing to give up everything for their country and their people?

During the Daily Maverick Gathering, SAFM host Stephen Grootes hosted a panel discussion with some of the country’s top media minds; Kate Skinner, executive director of SANEF, Mondli Makhanya, editor at City Press, Adriaan Basson, editor at News24 and Stefaans Brummer from amaBhungane. They all agreed that the role of a free press was as important as ever before and entities such as the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism and the Daily Maverick need our support to keep doing the exceptional investigative work that they are doing.

We can’t all be whistleblowers and journos, but we must get behind these brave South Africans and help them to do the work of upholding democracy. amaBhungane (“…a non-profit newsroom that exposes wrongdoing, empowering people to hold power to account”) and Daily Maverick are doing superb work. Pick one, click on a link below and help to fund them. 

This is the best money you will ever spend in terms of an insurance policy for our nation.

Daily Maverick:  amaBhungane: Blog image courtesy of the Daily Meverick

Broken Hearted for South Africa

It is difficult to imagine the psychological and physical suffering that precedes death by Stress-induced Cardiomyopathy also known as Broken Heart Syndrome.

How much pressure; what levels of anxiety can the human heart endure before it deteriorates to breaking point? What dis-ease needs to afflict a person before the thing literally falls apart. According to the Mayo Clinic website: “The exact cause of broken heart syndrome is unclear. It’s thought that a surge of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, might temporarily damage the hearts of some people. Broken heart syndrome is often preceded by an intense physical or emotional event.” I see her young face everywhere I look; a picture of Hlaudi Motsoeneng has Suna Venter’s face reflected in his eyes; those violent, conniving eyes boring into her, trying to intimidate her and her colleagues into submission. I imagine him whispering to his henchmen: “Break her heart; whatever you do, make sure she doesn’t return.” And in the next instant, his eyes reflect our President; fattened and giggling. This woman’s heart break is no accident. She was harassed, threatened and attacked until it broke.  Will we ask ourselves in 5 years’ time, what happened to the SABC 8 who are now the SABC 4? How many more hearts will break? What will be the ultimate death toll in the war between evil madmen slathering and foaming at the mouth in pursuit of money and those trying to defend our democracy? If you see this as anything but an out-and-out war, you are deluded.  Of course, the aim was silence but it never worked because these people fought to the death – and won. And the fight was always for us – the people of South Africa. Suna Venter and a small group of colleagues from the public broadcaster stood firm and took on the might of a towering empire of corruption and deceit – and won. The pen won the day. But not so fast fellow South Africans. Not so fast can we move on from the death of this young woman. We must not allow for the standard period of outrage and mourning and then forget the price that was paid. One of the last remaining vestiges of our democracy untouched by the fattened fingers of the Guptas and our president, was saved by their bravery. Suna Venters heart broke because she was defending the very ground we stand on; our free press. For if Motsoeneng and his compardres had succeeded in their mission to curtail what news we could and could not see, the attack on our democracy would have been virtually complete, bar the judiciary. That was what was at stake and people were willing to give their lives to defend us from this. I believe that Suna Venter – and indeed the rest of the SABC 8 – must be remembered and honoured as heroes. How do we do this? For a start Suna Venter should by remembered and immortalised by every media outlet in this country. Their very relevance is thanks in large part to her and her colleagues. Every paper, magazine, radio and TV station should hang a photo of her; put up a plaque if you like. Get creative – but do something.  Let everyone who sees it pay their respects and remind themselves that her life was given in the fight for the freedom of our press. Let it be a constant reminder that we will not tolerate anyone who tries to trample on our democracy. We will take them on and we will win – even if it breaks our hearts. Anyone who is involved in the media should take every opportunity to remember the sacrifice made by Suna Venter et al. In my way, I have used this column to keep the memory of Anene Booysens and Josiah Sithole alive by dedicating every piece I write to them. This is so we keep the fight against xenophobia and gender-based violence top-of-mind – not just when an attack occurs. The same applies to Suna Venter. Her name will be added to the dedication of every column I write. As for us as citizens of South Africa, what can we do to ensure that her memory is kept alive and that we join the fight against the powerful and the corrupt who are trying to rob us of our democracy? For a start – as I have written about before – we must resist the temptation to join the system of corruption and abuse; our businesses, our homes, our cars, our places of worship, our NGO’s – wherever we operate – must be places where corruption and abuse of power is not tolerated no matter how much we may stand to gain or lose personally from the transaction. Our complicity fuels the engine. Secondly, we must be prepared -as the SABC 8 has been – to speak out when we see abuse of power and/or corruption or even manipulation taking place. This is very tough – especially when we love those committing the deeds – but we cannot turn a blind eye. On a personal note, the passing of Suna Venter broke my heart and enraged me. I am enraged by what the President, the Gupta’s, the Molefe’s, the Van Rooyens, the Motsoenengs and many others are doing to our country and her people and I want it to stop. Too many people have been robbed from and too many people have died. When will it end? When we – like Suna Venter – put our hearts on the line. Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.