The Human Rights Commission decision that the Forum of Black Journalists' blacks-only policy is unconstitutional amounts to the FBJ being found guilty of being black, writes the FBJ's  Abbey Makoe. Rejecting the finding, the FBJ said it  would convene a meeting of all black organisations since it is their experience that has been put on trial.

Abbey Makoe responds on behalf of the Forum of Black Journalists to the Human Rights Commission decision on its blacks-only policy:

Mr Chair, Jody Kollapen, commissioners of the Human Rights Commission (HRC), esteemed colleagues from the Fourth Estate, members of the public here today, ladies and gentle men. We make this response as the FBJ quite aware that there are some black people who would want to win only as blacks but never fight as black people. The FBJ represents a platform for the formerly disadvantaged journalists who are determined to ensure that there is a meaningful transformation of the media in our country. For better or for worse, Mr Chairman, we remain committed to this cause, and shall remain who we are, black people, in defeat or in victory.

We especially appeal to South Africa’s broad spectrum of journalists and the progressive world to consider the circumstances that led to the HRC issuing what amounts to its first banning order to a black initiative and to ask themselves if justice has been done.

We are confident that any reasonable person who witnessed the sham “trial” last month will be astounded at the temerity – that a step, like a banning order, could even be considered, let alone issued, after the briefest of hearings that evidently has proven to be an inquisition after the fact.

Having had an invitation extended to it under the guise that it was an open discussion on the question of racism, the FBJ hereby wishes to state that the conclusion arrived at by the HRC represents nothing more than judicial ambush. By its ruling the HRC has found us guilty for being black; it has criminalized black people; it has found it guilty for exercising the initiative to solve the problems not of its making. The HRC is bastardizing the ability of black people to confront their experiential exigencies.  

In effect, the HRC’s understanding of racism is dubious, since the primary focus of its concern is the absence of white journalists in the black organization that we are. Conscientious white people like the late Donald Woods, Benjamin Pogrund, Fr Alfred Stubbs,  and Dr Beyers Naude, never questioned the revolutionary action of  liberation icons like Steve Biko, Simangaliso Sobukwe and the national liberation movement. They offered their solidarity support without question that the struggling majority reserved the right to think, speak, organize and to act for themselves. 

The FBJ is loath to describe the HRC process that unfolded before the nation’s media last month as an inquiry, which is what the commissioner Jodi Kollapen now claims it was.

This only dawned on us when we were given advance notice on Friday April 4, 2008 that the HRC would be banning us come Tuesday (April 08, 2008).

The commissioner has shamed his office and integrity of South Africa’s democracy by banning us after leading us into a judicial ambush – and the country’s commercial media would be just as culpable to treat the process in typically uncomprehending fashion. Again, this mute reaction underscores the need for the FBJ and organizations like it.

Was that a hearing? Is this the type of action South Africa’s so-called liberal media expects of its human rights commissioner? If so, then we are undeniably in deep, deep trouble.

The FBJ believes it was deliberately lulled into a sense of false expectation by Kollapen’s repeated, personal assurances that the March fiasco would be nothing more than a discussion forum. The FBJ approached it in that way and prepared its statement accordingly.

If we had believed we were participating in a formal inquiry, with formal procedures of leading evidence, the right of cross examination and rebuttal, as well as legal representation, then we would have prepared heads of argument with legal advice, rather than a discussion document.

The FBJ didn’t believe the media charade would be the be-all and end-all of the matter; that a banning order would be issued so smartly.

 That was no inquiry that the HRC held at the behest of vested media interests. It was a judicial ambush.

Where were all the normal hallmarks of an inquiry? What evidence has the HRC relied on to issue its banning order? There is none of any substance.

The hearing merely consisted of several individuals making broad, untested statements, that were limited by “media time constraints” and unaccompanied by any rigorous questioning. Certainly, we did not hear the WHOLE truth.

South Africa’s journalists who have any integrity and respect for legal process must ask themselves these questions and they must ask how an organization can be banned at a hearing where there was no legal representation and no accommodation made for such representation.

Kollapen himself says in his “finding” that special interest groups are allowed under the constitution as long as they serve the purpose of eradicating racism, promoting democracy and addressing past inequalities.

That being the case, the HRC has failed completely to inquire into the intentions of the FBJ’s revival, but has issued this banning order on the flimsiest pieces of prima facie evidence: the simple fact that the FBJ is a black organization.  There has been no inquiry beyond that – as the HRC is required by law to do. We are pronounced guilty for being black and for seeking to confront the reality that arises from a uniquely black experience.

We have effectively been found guilty of being black and of having the uppity presumption of wanting to address the injustices of the past that continue to thrive to this date. There is no other reason for our “guilt”.

We are now told we are an “illegal organization”. Many of our members have heard that phrase before and never thought, after 1994, they’d ever be a member of one AGAIN.

The only evidence – besides the pseudo-legal gobbledygook mouthed by 702’s leading lights Kati Katipodis and Yusuf Abrahamjee – that Kollapen relies on is a bald statement that the Black Lawyers Association allows white membership.

So what? Does the Black Business Forum (BBF) that met President Thabo Mbeki the day before the HRC ambush have white members? The struggle for true equality and justice can never falter merely on the whim of desperate newshounds hellbent on chasing a story, even when there is none – as with the FBJ Imbizo, as on February 29, 2008. For the HRC to have missed the ulterior motive behind Radio 702’s intrusion -  to chase, find or manufacture a story at all costs, is a sad comment on its judgment of events.

Did President Thabo Mbeki commit an illegal act as the representative of the highest office in the land by meeting a “racist” organization like the BBF?

 What does the HRC now envisage? Banning Absip, Nafcoc, and a plethora other legitimate and vital black organizations that are trying to build a healthy, just society?

We will continue building a true, healthy and sustainable African democracy here on the soil where we were born and where we will be buried. No banning order is going to stop us.

We reject the HRC finding. We will never apologise for being black. To this end, the FBJ hereby makes national notice that we will be holding a convention of all black organizations that are likely to be affected by this banning order. This is because it is our collective black experience that the HRC has put on trial.

 

Issued by Abbey Makoe, Chairperson of the FBJ Steering Committee. Cell: 082 335 8831