Veteran journalist Jon Qwelane will not apologise for using the term
“coconuts” to describe black journalists who objected to the Forum for
Black Journalist (FBJ) off-the-record briefing with ANC president Jacob
Zuma, writes Phakamisa Ndzamela.

Qwelane said that blacks – “minus the coconuts” – had a right to meet and discuss social problems affecting them. “We need to discuss these things by ourselves”. He described a coconut as a person who rejected his blackness and aspired to be white.
A former Radio 702 talkshow host, he was speaking at the often heated Human Rights Commission hearing into complaints lodged by Radio 702 against the event as discriminatory.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Arts and Culture, Sandile Memela , said “space had to be given to black opinionmakers” to exercise their self-determination.

“When you walk into a black newsroom it’s like a bantustan ”, but the people that wielded power were white managers, said Memela.

A heated argument erupted between him and the editor of Sowetan and Sowetan Sunday World , Thabo Leshilo, when Memela suggested that he should have become editor at the Sunday World but “was forced out of the newsroom” because he “was seen to be uncontrollable”.

Leshilo accused Memela of being “economical with the truth” when it came to the factors that led to his departure at the Sowetan Sunday World. He added he did not understand why Memela anointed himself as being in line for the position of editor at the Sowetan Sunday World.

Leshilo, also a council member of the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef), said the perception that Sanef does nothing for black journalists was not true. Leshilo said Sanef was there to promote good journalism.

In their submissions Katy Katopodis, news editor of Talk Radio 702 and 94.7 Highveld Stereo, said “we are not saying the FBJ should not exist” but that “exclusion should not be based on the colour of one’s skin”.

Part of the submission by Talk Radio 702 and 94.7 Highveld Stereo read: “It is not up to us to state whether the FBJ can justifiably limit its membership to black persons only. Instead, the question that we pose is the following: whether only black journalists can advance their cause or whether such cause can be advanced by any journalist who is committed to the achievement of equality and is committed to the elimination of discriminatory policies and/or practises of the past, notwithstanding his/her race or ethnic or cultural origin.”

Abbey Makoe, the SABC’s political editor and interim chair of the FBJ, said in his submission to the hearing: “To charge the FBJ as racist presupposes that it being a black organisation, has the express intent and purpose to subjugate members of a different race. The mischief behind this charge is calculated at making black people to be ashamed of taking the initial step to alter their circumstances and to champion the cause for their own relief on the basis of their common experience.”

Chairperson of Sanef and deputy editor of The Star, Jovial Rantao said Sanef was concerned if there was a problem of black journalists being marginalised. He added that Sanef had been concerned about the lack of a journalist organisation.

Previously, Sanef had condemned the decision by the FBJ to exclude journalists who are not members of the organisation from the off-the-record briefing with Zuma.

Udo Carelse, a Talk Radio 702 reporter, said he had attended an FBJ meeting because he saw a space in the FBJ where black people in South Africa got together and discussed issues “affecting them in their workplaces”. Carelse added that space needed to be given to black journalists to congregate and discuss the future of FBJ.