Decolonisation and Press Freedom Discussed at Open Book 2016

13 Oct 2016
Decolonisation and Press Freedom Discussed at Open Book 2016

Open Book 2016 was held in District Six in Cape Town from 7 to 11 September. Over 100 events were held over the five days, bringing together local and international authors for discussions on a wide-ranging selection of topics. The Open Book Youth Fest, #cocreate Poetica and Comics Fest were also held during the festival.

It was another busy, successful year for the annual festival with several events selling out before it started. A big crowd-puller was PEN SA member Justice Malala’s interview with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, which was recorded by eNCA. Another popular talk was “Talking Feminism” with Pumla Gqola, Nnedi Okorafor and PEN SA member Yewande Omotoso speaking to Mohale Mashigo. Nobhongo Gxolo wrote about their discussion for the Mail & Guardian and Open Book recorded the session: Part One and Part Two. Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder’s events were much-anticipated and Amy Kaye has written about one of them here.

The PEN South Africa Young Writers to Watch event was held during the festival. This was the culmination of the PEN SA Student Writing Prize and featured Koleka Putuma and Puleng Lange-Stewart, who came first and third respectively. They were joined by one of the judges, writer and publisher Nick Mulgrew, and by writer Karina Szczurek, who chaired the event. Watch a recording of the performances and discussion.

There were several events that touched on the #FeesMustFall movement and its call for decolonisation. At “Decolonisation of Institutions” Harry Garube spoke to Tabisa Raziya and Siphokuhle Mathe about what decolonisation means at South African universities. They discussed decolonisation as a reclaiming of space and spoke about it being a personal, as well as political, process that everyone in the country needs to undergo. “It’s necessary to understand the legacy of apartheid and how it continues to exist, because we’re all colonised,” Raziya said.

Mathe commented that this is about young people saying that it’s not enough that they can make it and be successful – everyone needs to be able to get to that point: “If you unlocked the potential of every black child in South Africa there wouldn’t be enough universities.”

“Media Matters: Ownership, Control and Trust” was another particularly interesting discussion with Adriaan Basson speaking to Lukhanyo Calata, Justice Malala and Tabisa Raziya. Calata was one of the SABC journalists fired (and then eventually re-hired) for voicing their concerns about censorship at the state broadcaster after it announced its decision not to cover protests in South Africa. “Unless we get ethical people at the top and people who are really interested in the wellbeing of everybody…then issues at the broadcaster will remain,” Calata said.

It was a frank discussion about the types of censorship and control that have been occurring for years, not just at the SABC but at other broadcasters and media houses too. Calata described having a big story dropped years ago at another media house because it was about an advertiser who threatened to pull their substantial monthly ad spend if the story ran.

“Those calls happen all the time, they don’t stop. It happens everywhere – commercial and political power protects its interests. As a journalist you should be able to go to your boss and they should have structures in place to protect editorial. The board needs to be making sure you can do your work,” Malala said.

Malala shared his concerns about the state of journalism, highlighting funding as a key threat to the profession. He commented that advertising is drying up, not just in South Africa but everywhere, and increasingly there isn’t money to fund investigative journalism and straight reporting. Change, he said, will occur rapidly over the next five or so years and we will end up with some form of citizen reporting but not journalism as we know it. Malala suggested crowdfunding as a possible way forward for journalism and Calata commented that we are already funding journalism at the SABC and that as citizens we need to claim it and speak out about the issues there.

These two events were refreshing in their frank appraisal of where we are as a country and were just two highlights from the festival, which also included many literary discussions, author signings and the announcement that Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh is the winner of the 2016 City Press Tafelberg Nonfiction Award.