THE ERSTWHILE editor of the Weekly Mail, one Anton Harber is suing a local political party. Alongside SABC journalist Thandeka Gqubule, both are fingered by Winnie Mandela in a documentary carrying allegations of Stratcom activity in apartheid-era newsrooms, the same claims repeated by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party.
Gqubule claims to have gained access to ‘declassified records’ held by the state allegedly ‘proving her innocence’. Instead of being a spy for Stratcom, she alleges she was rather the ‘object of an intelligence gathering exercise’ and thus seeks to have her day in court where the records will no doubt be examined to determine which version is true.
The EFF have been given one week to provide evidence supporting their own allegations. Like South Press, Grassroots and New Nation, I have no doubt that the former Weekly Mail was the target of a dirty tricks campaign. The gory details are not the subject of this piece, but rather, the opportunity to examine the failure of Harber to uphold any of the values he purports to serve.
Hence the criticism below that what comes around, goes around. Harber himself has used similar smear tactics. The Mail & Guardian, the successor to the parochial Weekly Mail resoundingly failed to defend the historical record of struggle journos and has gone so far as censoring my own writing (see here). One has therefore got to challenge Harber’s tacit claim to being the sole representative of the struggle press in South Africa.
Like Max du Preez, whose position as former publisher of the Afrikaans duel-medium Vrye Weekblad, who then turned himself into a monument made from apartheid-era granite at News24.com, ( a racist rag if ever there was one), Harber moved on from publishing out of Houghton, and the nascent white counter-culture of Johannesburg, to rooting for Remgro, Big Capital and ENCA.
If one reads Harber, these days you could easily make the mistake of thinking the old Weekly Mail was the only periodical of its time. The trouble with having unchallenged opinion and editorial conceit writ large by the likes of Harber and du Preez, is that the truth and reality are rather different.
The all-white newsrooms of the ‘white alternative press’ though allies of the struggle, only operated because they enjoyed privileges gained from decades of race segregation, and separate development. Harber et al, were nowhere close to the coalface of activism as the black press on the frontlines and barricades. Black periodicals such as Grassroots which bore the brunt of Stratcom dirty tricks were closed down, without the funds needed to secure any legacy defense.
Significantly, Harber was never detained as such, nor imprisoned for his views, on the contrary, this treatment was regularly meted out by the Bureau for State Security (BOSS) upon editors who dared to defy the Botha government whilst being black, and guilty of insurrection.
Time for a radical re-assessment of the period.