THE JOKE about apartheid was that ‘if you were white you could be reclassified coloured, and if you were coloured you could be reclassified black’, but ‘no blacks became white and no whites became black’. Apartheid race classification never worked, precisely because many people fell through the gaps of pseudo-scientific race categorisation.
I was thus classified ‘blanke‘ by the regime but disenrolled from the so-called ‘white race’ via a series of excisions, beginning on the day in 1984 when I was placed on a list for wanting to check out a banned copy of ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ by NR Mandela from the Jagger Library, and culminating with my de facto banning for being a member of several banned organisations.
My brief affair with a Cape Malay performer and activist resulted in an extraordinary situation created by the Group Areas Act.
Although the Immorality Act had been repealed and what we were doing was no longer considered immoral, the law did not provide any space for ‘coitus between mixed race adults’.
Nevertheless I suffered the brunt of the local rumour mill and vicious attacks by racists including an assault by an Afrikaner ‘tannie’ who threatened to report us for hosting a black artist, the late Billie Mandindi, in Tamboerskloof.
I literally started my journalism career as a ‘coloured person” working for a “coloured newspaper”.
At South Press I was taken aside by editor Moegsien Williams and told, ‘Here, we are all blacks in this newsroom”. I was not the only ‘mulungu’, alongside conscientious objector Justin Pierce and visual arts activist Andrew Putter.
After some blowback from the authorities due to my exposure of General Magnus Malan’s trophy hunting expeditions in Angola, I moved to the New Nation, a ‘black newspaper’, before joining the Cape Times as a stringer and Top of the Times writer, and upon my return from the exile which had followed the assassination of Chris Hani.
Williams’ position puzzled me, but I had discovered a similar situation existed in Jamaica where a group of ‘mixed bloods’ called the ‘Reds’ existed. Under a ‘white government’ they considered themselves ‘black’, but under a ‘black government’ they considered themselves’ red’.
I was thus alarmed to find de facto newsroom segregation still in force at Media24 community newspapers in Bellville during 2006. The observation from my first day working at WP Koerante as a sub, was that all my so-called white colleagues were sitting in ‘hokkies‘ working on titles for former white group areas.
Similarly, all my so-called coloured colleagues were sitting in separate ‘hokkies’ working on titles for former coloured group areas. My black African colleagues were in another section entirely, working on titles geared towards the townships.
A similar situation greeted me when I was moved to the Tokai premises of a recently acquired Media24 title called People’s Post. There an invisible wall separated the newsroom. On one side were my white colleagues working on two titles for former white group areas in False Bay. On the other side of the newsroom, my ‘coloured’ colleagues, working on four new titles geared towards Manenberg, Retreat, Athlone and Grassy Park.
Whilst at Bellville I had been requested to write articles for the Mitchell’s Plain Metroburger, since there was only subbing work for three days of the five day work week. The supply of my byline was outside the ambit of my subbing contract, but I negotiated with management that any articles under my byline would not be supplied under duress, and would thus constitute an indulgence awarded to the company, for which I did not receive any reimbursement.
I interviewed the poet Rustum Kozain, whom I happened to know from my days at COSAW, a banned writers organisation headed by Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer.
In between the move from Bellville to Tokai, I was sent to Media24 headquarters on the Heerengracht in Cape Town. There at the offices of Die Burger I observed that portraits of apartheid statesman DF Malan still hung outside the editor’s office.
Back at Tokai events quickly got out of hand. People’s Post editor Annelien Dean, a Unisa graduate from Bloemfontein, had demanded that I present the ‘heart and soul’ of the community. This in addition to subbing news briefs, laying out the paper and training several cadets fresh out of college.
To my dismay my byline was now simply being seconded by management who proceeded to co-opt me as head of ‘kuns en vermaak’, or arts and entertainment. No extra pay. The possibility at gaining a better salary scale initially drove me, but I soon realised the cadets had been given better terms.
To make matters worse, the five day work week turned into a seven day week as deadlines set for the cadets were missed, and we struggled to get the launch edition out, resulting in excessive overtime ringing up.
It was at the same time that I realised that Dean had absolutely no clue about the communities she was servicing and even less experience running a newspaper. A press release about the nomination of Cape Jazz legend Robbie Jansen, was thus simply a snippet about some coloured guy, obviously a musician.
I resolved not to produce articles that would feed into the historical legacy left behind by apartheid and especially its egregious policy of separate development. It was then that the Jimmy Dludu story appeared. Dludlu had won the 2006 SAMA award. Not only was he a UCT Music School graduate, but Dludlu had a residence in Pinelands. Surely readers would want to know?
I interviewed the musician’s producer Chris Syren and gained access to an online music biography supplied by Steve Gordon of Making Music. Dean was not pleased at all with the biographical material supplied and rejected the article which in any event required subbing (was I expected to write content and sub my own articles?).
Nevertheless I continued to run with the story and gained access to the local jazz legend, Robbie Jansen himself. A man who had appeared on numerous Dollar Brand/Abdullah Ibrahim albums, including the eponymous ‘Mannenberg is Where it’s At’. Surely the people of Manenberg would want to read what he thought about the SAMA awards?
Jansen had a lot to say about the 2006 SAMA’s. They were the ‘se ma so’ awards. It was not ‘who you were but who you were wearing’ which was most important. ‘If it were a popularity contest’ he inferred, ‘he would have won’, but since it was about record sales, the award went to Jimmy Dludlu whom he considered a musical genius, just like George Benson. He ended the interview by handing me his secret recipe to jazz, defining jazz music in terms which were both poetic and deserving of print.
Instead of greeting the article, the last interview conducted before he passed, and which I consider to be sublime, as a worthy contribution to the newspaper, Dean proceeded to reject the article as ‘not fit for print in a family newspaper’. Besides, didn’t my story state that Mr Jansen had been told not to speak to the press by his producer? Her attitude was racist and patronising to say the least.
Then she demanded I hand over Robbie’s contact details. As a journalist I was under absolutely no compulsion to hand over this kind of information, in particular I did not have to provide access to my sources. Nevertheless I gave her the contact details of the Glen Robertson Jazz Trio.
Dean didn’t bother to call Jansen, the same way she refused to return the calls of one Rashid Lombard, a former colleague from South Press, who out of sympathy for the plight of writers such as myself offered to make his extensive archive of jazz photography available at a fee.
I picked up the phone and telephoned Media24 manager Sedrick Taljaard, complaining about Dean. His response was to schedule an evaluation meeting where my performance would be evaluated in terms of my contract.
There I sat in front of Taljaard, Dean and human resources manager Warren Charles. Taljaard explained that he was not happy with my work performance, in particular I had apparently sworn at Ms Dean, had been insubordinate, since I had not provided the telephone number of Mr Jansen.
Bear in mind that Mr Jansen had suffered cardiac arrest some months prior to our interview, was on oxygen and under doctor’s supervision.
Then he uttered words which made my stomach churn, ‘Ons het jou geld gegee, waar is ons pond vleis?’ (Which translates: We gave you money where is our pound of flesh?) This from a man who on a previous occasion had instructed me: ‘Don’t bring up the struggle’. And if I didn’t enjoy the work conditions at Media24, I could ‘vat my goed and terminus toe gaan.’
Before I could answer Warren Charles weighed in. ‘What was I doing at the West End (a Jazz music venue) on a Friday night? Wasn’t I contradicting myself as a Jew?’ I got up and walked out of the interview.
Taljaard proceeded to fire me in the passage, and I was told to get my things and frog-marched off the premises, sans the newsroom camera I had with various photographic images, in particular images of several young black buskers on Long St.
Thus began my ordeal with the South African legal authorities, resulting in an inquisition of my secular identity and struggle history, and an ongoing saga of gagging, judicial impropriety, outright corruption and state capture which remains unresolved to this day.