Thursday, April 22, 2010

Winds of change blowing in the South African media with more female voices in the corridors of power

By Themba Sepotokele

Sixteen years since the dawn of the democratic dispensation, the positive winds of change are gradually blowing in the South African media.

The fourth estate, known for its patriarchy – with male faces dominating at the helm of editorial management, journalists, male analysts and experts have of late shown some signs of improvement.  The recent appointment of Phylicia Oppelt, Business Times editor, brings to three the number of women editors – others being Zingisa Mkhuma of the Pretoria News and Ferial Haffajee of City Press.

During my journalistic stint at The Star, there was a concerted effort to bring more women voices as sources and analysts. The Gender Commission also developed media contacts of female experts ranging from media to economists, but most were either media shy or were not trained to deal with the media; therefore that exercise was like climbing Mount Everest.

Fast forward to 2010, I am elated, though not over the moon about the progress made thus far in having female voices.

Now I am, like most South African’s, suffering from Malema-fatigue - yes I have had enough of Julius Malema and his antics. Everytime he spouts bile it makes media headlines. Juju is more popular than five Cabinet Ministers and provincial MECs. Yes, Ek is gatvol! Ndidiniwe! Ke kgathetse. Enough is enough. He should stop speaking without talking.

I have, however found comfort and solace in reading articles and columns penned by female writers, especially black writers. I am also really tired of the over-exposed male experts such as Steve Friedman, Xolelwa Mangu, Auburey Matshiqe, Professor Sipho Seepe, Professor Tom Lodge who seems to have hibernated.  Most of them have reached a sell-by date.

With The Sowetan having solicitated 702 Radio talk host Redi Direko, Business Day with Roda Kadalia, Neva Makgetla and Hillary Joffe, The Sunday Times has the sharp as a razor Pinky Khoabane and have recently enlisted Marianne Thamm.

The Sunday Independent has the intelligent and refreshing voice of Nompumelelo Sibalakhulu, a researcher at Institute for Security Studies, The Star with Heide Holland and Tselane Tambo, The Citizen with Sonile Nokuthula and The Times with Oppelet, Phumla Matjila and Jacquie Myburgh. I believe that the balancing of gender in the media is a step in the right direction. The Mail & Guardian has the witty Nikiwe Bikitsha, so is the Sunday World with Kuli Roberts and her hilarious pillow talk column. Her latest offering “Hey, all men rock – of course I love them … for selfish reasons,” left me in stitches.

We need more of new, sober and intelligent voices including those of Pheko sisters, Mohau and Lebogang.

These female writers are tackling tough issues from calling the bully from Limpopo to behave as it was the case with the articles written by Tselane Tambo and Heidi Hollan. Pinky Khoboane, for those who missed out, once shredded Clayson Monyela, a former journalist and spokesperson for the Limpopo Housing MEC Soviet Lekganyane. They also tackle soft issues such as music to beauty products. These columnists are worth the salt, the ink and paper.

Gone are the days when female writers would be reduced to agony columnist and recipe reporters, telling how to bake muffins or hot cross buns. They ask tough and relevant questions and if you miss them, you do so at your own peril.

We need more of such voices, some of the former and present journalists such as Lulama Luti, Sonti Maseko, Nomavenda Mathiane, Pearl Ranketseng, Bongiwe Mlangeni, Charity Bengu, Motshidisi Mokwena, Pearl Sebolao, Jackie Mapiloko (joined Mail & Guardian) and Lizeka Mda (destiny unknown) – sadly they both left City Press under the editorship of a woman.

I cannot but feel proud of the silent developments in the media fraternity, although it has been prompted by competiton, rivalry and the need to have women voices heard.  However, much more still needs to be done. 

How strange it is that a few years ago, my former female boss accused me of being a chauvinist, of being difficult and refusing to take instructions from female colleagues. Unfortunately I don’t take orders and instructions from non-starters and mediocre managers, be it male or female.

PS: Shame to the members of the ANC Women’s League who turned their provincial conference in Limpopo into a catfight instead of discussing policy issues. Yours was just a disgrace and maybe we should refer to you as the ANC Girls' League.

The writer is a former journalist. He is now a government communicator based in Gauteng and a media trainer attached to the Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. He writes in his own personal capacity.


Yes said...

Great piece celebrating female journalists

Anonymous said...

Wow, Themba. How did I miss this one? Sweet.

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