City Press editor, Ferial Haffajee’s letter to staff on racism
This week City Press editor Ferial Haffajee convened a meeting with some of her staff members to discuss the paper’s future. It ended unpleasantly, with race at the core of discussions. The following is her letter written to staff after the meeting. For the latest on this story, with analysis, see tomorrow’s Saturday Dispatch.
I send this for those of you who may not have been in the meeting this morning.
The food yesterday was delicious, but I came away with a bitter taste. And I’m not someone who keeps quiet, so please note the following. Also, unlike my usual style, it’s not really up for discussion. It is the way it is. I’ve fine tooth-combed all the group work from yesterday and, generally, I find it deeply disappointing. I wanted to future-proof us, to have a discussion about a genuine future, to find ways of altering your work patterns, to do wonderful journalism.
But, instead, we ended up talking about allowances, notes from transport and shifts. I found the outcome of the day dated and small-minded. I don’t work with dated and small-minded people. On allowances, , they are what they are. And usually, they are easily fixed. Gayle’s lifted your mobile phone allowances to R500.00; if you want skop on a Saturday, tell Johannes and I’ll pay. But if you have an overdraft problem, it’s your problem, not mine. And it’s certainly not racism, it’s bad personal financial management, even though many of you are running a business on the side to which I turn a blind eye because I know how tough times are.
If you speed, get a ticket and a stern email from transport, stick to the traffic rules or suck it up. It’s not racism, it’s a management system. If you don’t like it, you know what to do. Don’t speed or go somewhere that will tolerate this kind of nonsense.
Mostly, I object to the naked racism on display yesterday. I object to the racist mauling that Tash and Nicki came in for. They are a transformative desk – the very best of the desks I have ever appointed in my editing years.
I object loudly to the racist view that only a black editor can get political stories through calls from black African politicians. For one, I am black and African and will not live under your imposed identity on me. As to your views of our political connection, it is insulting and rubbish. I’ve disproved that many times in my reporting life as do our colleagues almost every week when they get scoops. I don’t buy into this racism and never will.
Yes, we erred on the R800 lease, but I make no apologies for covering the administration of President Jacob Zuma well and with attention. I edited a title to which he gave his first ever exclusive interview ahead of winning Polokwane and generally maintain good relationships. Paddy, black I know, has an open line to what he calls the Commander-in-Chief. Counted his scoops lately?
You will have noticed our partnership on an authoritative book on his Presidency? If not, try and buy it. Everyone’s reading it.
Moreover, since apartheid’s ended, we live in a country that is Presidency centric. The administrations of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki have received exactly the same attention and prescient detail. President Zuma favors his family. I point here to the likes of his nephew Khulubuse, his cousin Deebo Mzobe and his twins Duduzile and Duduzane. We will continue to cover this trend. It’s not racism, it’s journalism and the coverage of cronyism. If you don’t like it, lump it. Perhaps, too, you are misplaced at an investigative title? If you think you are, let me know and I will try and put in a call for you to another title, though some of you who engage in workplace politics so much, reflect work that is so bad I don’t know how successful my call will be.
The ANC is a majority party with a huge majority. Its majority is four times the DA’s. Most of our readers are ANC members – they like our coverage of the party and they like that we keep it on its toes. You should read the research available to you because you really don’t know your readers. If you don’t like it, lump it. I am not going to falsely get interested in the DA’s succession battle in pursuit of a fake even-handedness. Perhaps you are misplaced at City Press which has always been interested in the liberation movements?
As to your inchoate comments on the Jackie Selebi story last week, I have no idea what you are talking about and Xolani, the writer, had final eye on that story. As to your objections to “first black”, “first woman” and stories of aspiration, I will continue to do it whether you like it or not. I’ve been doing it for years in my Little Black Book (Financial Mail) the Women’s Book, 200 young South Africans (Mail&Guardian) World Class (City Press). I track the pioneer generation and I track cool South Africans. If you don’t like it, lump it. Perhaps you are in the wrong place because celebrating the good side of freedom is a leitmotif of my life and I make no apologies for continuing to do it.
And, no, I have no respect for and neither am I ever going to bow to patriarchy, ukuthwala, or praise-sing and protect the circumcision that results in death; and I have no respect for people who burn newspapers under the guise of protecting culture. I have never kow-towed to cultural imperialists and I am not going to do so now.
So, leave if you like, but that is my line in the sand. I am not going to walk on egg-shells or edit around false perceptions and real racism. For that is what I saw yesterday! Real racism at work. Destructiveness and cultural superiority. I will have none of it. I will not work with racists.
I have spoken to certain people who ring-lead this destructive racism and unhappiness and human resources will schedule a first meeting on Thursday. Yesterday’s exercise was geared to show opportunities are fairly spread among all which they largely are and which they will continue to be. All jobs are fairly advertised. If you don’t apply, that’s your business, not mine.
We sail this ship by Constitutional values from now on and in the spirit of unity. I’m the captain and I choose my sailors. Let me refresh your minds on what this means. I am a practitioner of non-racialism and a public supporter of equity and black empowerment to reach that non-racial future. I am non-sexist and anti-patriarchy. I don’t think anyone ‘s culture or religion is better than any other.
Every week, I get about 10 applications from people who want to come and work with us because they love City Press’s values, journalism and vision. I would like the opportunity to work with people who want to be here. If you don’t like it, be brave and make the space for them and go and work somewhere where racism, superiority and reverse baaskap are allowed and revered.
This is not your place.
In the spirit of frankness and fairness,