We take a retrospective look at 2006 in News headlines… what made you stark-raving mad this year, what really upset you, what brought a lump to your throat or a smile to your face? Mail and Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee chats with Nadia Samie about what dominated the headlines in 2006...NS: You’re tuned to Bush Radio 89.5fm. On the line now we have Ferial Haffajee, the editor of the Mail and Guardian newspaper, to talk about the news in 2006 in retrospect. Welcome to Bush Radio, Ferial.
FH: Thank you, Nadia.NS: To start off with, a very strong candidate for Newsmaker of the year is Jacob Zuma. We had the rape trial in earlier in the year, and more recently, the corruption trial. In both cases, the media came in for heavy criticism. As the editor of one of the papers that was on the forefront of breaking news in this case, what is your take on that?
FH: I think that it’s always the instinct of people who are under the uncomfortable spotlight of the public to blame the media because we are the way in which the story is told. But I do think that there is no other local contender for that title, it’s got to be Mr Jacob Zuma.NS: We can’t talk about the Zuma trial, or trials, without talking about Shabier Shaik. Do you think justice has been done?
FH: I don’t know if the judgement would have happened without the constant glare of the media for several years into the arms deal and all its various fall-outs because of course it was within that, that the allegations against Mr Shabier Shaik began to happen and that we as a nation began to explore corruption, cronyism, etc. This was the biggest case we’ve yet had to deal with. So yes, I do think that justice has been seen to be done. It is of course very sad that Mr Shaik suffered a stroke shortly after being imprisoned. I don’t think he ever thought that that would happen to him.NS: To move on Ferial… we also had the death of Die Groot Krokodil. What do you think of the way our president, Thabo Mbeki reacted to his death?
FH: Well, I suppose the president did the thing that is to be expected, because as a country we chose the path of reconciliation rather than of violent revolution or overthrow of government. There were no Nuremberg Trials at which people like the Krokodil were brought to justice of any form. But if there’s are two images that tell the ongoing story of reconciliation it would be the president and his wife as among the very few number of black people at PW Botha’s funeral. But of course the other image for me was very much Adriaan Vlok washing the feet of Rev. Frank Chikane.NS: That garnered quite a lot of interest as well. What do you think was the real reason behind that gesture? Was it a guilty conscience, after all the man is getting old now, or do you think we had a genuine situation of him feeling remorse?
FH: I do think that it is very much the case of someone preparing to face his maker as he gets on in years, and possibly coloured by the outcome of 13 years of democracy, where there has been, lets face it, very little inter-racial violence. He of course didn’t make a big hoorah or song and dance about it, he didn’t call the media, it was Frank Chikane who first let on, and only afterwards did the media found out that he had done the same for the mothers of the Mamelodi ten who were killed. So I do think that this was a private act of absolution and redemption and there was a certain genuineness about it that we have to… respect.NS: Lets talk about HIV/Aids now. We’ve just had World Aids day recently. It’s been an interesting year in this regard… we’ve seen the deputy president, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and the deputy health minister, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, take a very strong stance… something of an alliance was formed with the TAC… a relationship that was almost impossible with the minister of health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. Do you think we’ve made positive strides in 2006 in the battle against HIV/Aids?
FH: I think that there’s been a political turning point, where, I think for the first time you’re seeing a little bit of sense being spoken in the cabinet, we’re people are showing empathy. We’ve had the deputy health minister of health actually saying that she is very worried, and she’s experienced this as many young people in her family have succumbed and have died… we saw her publicly taking an Aids test as well. So yes, it has ended on a more poitive note than other World Aids Days that have taken place in South Africa. Of course I think the jury is still out. I do thin k that the health minister, with all her tactics of beetroots and lemons has the quiet support of the president, and I don’t think we’ve seen the last kicks from her yet.NS: Interestingly recently we had the president refusing to take a public HIV test. What do you think about that?
FH: I think that’s quite in keeping with the president’s stance. I think now he’s just withdrawn into a solemn silence on HIV/Aids because he’s never quite managed to convince the country of his argument, a man who believes that he’s not going to provide the type of leadership which you’ve seen from the president’s of Senegal and Botswana in their countries.NS: And bringing it back to the Western Cape… the Richard Dyantyi/Helen Zille issue also garnered a lot of news coverage, in the battle over the leadership style in the metro. What’s your take on that… do you think the matter has been settled… or might we see it flare up again?
FH: Well I do think that perhaps in the Western Cape, the Mayor Helen Zille competes with Jacob Zuma for the highest number of headlines this year. She won the elections, she became mayor, and then very soon afterwards, she faced the potential stripping of her role by the ANC in the Western Cape. I think that it’s been amicably settled for now. But as a Jozi person watching your province and your city I must say that nothing is ever set in stone for very long.NS: And then more recently… we’ve just had same-sex marriages legalised in the country… South Africa has become the first African country to take this step, and we are one of very few in the world… what has this done for the image of our country?
FH: It was quite a wonderful moment, where once again we will make full use of our constitution and we’ll say that love knows no boundaries, and people must be allowed to love, and indeed to marry whoever they want to. Of course this has raised several eyebrows in the rest of Africa, but it confirms that we are trailblazers and that South Africans will live to their full potential.NS: Before you go Ferial, what has this year been like for you… if you can wrap up your year in headlines in a nutshell, what kind of year has it been?
FH: (laughs) It’s been mostly I suppose, if anything characterises the M&G’s year, it’s been the year of gags. We were in court about three or four times this year, facing various interdict attempts, most of them were unsuccessful, so we also end the year on quite a happy note. When I look back at our headlines that readers have enjoyed, it clearly was the year in which the analysis of Mr Jacob Zuma dominated. But hopefully we’ve also done other cool things, like profile up and coming people like Lebo Mashile, I really enjoyed the interview with her, and we’ve made it our mission to watch for up and coming young talents. In June we did 100 young South Africans you have to take to lunch, and in our final edition next week, we do the country’s hot 100 list of people you have to watch in 2007.NS: Great, something to look out for… Ferial Haffajee, the editor of the Mail & Guardian, thank you for your time.
FH: Thank you Nadia.
* This interview was broadcast on Bush Radio 89.5fm on Thursday 15 December 2006.
Pic of Ferial Haffajee: http://www.southafrica.info/women/womenyear04.htm