THIS has truly been a phenomenal year for retired veteran newsman Dr Mathatha Tsedu.
The year has not even crossed the half way winter mark, but the renowned editor and anti-apartheid activist has already been honoured three times.
This year’s accolades started pouring in two months ago in Polokwane, where he was honoured by the Black Consciousness Core (BCC) for his contribution in the development of various communities in his home-province of Limpopo.
A month later, Dr Tsedu was bestowed with an honorary doctorate by the University of the Western Cape.
The former City Press and Sunday Times editor played an important role in the transformation of democratic South Africa’s media industry.
It is somehow fitting that the child who once dreamt of becoming a doctor, has today received an honorary doctorate.
In his usually calm demeanour, Dr Tsedu described himself as “the personification of the African cliché that it takes a whole village to raise a child”.
Dr Tsedu, who held senior editorial positions in several newsrooms including Sowetan and SABC, is now set to join Wits Journalism from 1 May as adjunct professor.
He would focus on growing connections to the continent while tackling cumbersome issues of transformation in the local media.
The former South African National Editors Forum chairperson describes his new role as “challenging”.
Dr Tsedu said: “It’s challenging given that universities around the country are going through a period of unpredictable uprisings and demands for transformation which Wits journalism also has to confront.”
He believes that the task at Wits Journalism, and other university journalism programmes, is to teach journalists to work in the new media environment and also to “produce journalists that can help South Africa understand its role and place in Africa.”
The SA media is regarded as the most untransformed sector in the country. The big four print media organisations – Times Media Group, Independent Newspapers, Naspers and Caxton – are still white owned and dominated 22 years into the new dispensation.
Very little seems to have changed in the editorial content and management, 16 years after the Human Rights Commission’s hearings into racism in the media. Racially-skewed narratives and staff compositions that aren’t representative of the country’s demographics are still prevalent.
Head of Wits Journalism, Professor Franz Krüger, describes Dr Tsedu as being well placed for this task due to his links to journalists across the African continent.
“His network of contacts among journalists on the continent is second to none. He will also help us think about issues of transformation in the media, and what this means for our teaching,” Professor Krüger said.
Dr Tsedu, born in Makhado but raised at Tshavhalovhedzi village in Venda, spent ample time at Seshego Township outside Polokwane.
During his stay Seshego, he braved the worst of apartheid repression as a journalist.
Among the legions who congratulated Tsedu on his appointment at Wits is the Forum of Journalists for Transformation (FJT).
FJT President Piet Rampedi said the forum looked forward to seeing how Dr Tsedu’s vision of transforming Africa “will find expression within Wits as an institution”.
“The FJT first wishes to congratulate tried and tested journalist Dr Mathatha Tsedu on being conferred with the honorary degree by the University of the Western Cape. The honour adds to the weight of contribution that Dr Tsedu has made to the profession and his unceasing commitment to see members of the media fraternity not only recognizing the fact of the geographical location in the African continent but also to view their world within their experiences from an Afro-centric perspective,” Rampedi said.
He said while there had been promising opportunities that had seen black executives ascend to positions of responsibility and influence, only to disappoint or allow the situation to worsen under their watch, Dr Tsedu’s appointment “promises not to fall in that line”.
“It may be too soon to judge Dr Tsedu’s appointment as a measure of transformation the FJT is yearning for. But there can be no doubt that Wits as an institution has not been deaf to the calls, for transformation that the FJT was established to champion, which were in some quarters dismissed as idle noises of no consequences and misdirected jealousy by those who had become accustomed to treating blacks as permanent trainees without ability to assume positions of leadership and responsibility,” Rampedi added.
The FJT challenged other institutions to take a leaf from Wits’ book and make their share of contribution towards the country’s overall changing face.
In December, Rampedi publicly condemned Wits University for having hired its former journalism department head Anton Harber with only a junior degree. As a result, Harber supervised people who were three times qualified than him. Harber later conceded that he had no senior degree.
Rampedi said the forum was weary of the practice of the same “usual suspects” being promoted, ahead of deserving black professionals, owing to networks and racist attitudes in the industry.
He added that they were also concerned about employer body Print and Digital Media South Africa’s (PDMSA) failure to observe BEE codes or meet its own target of selling up to 27% of company stakes to black investors by 2013.