The Marikana massacre in 2012 has widely been seen as a low point for post-apartheid
democracy. The clash at the Lonmin platinum mine at Marikana between miners and police is seen by many as a failure of democratic debate and political communication in the country.
Although the consequences were tragic, the expression of anger and frustration
by the striking mineworkers could also be seen as an act of faith in a ‘democracy-
to-come’ where the gap between formal rights of citizens and the everyday
experience of the poor and marginalised was articulated. In this article I critique
the media’s response to the massacre. In my view the media’s coverage of the massacre was rooted in a normative model of rational deliberation and a monitorial approach to the media’s democratic role. The media attempts to play the role of ‘watchdog’ over power but does not engage enough with the voices of the poor and the marginalised. My article argues that the media privileged the perspectives of those in authority rather than those who experience the democratic deficit in their everyday lives. The article draws
on theories of ‘emotion talk,’ ‘listening’ and ‘acts of citizenship’ to suggest an
alternative role for the media in the post-apartheid democracy, where the media would seek out the voices of those that remain on the margins of society, and take seriously the expression of anger and emotion by citizens who feel that they do not have formal platforms to demand bigger dividends from democracy.
Unless you’re, say, the National Press Club of South Africa, there would be no doubt that the Marikana massacre was the biggest news event of last year. In a previous post, I reported that the sociologist Peter Alexander considers the massacre one of the turning points in South African history. This week it was announced that City Press won a Sikuvile award for SA Story of the Year for its coverage of the Marikana massacre. This is indeed well-deserved. Their feature ‘The Faces of Marikana’ was one of the few mainstream stories that went beyond mere reporting of the conflict to speak to families of the victims, listening to their stories and treating them with dignity as human beings and not just as statistics of the dead. City Press’ coverage went beyond the pack journalism that characterized much of the reporting on Marikana, where elite sources were privileged above the voices of ordinary people. This is an example not only of the ‘ethics of listening’ that I wish more SA media would follow, but also an excellent example of how print publications can use the converged media space to their advantage.
It’s a pity that Greg Marinovich’s reporting for Daily Maverick was not eligible for entry into the awards this year. His contribution shifted the debate about Marikana and set the tone for many to follow. Print and Digital Media SA, under whose auspices the prizes are awarded, confirmed that because they only recently extended their coverage include digital media as well as print (they do still ghettoize tabloid newspapers in a category of their own, though), they did not consider websites like the Daily Maverick this year. Their rules for eligibility are however under review.
In the meanwhile, kudos to City Press for carrying the day at this year’s awards.
Peter Alexander, speaking at a Rhodes University humanities seminar today, accused the media of ‘letting us down’ in its reporting of the Marikana massacre. Alexander, speaking about his research contained in the book Marikana: A view from the mountain and a case to answer, said the media’s first response to the massacre was financial: ‘What does this mean for the Rand?’. He said the media’s reporting of the massacre, as well as the current Farlam Commission of Inquiry, tended to be episodic rather than analytical. ‘This leaves a space that should be filled by social scientists’, Alexander said. He said the massacre was a turning point in history, marking the end of the immediate post-apartheid period, and will likely have far-reaching consequences, for instance increased militancy by trade unions. Nic Dawes, editor of the Mail & Guardian newspaper (which gave Alexander’s book an unfavourable review) responded tersely to Alexander’s comments on Twitter:
In my inaugural address last year, I spoke about the media’s reporting on the massacre which, especially initially, tended to favour official viewpoints and did not listen to the stories of the mineworkers themselves. This lecture, ‘Journalism in a new democracy: The ethics of listening’ has now been published in the journal Communicatio and can be downloaded for free for a limited period.The original lecture can be accessed (open access) here.