The previous chapter detailed how mainstream media's coverage of the political and economic transition on balance coincides with dominant
interpretations of how the economy should be managed. It argued that in the main media constrain meaningful debates on that topic. It suggested that capital had a disproportionate impact on economic policy-making and that media also limit reporting on the negative fallout for citizens of economic policies such as privatisation.
What the previous chapter established is perhaps an easily anticipated outcome: poor people or marginal groups, in South Africa specifically black people, have less access to media and little say in how media represent them or the issues that affect them (cf. Jacobs and Krabill forthcoming). For example, as discussed in Chapter Five, the failure to give the residents of Soweto direct voice in making meaning regarding the privatisation of electricity - and by extension regarding their homes and lives - is a glaring though common oversight on the part of mass media. It threatens to erase poor people, and in this case township residents, from meaningful engagement in the public sphere. However, in response to this erasure by the media, poor people and marginal groups have always created their own meanings from their own lives and refused to simply mimic their portrayal within mass media. At times, poor people and political 203 organisations outside the mainstream have even attempted to seize control of media portrayals of themselves (cf. McChesney 1999; McNair 1995; Carton and Granzon 2003). This chapter explores the media strategies of what has come be known as the "new social movements" in South Africa.
Why the Comparison?
A whole new genre of writing and journalism has emerged in South Africa, publishing mainly outside the mainstream and online, that documents the activities of ordinary citizens and organizations, mostly under the rubric of what is known as the "new social movements", making explicit demands on the state and private capital for socioeconomic rights (cf. Desai 2002; Bell 2002; Marais 1998). South Africa's poor majority is increasingly using their democratic citizenship, especially through the courts and on the streets, to challenge non-delivery of services and non-responsiveness of public policies. Significantly, not all of these organizations or movements are equally aware of the power of media in political processes.
The current chapter therefore discusses what happens when citizens or organizations that are usually considered "resource poor" or as lacking in "cultural capital" (see McNair 1995: 167)attempt to influence or try to bypass mainstream media.
These groups include loose coalitions of trade unionists, civic organisations, left academics, and students that have sprung up outside of the political mainstream (that is the centre-left) although with links to elements from within the ruling ANC's trade union allies. In most cases, these organisations have developed a sophisticated critique of the government's GEAR policy, in particular with regard to the privatisation of key 204 municipal services (like energy, water, and housing provision, etcetera)and the effects of its implementation on poor communities. Examples of this first kind of organisation include the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC), discussed in the previous chapter, the Landless People's Movement, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, the Concerned Citizens Forum in Durban, and the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign (AEC). Other such groups include what could be considered interest-based organisations or nongovernmental organizations NGOs) as they have developed in modern,industrialised societies; an example would the activist NGO Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).
In this chapter I discuss and compare the media strategies of the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign (AEC) and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). This includes discussions of their engagement with mainstream media as well as their attempts at developing channels of public communication outside or alongside the mainstream.
Specifically AEC is an organisation of residents opposing the evictions in Cape Town's poorer neighbourhoods, that are organised by the municipal government and banks. TAC, in turn, is organised around the lack of effective state intervention in the HIV/Aids crisis in the country. It is generally referred to in media as a "pressure" or "lobby group".
The comparison may not seem obvious at first. AEC can be characterised as a locally-based political movement. It does not easily fit the description of civil society or pressure group. It often questions the legitimacy of the political system and has an explicitly ideological critique of liberal democracy. It mostly participates in direct political actions, such as illegally re-occupying houses and engaging in running battles with council personnel or the police. TAC, in contrast, operates as a civil society organisation in the traditional sense. It needs to be emphasised that TAC is a single-issue organisation in the European tradition: it advocates for a comprehensive state-funded AIDS treatment policy including anti-retroviraldrug therapy. TAC does not question the validity of the political system per se. However, it has also been described as a "social movement" (cf. Saul 2002; Forrest 2003) and it displays the tactics of such movements and has built alliances with elements in the first set of organisations. TAC also flirts with broader political involvement (for example, legislative politics) beyond merely pressuring the state. And its pressure tactics can be confrontational: TAC often engages in illegal actions, including "civil disobedience"; unlike AEC, it does so only when it had exhausted legal means. As TAC leader Zackie Achmat told a journalist at the start of its 2003 Civil Disobedience Campaign: Over the past four years we have tried to convince government to adopt a treatment and prevention plan that includes antiretroviral therapy. We have negotiated, petitioned, organised dozens of legal demonstrations and conferences for discussing treatment, participated in parliamentary committee meetings, conducted and commissioned research, used the courts, the Human Rights Commission and the National Education and Labour Council (Nedlac), yet government has still not delivered" (Achmat
Nevertheless, TAC approximates more a pressure group or civil society
One of my key observations about these two organisations' relation to media is that in cases where organisations like AEC (and SECC) chose to frame their issues in explicitly class or economic terms - as an attack on private property or as an explicit critique of the government's market-friendly politics - the media barely or do not cover the campaigns by these groups or communities and that when media do, it is covered mainly as "ideological" or "interest group" conflicts. I suggest that the relative success of 206 groups like TAC, is traceable to its strong organisational skills and to its framing of treatment for AIDS sufferers as primarily a "health" issue. This chapter insists that media coverage matter to the success or failure of a course of action of an organisation. My view, supported by the evidence, is that despite a virtual blackout, groups with an explicit political and economic agenda like AEC and SECC do appear to sustain their campaigns and critique, as well as build some public opinion behind its campaigns. However, it appears such organisations or groups would clearly have had more success had they employed a more strategic approach to media. As such, I suggest that groups such as TAC's experiences and tactics point to more exciting possibilities for social movements or activist groups in their interaction with and uses of media. Finally, the chapter argues that while we may trace lack of media exposure to the media's ruling class bias as well as the media's structural underpinning and ideology, the media do not represent a seamless, impenetrable whole, and there seems to be a lack of creativity within progressive, or left, groupings or organisations when it comes to taking advantage of the possibilities that media do offer.
Defining the New Social Movements
Both TAC and AEC are included under what is often broadly termed the "new social movements" in South Africa. Borrowing terminology from Western Europe, these movements have a lot in common with parallel groups elsewhere (cf. Ballard 2003).
However, social movements have also taken on a specific meaning in South Africa. The "new" comes from the fact that the bulk of these movements developed in the context of South Africa's new democracy and are made up of people who were fiercely loyal to the 207 ANC during the struggle against apartheid. Saul 2002) identifies these groups as the Anti-rivatisation Forum, Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (discussed in Chapter Five), the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, the Concerned Citizen's Forum (CCF) organising around water cut-offs and evictions in Durban, the Landless People's Movement (LPF), modeled loosely on the Brazilian land rights movement, and TAC.
These groups are considered as explicitly left of the ruling ANC (see Cronin 2002; Ngwane 2003). Saul also includes certain factions from within the trade union federation COSATU's affiliates in the definition of "new social movements", but with many reservations. In an earlier work, Saul had included elements within the established Christian churches as potential base for the social movements (Saul 2001). Ashwin Desai's (2002) book-length account of the "new struggles" is more dismissive of the organised trade union movement, especially COSATU, and offers a more stringent definition. Focusing largely on the CCF, Desai also added the SECC, AEC, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (in a dispute with an oil company over hazardous emissions from its refinery bordering a working class, residential area), and a breakaway faction in the COSATU-affiliated National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA). This faction, based at a factory in East London in the Eastern Cape Province, had organised a strike in defiance of its regional leadership against signing a workplace agreement with employers (cf. Pithouse 2003b). Significantly, Desai does not discuss or even make any direct reference to the TAC or its campaigns for affordable HIV/AIDS treatment.
Also in 2003, the Mail & Guardian newspaper ran probably the first significant news analysis story of its kind in the South African media on the "new social 208 movements" (Forrest 2003). Forrest included the following organisations in its definition: TAC, APF, National Land Committee (which help set up the LPM), Education Rights Project, SECC, the Landless People's Movement LPM), Jubilee South Africa, CCF, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, AEC, National Association of People's Living with HIV/Aids, Palestine Solidarity Committee, and the Khulumani Support Group, a group of victims of apartheid human rights abuses advocating for reparations. Forrest describes the new social movements collectively as "an extremely loose constellation of left-leaning community-based that vary enormously in focus, size and influence." Forrest continues, What unites them is a shared desire to help the poor and downtrodden, and, in varying degrees, a common antagonism to hierarchies and bureaucracies, the profit motive, the unfettered market and corporate power (Forrest 2003).
Forrest stresses the organisational and ideological independence of these organizations from the government as well as the ANC. The new social movements consider the ANC-government as "anti-poor and subservient to domestic and international business interests". The new social movements are opposed to corporate globalisation and have links with "grassroots activists" in other Third World countries.
Forrest also pointed out that they focus on townships, squatter camps and rural settlements, generally "organising around issues of concern to the poor - HIV/Aids, evictions, power and water cut-offs, land and jobs or privatisation." Forrest described their organisational structure as "loose-knit and fluid", with "overlapping leadership structures, the same names cropping up in different contexts." So for example, he notes that the SECC are affiliates of the APF and the Social Movements Indaba, and that SECC's leader Trevor Ngwane (see Chapter Five) plays a central role in all three 209 organizations. One clue Forrest provides us about the leadership of the new social movements is that its leading lights include Marxist unionists or ex-unionists associated with the 'workerist' rather than 'nationalist' union factions in the 1980s, and radical anti-apartheid activists disenchanted with the ANC and its partner, the SACP (Forrest 2003).
Finally, he notes their "tactical attitude to the law" - the movements will use it if it is to their advantage; they will flout laws they consider it to be unjust. Forms of defiance range from calls for the repudiation of apartheid debt and peaceful civil disobedience, through to violent protest and the invasion of land.119 Observers supportive of these developments (cf. Bond 2002; Desai 2002; Saul 2002) usually write very upbeat analyses of these social movements, while others - both ANC-aligned and other left and liberal scholars - are less generous (Cronin 2002; see also Sheehan 2002). In some quarters the new social movements have been described as the beginnings of a "postneoliberal and postnationalist politics" (cf. Saul 2002: online).
Of course, such upbeat assessments of the beginnings of a post-apartheid left opposition to the ANC is not all-round in South African politics; particularly in government circles or among mainstream (left) intellectuals, where it earns such labels as "ultra left", "loony" or worse, "insurrectionist". On the traditional "left" in and outside South Africa,
119 The categories for organising these movements analytically are often confusing. So for example, in some writings, the APF and SECC are mentioned as equals, when in fact the SECC is an affiliate of the APF. Boundaries shift, decay and new organizations are formed. For example, the Durban Social Forum of which the CCF is a key part was brought together chiefly for protest actions at the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR), and collapsed soon after. The Durban Social Forum's present form is the eThekwini Social Forum, which brought together most of the groups associated with the CCF in mid-2003. The National Land Committee, of which the LPM is a constituent part, is an NGO in the traditional sense of the world. The NLC, however, does not see itself as a "social movement". And as discussed earlier, some of the organizations are mere "shopfronts", while others are locally-driven organizations with large active memberships. 210 it has led to polarizing debates over the nature of post-apartheid politics (cf. Saul 2001, 2002; Cronin 2002).
The Left and Media
Not surprisingly, the new social movements, with a few key exceptions, do not have a positive view of the South African media. They argue that crucial political issues are barely covered by the mainstream media, or else packaged to fit the contours of elite debates, reducing ordinary citizens to passive receivers of information (Ngwane 2002; Duncan 2002; Desai 2002). At the same time, however, he new social movements lack an explicit media strategy of their own. Though some insist that media reform must be on the overall political agenda, it remains a weak spot in much South African left theorising and organising (Pithouse 2003a). In this though, South Africa is not unique. In a broader study, Robert McChesney points out that there is ".not a great deal written on the role of media, nor were there major debates on the matter; it has generally been taken for granted as a key area of development for labour and left." (1999: 291) Nevertheless, historically, labour and the left have understood the importance of having their own media to communicate with members and potential members. As discussed in Chapter Four, under colonialism and apartheid, there existed a vibrant press alongside the mainstream (white) press, which proved more sympathetic to left-wing or marginal (black)voices.120 So for example, the left-wing papers The Guardian and Inkululeko enjoyed a weekly circulation of 67,000 in 1945 before they were banned
120 Radio, and later television, was off-limits to the left despite the fact that the ANC ran an underground radio service, Radio Freedom, from its headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia.
211 shortly afterward (Lodge 1983: 28). The Black Consciousness Movement of Steve Bantu Biko produced, published and distributed its own publications in the early 1970s. In the 1980s, an openly partisan press (that is in favour of the liberation movements) emerged inside the country, despite state repression. Many of these, like the nationally distributed New Nation and Vrye Weekblad, or the smaller or regional Saamstaan, South and Indicator, did not survive beyond the withdrawal of foreign donor support, exhibiting a failure to adjust to the post-1990 political conditions. The exception was Mail and Guardian which identified openly with the United Democratic Front and is the only alternative newspaper that survived into the new era, but morphed into a mainstream, market-driven newspaper (see Chapter Four). COSATU established in 1985) has published the magazine The Shopsteward since 1992. The magazine, widely read by union members in its earlier years, is not as prominent and its impact not as wide-ranging as before.
The idea of producing their own publications has also resonated with the new social movements. For example, throughout the 1990s a group of leftist academics at the University of Witswatersrand published the journal Debate irregularly. However, most of the new social movements, partly because of resource constraints, favour online publications. Websites are very common, with some websites more active than others (cf.Boyd 2003).
Some of these are linked to better-funded university departments and research institutes. Others use e-mail to distribute news to sympathetic audiences.
However, this news does not get to its targeted audience (cf. Geffen 2001). Connectivity is still very low in South Africa (see Chapter One; Wasserman 2003). At best, an online media strategy reaches elites, in South Africa and abroad, sympathetic to these 212 organisations or movements' aims. It also serves as a means to inform funders and potential contributors of the organisations' activities.
For the bulk of these organizations, influencing public opinion remains a major challenge. In South Africa, like elsewhere, most people get their news from mainstream sources and place trust in such sources (Hofmeyr 2002). As McChesney puts it: As a result of an increasingly powerful, pervasive, and commercialised media and culture, today working class people get the lion's share of their news and entertainment from the commercial media, and labour and the left media are generally at the margins (McChesney 1999: 291-292).
The South African government's decision to re-regulate the radio sector in 1994, leading to the introduction of community radio (see Chapter Four), has led many labour and left organisations to flirt with the medium, with mixed success thus far. For example, during 1997 the Trade Union Library and Information Centre (TULEC), based in Cape Town, launched a regular labour radio slot on the community radio station, Bush Radio.
The programme was called "Workers World" and was broadcast every Wednesday. The programme lasted from the beginning of October through mid-December 1997 (Pathways 1999; Jansen 2003). "Workers' World" took the format of a magazine programme and consisted of a feature, usually on legislation that affect workers or a broader policy question, such as privatisation, a short labour news bulletin, and a 5-minute slot "on the life of a worker in a particular sector, titled 'My Life'" (Pathways 1999). The programme ended with an advice slot and announcements (Pathways 1999). However, throughout the organisers and producers questioned its relevance and limited reach: One of our concerns was whether we were reaching our target audience.
The majority of workers do not listen to Bush Radio. We were also concerned that we used mainly English, with some interviewees speaking in Xhosa and Afrikaans (Pathways 1999).
213 In December 1997, TULEC and its partners, the latter which included a number of other leftist research organisations, decided to set up a production company Workers World Radio Productions. A "semi-autonomous" project controlled by the labour movement (COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU), Workers World Productions has a fulltime staff based in Cape Town and aims to produce programmes for both community radio and popular SABC radio stations. The project was launched in late 2002 Jansen 2002; Workers World Productions 2002).
Nevertheless, the South African labour movement has been the most consistent and the quickest in responding to the need for a media strategy for left social movements.
This can probably best be explained by McChesney's broader observation that "labour is the only institution that deals directly with corporate power as an adversary on a daily basis" (1999: 290). Nonetheless, recent research on South Africa points out that trade unions have struggled to get news about their activities into main press outlets or onto broadcast stations. "The figures [from a survey of media coverage] indicate that media's coverage of unions is event-driven and sensational, instead of reporting factually on the issues raised by the unions" (Media Tenor 2001). Media Tenor, which does regular surveys of media coverage of political and economic issues, also reported that in late 2000, for example, that the municipal sector where the South African Municipal Workers' Union (SAMWU) organizes, witnessed the most upheaval with union members protesting in various provinces against the government's privatisation plans. However, the protests as well as a range of other issues important to workers such as employment, labour law reform and HIV/Aids, were featured very little in the media. Media Tenor reports that 28.7 percent of all reports on unions in its sample focused overwhelmingly on 214 strikes and wage negotiations. Despite the fact that the fall-out of privatisation poses "a real threat to the South African labour force", it received only 6.4 percent of the coverage. The Media Tenor research also suggests that in contrast, media coverage of corporations is overwhelmingly positive. A separate Media Tenor study of press coverage in 2002 of the mining industry indicated more approval than criticism of mining companies (Media Tenor 2002a).
Without exception, newspapers and broadcast stations have also canceled the post or beat of "labour reporter", a fixture in most SouthAfrican media less than one decade ago. Labour is now covered exclusively either by "business" beat writers or by "political staff". Labour coverage has been reduced to rare coverage of strikes - usually in the context of how the strikers are threatening violence, damaging the economy or creating a burden for the people in their communities (cf. McChesney 1999). When exceptional protrade union columns do appear, they come in for criticism for
"one-sidedness", a criticism not made with equal fervour of business' spokespeople or journalists sympathetic to business.121 But can we generalise from the media experience of labour? What have been the different experiences of new social movements with media in South Africa? For that, we turn to separate discussions of the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign and the Treatment Action Campaign.
121 For example, only one regular weekly column appears in the South African press, that of leftist Terry Bell, titled "Inside Labour", that is openly pro-labour. As Bell wrote on occasion: "It [the column] is one of the few regular columns in the mainstream media for the voice of labour to be heard against the advertising and public relations cacophony of business." Bell also suggests that the column "reflects trends, opinions, tendencies and developments within the labour movement and facts" that affect the prospects of labour and the lives of working people outside senior management. Not surprisingly, Bell's arguments in his columns often coincide with that of COSATU and it has been singled outdisproportionally to his fellow-columnists in the paper for one-sidedness (Bell 2003: 2).
Media and the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign
The Western Cape AEC's experience of media is not very different from that of most new social movements, although the campaign's ad-hoc media strategy scored some media successes at local level. The AEC is currently "an umbrella body for over 15 community organizations, crisis committees, and concerned residents movements who have come together to organise and demand their rights to basic services" (Western Cape AEC 2003).
Over time the organisation became increasingly associated with activism in Khayelitsha, a large dormitory township in Cape Town where at least half a million "African" residents live in a mixture of squatter shacks and low-cost private housing.
However, its origins are much earlier in Tafelsig, a section of the coloured township Mitchell's Plain which borders on Khayelitsa, hence its original name, the Tafelsig Anti- Eviction Campaign. Ashwin Desai and AEC official Peter van Heusden (Desai 2002) have traced the emergence of the Western Cape AEC to the housing policy of the Cape Town UniCity, specifically to eviction and overcrowding in the neighbourhood. The UniCity, akin to a large metropolitan council, was formed by the amalgamation of all municipalities in the greater Cape Town area in late 2000. According to the two activists/researchers, the UniCity had inherited a stock of housing from the apartheid government; council housing that was only made available for "coloured" communities, as Africans were not meant to permanently settle in Cape Town. "In terms of the neoliberal vision that the UniCity was pursuing, this housing was a source of nothing but problems and debt" (Desai 2002: 96). Council houses in Cape Town have typically fallen 216 into disrepair over a long period, sometimes up to two decades, and the rents collected by the council for these dwellings "is often worth more than the value of the houses" (Desai 2002: 96). And "in the UniCity's terms, the problem lies entirely with the tenants - a history of massive unemployment has left many tenants in arrears" (Desai 2002: 96). The UniCity has made it clear through its spokespeople that it wanted to pursue a policy of "credit control" to recoup the outstanding rents. According to Desai, in terms of the policy, ironically dubbed the "pro-poor" policy, a set of "affordable" payment rates, often demanding hundreds of Rands in down payments, were combined with harsh penalties should payments be missed. This was in strong contrast with the previous policy where households that could prove that they were indigent had certain services reduced or scrapped (Desai 2002: 96). By 2000, however, "cost recovery was causing the government to attack its own citizens in ways reminiscent of the apartheid days" (Desai 2002: 91).
AEC first gained wider attention, when on October 17, 2000, the Argus, a Cape Town-based daily newspaper, ran a dramatic picture on its front page of one of the residents Ashraf Cassiem lying on the ground, "a police boot frozen in mid-swing, aimed at his head" (Desai 2002: 95; Van Heusden 2003). The story detailed a raid by a sheriff of the court, accompanied by the police, to evict one of the residents. Residents argued with police and "Ashraf was prominent amongst them - a loudmouth, in police terms - arguing about constitutional rights, and so on. For that he was targeted, knocked to the ground and beaten" (Desai 2002: 95). His elderly mother, seeing the incident from her house, ran to protect him and was in turn assaulted. She suffered a heart attack on the scene as a result. In the aftermath of these events, a "group of people" in Tafelsig 217 decided to form the Anti-Eviction Campaign (Desai 2002: 95). Acording to Desai and Peter van Heusden "up until that point the municipal policy on evictions had been haphazard - from time to time eviction notices were issued, and sheriffs moved in, but their actions were easily reversed" (Desai 2002: 95).
The use of large numbers of police, however, signaled a change in the tactics of the police and the council, according to Desai. As a result a group of residents formed an interim committee to be better organised to respond to this challenge. The media attention wrought by the assault on Cassiem, attracted the attention of activists from outside the area, and soon community activists of Tafelsig, supported by resources donated by outside activists, were planning a number of protests. The first action they undertook was a comprehensive survey of households to try to ascertain the extent of the problem. It turned out that 70 per cent of adults in Tafelsig are unemployed. It became clear that the housing crisis compounded this: for example, overcrowding was common and the poor conditions of the houses meant preventable diseases were common. Many households did not have enough money for food: "one household surveyed by AEC activists had not eaten anything solid for two weeks" (Desai 2002: 96). As a result, the AEC was launched in February 2001. Shortly after the launch of the AEC, Tafelsig residents, who were in arrears, were serviced with final notices. These were pink in colour, and in response the AEC organised a "pink paper day" - everyone who received a pink paper pinned it to the chest, like a ribbon, and marched down to the rent office.
As the campaign grew, however, media attention to evictions became at best sporadic, merely recording the latest police raids (Van Heusden 2003). Nevertheless, among people in the affected communities, the campaign grew. Largely through word of 218 mouth, the Tafelsig AEC attracted interest from people involved in similar, unorganised, resistance of evictions elsewhere. These included a number of other coloured working class townships, Delft, Elsies River, Valhalla Park, and Lavender Hill. These groups, together, later formed the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign. Later, branches would be established in Khayelitsha and the AEC would incorporate residents in other African townships like Tambo Square and Mfeleni. The experiences of residents in Khayelitsha read like a carbon copy of that of Tafelsig, with evictions commencing in September 1999 (cf. Ntanyama and Goboza 2003).
Desai argues that "the Western Cape campaign played a pivotal role
mobilizing people across the Cape Peninsula