In a column for City Press called “I will be free when we are all free” published last Wednesday, TO Molefe commented that when journalists ask people what 20 years of freedom mean to them, they are looking for answers affirming South Africa’s transformation. The story they want to hear, Molefe says, is easy enough to tell, but “neither fair nor accurate”.
Molefe’s column definitely doesn’t qualify as sunshine journalism. It’s pretty spot-on, though. It’s uncomfortable to read, but that’s the job of unsunshine journalism. It’s supposed to make people a bit uncomfortable.
It’s quite unnerving to admit that human rights have, to some extent, just become a rhetoric that’s easy to adopt. It’s one thing to acknowledge that human rights are important. It’s another to make sure that you are actively involved in ensuring that the human rights of every single person are met.
It’s easy to get complacent when you, or a group of people like you, are treated pretty well. I live in a flat in a nice area and I don’t have to worry about water supply problems too often. Can I dismiss claims that South Africa is ignoring it’s citizens’ right to clean, usable water? No. Instead, by enjoying the right to something, I incur responsibility to make sure that other people can enjoy the same right.
We can’t judge human rights in South Africa based on people who live in Houghton or Clifton. They’re part of South Africa’s success story (and colonialist history, perhaps) but they aren’t a true representation of the state of the nation. We need to consider a broader reality. When rights are not afforded to some South Africans, our rights as a country are infringed upon. We can’t take the easy way out by becoming complacent and only judging that which we know.
Obviously this is a bit daunting. We have limited reach and influence. As much as we’d like to, we probably won’t change the world. We can try, though.
So, what do we do? We do what Molefe did. We don’t tell the easy stories. We tell the difficult stories. We don’t carry on doing the things that we’ve always done. We start doing things that take us out of our comfort zone. We consider our own actions and make sure that whatever we do doesn’t infringe on any else’s right to anything. We speak out against injustice when we see it happening.
It’s the small things that we do in our everyday lives that have a big impact on others.