While We Were Sleeping  #SparrowGate2

January 10, 2016

Filed under: Blog — gareth @ 11:42 am


 How has your 2016 been so far?  Sadly, in South Africa, instead of celebratory fireworks to launch the year, we have witnessed social media explosions on a monumental scale – many of which could have led to constructive engagement, but spiralled into witch hunts and lost opportunities. 

This weekend #SparrowGate very quickly escalated into #IdolsGate after M-Net made an announcement in the early hours of Saturday morning that I would no longer be part of the judging panel. This came after demands on Twitter to have me removed as well as Mzansi subscribers apparently threatening to boycott. Understandably, this is scary for a commercial entity.

 Like everyone else, it would seem that the M-Net executive (or whoever the powers may be) yielded in the middle of this frenzy.  In my experience, it usually takes around seven days for these fires to burn out so the announcement managed to catch the tail end of this one.  The M-Net PR machine may have been up at midnight crafting their announcement, but while I woke up to calls on Saturday morning from various newspapers for comment, I wasn’t going to let this eat into my weekend. I will reserve my right to respond at the appropriate time. 

 This is not about Idols or me.   Idols is a reality TV talent show with good and bad singers to get ratings.   I’ve been a judge for eleven seasons and I’ve loved the journey… But Idols has never been my job.   It’s an extramural activity and anyone who listens to my show would know that I have felt my time was up a good couple of years ago.  I may have played a role in finding talent, but not in developing it as far as this show goes – I just have to arrive, listen and comment.  Then I go home.  When it’s over, it’s over!  It’s entertainment.

Be that as it may, it took me back to October 2010 when I wrote a letter to the Government, which went viral. Why did I continue voting for the ANC, you may ask?  This is why…

 While social media hadn’t reached the maturity it has today, the newspapers had a field day and the letter was spread far and wide on the internet, creating a frenzy of its own. The SABC executive wanted to fire me but this was scuppered when I received a call from Zizi Kodwa, then spokesperson for the President’s office, to have a meeting. A very constructive meeting took place over a lunch that subsequently was immortalised in the form of a Zapiro cartoon. We discussed a wide range of challenges facing South Africa as well as my now infamous and probably most insensitive tweet when the Minister of Health passed the year before.

 I wrote a follow-up letter and indulge me while I quote from it (both letters are in my book “Gareth Cliff on Everything”): 

“I was amused to have a serious journalist ask me if I thought the Office of the President might ban me from writing again.  I thought this betrayed his own opinion of government and the free media more than any answer I could give.  All week I have had journalists stoking fires, manufacturing tensions and making it look like I was engaged in a battle to the death with government.  Questions like ‘have you been threatened by powerful politicians?’, ‘Are you scared that the Presidency will go after you?’ and even ‘Do you stand by what you wrote?’. 

Instead, the calm voice of reason has been the Office of the President.  They requested a meeting to discuss matters raised in the letter – simple, honest, reasonable and, I hope, positive.  We live in a country that knows freedom better than most, because we come from a history that knew none.   Let us celebrate the right to have opinions, speak truth to power and disagree in a civil manner.  Despite everything I raised in my letter, I am prouder and more dedicated to South Africa than ever before.”

And this is why I continued to vote for the ANC.  Fast forward to today – January 2016  – what are we doing South Africa? My response on Twitter was not to Penny Sparrow but to a tweet about a survey on Freedom of Speech which spiralled out of control… But we’ve already dealt with that.   Instead of constructive dialogue, it’s a call for the blood of little-known people and one loud-mouthed and sometimes insensitive broadcaster.  In my case, instead of engagement and reviewing the context, the ANCYL (my ANC!!) tweet out with a call to march on DSTV until they remove me and Minister Fikile Mbalula trending on Twitter last night with tweets such as these:

@MissMadiba: That awkward moment when Fikile Mbabula says he’s got Gareth Cliff handled & that time he’s fired! LOL #RGB

@NakediGreen:  Fikile Mbalula: Nah nah don’t tell me about Gareth Cliff, I can handle that boy, I’m ready for him. #RGB #jawdrop

@Bosslady_Sne: Fikile Mbabula on RGB says he is ready for Gareth Cliff…haibo I can’t wait lol

 Really? Maybe you can’t blame M-Net for buckling!  Was DJ Fresh right when he tweeted yesterday “With respect, wasted opportunity by @MNet..@GarethCliff would have been perfect spokesperson for #WayForward / #WhatNext #OhWell”?  Perhaps that’s what Zizi Kodwa thought in 2010.  What is happening to us as a country? What has happened to the once mighty ANC?

Where to next? Now fully unencumbered by any other master and solely an entrepreneur, I will continue to build the platform we launched in May 2014 – CliffCentral.com. This is about building a pre-eminent online content hub engaging in real conversations: about everything that happens in our world that we all experience every day – what makes us think… laugh… cry… inspires us and empowers us.  

This is now the platform where people don’t have to be scared to have real, authentic and meaningful conversations that can foster greater understanding and unity in South Africa.    And we’re leading the charge along with our amazing contributors who are made up of both well-known personalities and aspiring new talent… and you – our valued and engaged audience.   We can and will continue to do what is necessary to build this great nation. If you haven’t already joined our party, log onto CliffCentral.com, or download the CliffCentral app available on the Apple App Store and Google Play.  

Viva #unscripted #uncensored #unradio Viva!


January 7, 2016

2016 has started painfully.

I’m a white guy and I’m mindful that I inherit a system biased in my favour, but I’m also a passionate South African – and have been outspoken on matters to do with the country because I care so much.

I’m not a member of any political party. The only membership I have is of the Mamelodi Sundowns fan club, which I joined when I was 15. In 1994, I was still at school and too young to vote. Since the General Election of 1999, I have only ever voted for the ANC – with the exception of one election where I wasted my vote on COPE. I kept voting ANC, even when I became disillusioned with the President and the executive – mostly because I believed in what the ANC stood for.

Over the years I have taken a lot of abuse for my views – I’ve even received death threats. I’ve always regarded this as an exercise of freedom of speech – in a country where freedom of speech had not existed prior to 1994. In the light of #Sparrowgate and the ensuing controversy, I have come to understand that what I have been tolerating is hate speech.

On Sunday night, a South Coast Estate Agent that nobody cared about called Penny Sparrow, wrote an odious social media post about crowds of black people on beaches – comparing them to monkeys. On Monday morning I dealt with this on my show on Cliffcentral.com, and unequivocally condemned racism.

Later that morning, someone tweeted a poll asking people for their opinions on freedom of speech – to which I replied “People don’t understand free speech at all.”

Having already discussed it on my show, I wrongly assumed that we were all already in agreement that you can’t stand up for racism

@Wamotsibah773 responded: “Are you a racist as well? Or are you one of those who think there’s a beta skin colour than the other?”, to which I responded: “Don’t be so linear. You insult your own intelligence. This woman is an idiot and a racist, but I believe in freedom of speech.”

This was the source of unrelenting anger, name-calling and death threats against me that ensued as the message became more and more lost in the shitstorm.

Read it again and assess for yourself whether such a disproportionate outrage is called for.

Calls to boycott me and even the TV show Idols came in the wake of this lynch-mob that directed their fury at me. In an effort to clarify things, I apologised for the confusion, which sadly only led to more vitriol.

Here is the apology:

Gareth Apology

I certainly appreciate the need to obtain greater clarity on what the limits of free speech and the parameters of hate speech really are. I’m also grateful that people like Pinky Khoabane, Sizwe Dhlomo, Professor Jonathan Jansen, Advocate Dali Mpofu and DJ Fresh sought to constructively engage me on the matter. We all know that there are blurred lines in the sensitive context of race relations in South Africa.

At this moment, I feel disappointed in how the conversation sometimes gets hijacked by angry and emotional people on Twitter, who have no desire to add value. We should not be deterred from continuing the discussions we need to have to build a better South Africa.

When the dust settles, I hope that we can engage constructively – tell our stories, share our ideas and LISTEN to each other. Don’t be bullied. Don’t tolerate racism. Let’s keep talking.


Man Up

June 23, 2015

Filed under: Blog — Gareth @ 3:08 pm

Man UpWe talk about 16 days of Activism somewhere near the end of the year, every year – but nothing ever really happens. Male hetero-patriarchal aggression continues to be the mode of operation for not only politicians at the top (paying lip-service to women in the workplace while displaying the family values of a character from Game of Thrones), but also the ordinary people at the bottom – us. In South Africa, Father’s Day shuts ‘Black Twitter’ up like a sulky child – the reality for most black children in South Africa is that their fathers are either absent or not particularly good role-models. What I’m saying isn’t even controversial – In 2011 the SAIRR found that 9-million children in South Africa don’t have fathers.

The Father of our nation seems unable to curb profligate spending, is himself the maker of between 20-30 children, and seems not to wholly comprehend the sum-total of his responsibility to the nation and the rule of law. We really shouldn’t celebrate Father’s Day in South Africa at all. It’s much easier to get angry about statues, homesteads, racism and toilets.

How much of the anger that young people (particularly men) feel comes from the pain and disappointment of not having a male role-model in their lives – of seeing their mothers suffer to eke out an existence in order to feed, clothe and educate them and their siblings? Psychologists and Social Workers would no doubt provide mountains of evidence of what damage this basic breakdown of the family unit can cause.

Of course Apartheid can be blamed for forced relocations, migrant labour and many other factors that must have been at the heart of this collapse in male presence and contribution to the lives of their children, but there is an element of choice and responsibility which should override any decision to have children – especially in 2015. Outdated and supposedly sacred elements of culture (polygamy, power-relations and displays of prosperity) are at least as much to blame as historical and artificial factors. This is perhaps the argument that makes people uncomfortable on Father’s Day – because it’s very hard to argue for cultural practices that cause pain.

A lot of people growing up in South Africa don’t even know who their father is. Knowing where you come from helps you figure out where you’re going to.

Men have to own up to their dereliction of duty and we all have to take on the responsibility others have discarded. “Be a man!”, they used to say.

On Father’s Day – and every other day – try to mentor, guide, heal, encourage and empathise with children who have no idea how it feels to have a dad. If all these angry, unhappy young people in South Africa had just had a hug from their daddy we would have conquered our racial, social, chauvinist problems a long time ago – and women would thank us for it.

TEDx London Business School conference live on CliffCentral.com

April 24, 2015

Filed under: Blog — Gareth @ 4:12 am

Broadcast stalwart and founder of CliffCentral.com, Gareth Cliff is one of 15 speakers who have been invited to participate in the TEDx London Business School conference in London on Friday 24th April.

The event will be live streamed on CliffCentral.com from 10am until 7.30pm. Gareth will be presenting at 4.30pm.

Gareth’s talk, entitled “Africa’s New Voice” highlights the advent and explosion of digital platforms giving access to freedom of expression.

After more than a decade in traditional radio, Gareth left the medium to spearhead his online content hub.



“Our digital platform changes the game and levels the playing field. We are so much more than an online radio station. We are a multi-faceted content platform, free from traditional media restrictions or BCCSA complaints. Which means we get to stream a conference like this – offering our community access to information that ordinarily is not available to them.”

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TED has created a programme called TEDx.

TEDx is a programme of local, self-organised events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience.

Gareth is excited and honoured to be attending the conference.



“I am speaking alongside the likes of Udayan Goyal, Founder of Apis Growth and Alex Edmans, Professor of Finance at the London Business School. To be part of a group of speakers of this calibre, is humbling but also re-affirms that we are doing something special with CliffCentral here in South Africa.”

Blood from a stone

April 7, 2015

Filed under: Blog — Gareth @ 3:58 am

Amidst all the baying for blood (from a stone) and whinging about how painful the sight of Rhodes’ statue has been for the student community at UCT, the weak-willed and illiberal senate there have decided to tear down the edifice of the man who founded the university and replace it with nothing. I hope they feel better. We checked under the bed for a bogeyman and it turns out he’s dead.

But let’s move on:

In the wake of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, Paul Kruger’s statue in Pretoria was defaced, a bronze army memorial in the Eastern Cape was ripped apart; a statue of King George V was doused with paint and mocked and a memorial in Uitenhage set ablaze by erstwhile members of the EFF. This is what we have come to – wanton vandalism and destruction. Well done UCT, you’ve led us to the promised land of ‘abominable’ statuary re-evaluation. What George V or a World War II army memorial have to do with colonialism or apartheid are not so obvious – other than the fact that they’re white people I suppose. Either way, I just feel that same sinking feeling I felt when I heard that the Taliban had dynamited the ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan to dust. We really do lose much more than we could ever gain by destruction.

Just to make us all feel even more disappointed the Freedom Front Plus and some little-known Afrikaner group have demanded that Mandela’s statue at the Union Buildings must fall. ‘My history is more important than yours’ is the children’s game we now play with national monuments.

Further to this, it appears the Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship has been terminated. This is a great reward, and well done to the freedom fighters who made it happen. Now you won’t ever have to take your place in an International university or bring back the teachings of the great wide world to South Africa. Let us continue to be distracted by every possible object in our surroundings rather than pass our exams. There was a story last week about female students at the University of Venda signing a combined affidavit that the tokoloshe had impregnated a large group of them and so they were not able to write their exams, and of course definitely didn’t have sex with boys on the campus. Higher education? Well done Blade Nzimande. Professor Jonathan Jansen made a good point about how the people who so vehemently opposed the presence of the Rhodes statue represent anti-education factions. I agree with him. Despite all the squaring of circles made by those defending the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, and despite the word racist being thrown at everyone who disagreed with abject vandalism, history it seems, is not on their side.

Have a look at some of these victories over colonialism, it will surely make you feel that the future is in tolerant hands:

Historical education

March 19, 2015

Filed under: Blog — Gareth @ 7:52 pm

Screen-Shot-2015-03-19-at-6.55When he died, Cecil John Rhodes left some of his enormous wealth to found a prestigious scholarship. Part of his sprawling estate was given over to the establishment of the University of Cape Town and another part to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, a less controversial but more beautiful legacy.

In recent years (in fact it was a question that arose when I visited UCT last year to give a lecture), the presence of a statue of Rhodes has become the focus of a vitriolic campaign against what certain people believe is an offensive monument to a wicked Imperialist who exploited Africans. The latter is obviously true, but then so was the story of King Shaka of the Zulu – who actually killed (sometimes by his own hand) so many Africans that he created anew the map of Eastern South Africa – chasing the Xhosa south and the Swazi north, bringing the disparate zulu clans under his iron rule.

I like the fact that King Shaka has an airport named after him. That doesn’t mean I have to like King Shaka. Cecil John Rhodes may have been the most successful imperialist agent of Victorian Britain, but his contribution to history (let alone education) is unquestionable.

Take the Rhodes statue down, I don’t care. I don’t have a dog in that fight. I’m not a fan of Rhodes and I don’t doubt his politics were appalling. As a student of history, it offends me more to see any modern human being let their feelings (however genuine and serious) attempt to cleanse bloody, ugly history of it’s veracity. I felt the same when they pulled down Saddam’s statue and when they removed Stalin’s body from Red Square. You can’t change the present by whitewashing the past – it’s like a child putting a plaster on a his wound.

It is a hollow victory to defeat those already dead. Rhodes doesn’t care; the French monarchs whose tombs were desecrated by revolutionaries didn’t care and the bones of dead people in unmarked graves are no more troubled by the events of the present than the revered bones of saints. Those doing the desecration however, seldom end up making history themselves. The only way to beat a bad person is to leave your own legacy which makes their legacy look bad.

People are a product of the time in which they live. We can’t judge a person who died a hundred years ago by the enlightened thought and sensitivity of the present. I’m sure people in a hundred years’ time will laugh at our attempts at ascribing value to things we hold dear today but which will be laughable in an age of bionics, interconnectivity and super-technology.

Washington, Adams, Hamilton and Jefferson kept slaves – and yet gave us the Declaration of Independence and birth of modern democracy. Do we throw the baby out with the bathwater and destroy every monument, memorial and building named after them because they did what all men of their time did? I don’t think you’d find one American prepared to start. You can’t cherry pick the qualities of a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person in a historical sense by using your own or even a modern set of parameters. By those standards, every human prior to at least the 1700s was at best a barbarian and certainly all the greatest men and women of history are nothing but despots and greedy slave-owners.

How are we to claim the Pyramids, The Acropolis, The Forum, the Great Wall of China, and Great Zimbabwe as part of our human story if we pretend they weren’t built by the sweat of slaves and the grinding oppression of the slaveowners? To hide the statues and spare a generation three times removed from the event is to do those sufferers an injustice. If a statue hurts you that much, you’re giving too much power to the statue.

We have an opportunity to build new legacies, create new scholarships, enhance our world and add to a horrible history by making a better future. Where are the new Universities Blade Nzimande promised?

This morning I had a Rhodes scholar on my show – Eusebius McKaiser – a man I respect and admire. I like disagreeing with him and I love seeing him debate and deconstruct bad ideas and positions. Though he has an intelligence that doubtless would have come to the fore without it, he is proud to have been a Rhodes scholar. I’m sure he doesn’t have much love for the man who founded the scholarship and didn’t care a damn about his (Eusebius’)ancestors, but that is immaterial. Perhaps Rhodes left this legacy because he felt guilty? Who knows? All I know is that you can never win an argument by emptying human turds on a statue – and you don’t need to be a Rhodes scholar to figure that out.


December 24, 2014

Filed under: Blog — Gareth @ 10:13 am

photo-copyI can’t believe 2014 is over. What a year! I’m sure you do something similar, at the end of every year, I like to take stock – list the things I’m grateful for, the things I want to change in the new year and show some gratitude to those who made the year gone by so good:

1. Cliffcentral.com
First off, I’d like to thank everyone who has played a part, been a supporter or made Cliffcentral.com such a tremendous little start-up. In 7 months, we have achieved more than I would have believed possible… And that is due to YOU. This year has been more stressful and more rewarding than any other I can remember and I think we’re on the verge of some incredibly exciting new developments in media and advertising, content and talent. To you, our listeners, our staff and our contributors – thank you, thank you, thank you – I can’t say it enough.

2. Thank goodness for the Holidays:
I’ve never been so happy to get a few days off – I suspect you might feel the same, but make the most of the break (if you have one) – the last 12 months were pretty insane.

3. e-Tolls are screwed, not us:
I’d like to thank SANRAL for being so stupid and imagining we’d comply with their extortion plans. Clearly your toll plans are crumbling and the whole project deserves nothing but doom. I can’t wait to see them dismantle those gantries.

4. Ebola didn’t get us:
I’m really very pleased Ebola couldn’t get through our borders – it’s surprising really, considering how many other things do – things like Radovan Krejcir, a million Zimbabweans and Khulubuse Zuma through OR Tambo. Come to think of it, I’m surprised Khulubuse gets through anything at all.

5. Oscar Pistorius behind bars:
We spent most of the year thinking, talking and speculating about Oscar Pistorious. And just like that, he’s been moved to the back shelf. Show you how short our attention span has become!

6. Nkandla won’t go away:
Yes, Gedleyhlekisa, we haven’t forgotten about your big thatched, sprawling estate. Every day you occupy those buildings is a day off your political life – and we can’t wait to turn it into a school for the rural poor of KZN. The firepool will come in handy for washing dirty politicians’ hands of corruption too – at least that’s a better use for it than what Riya Phiyega tried to bullshit us with.

7. Generations is back:
We should be glad that at least one TV show still gets ratings on SABC. Even though Ellen Tshabalala and Hlaudi Motsoeneng tried to completely destroy the public broadcaster, they only partially destroyed the nation’s number one soap. You know you’re useless when you can’t even be destructive effectively.

8. The elections weren’t all bad:
The ANC is in decline, the EFF is on the rise and the DA are growing too. Our multiparty democracy is growing up – a little bit. We have a long way to go, but we’re no totalitarian regime, despite some attempts to make us one.

9. The lights are on, for now.
Eskom seem hell-bent on making themselves the worst business and worst service-provider in history, and so far they’re getting that right. Nonsense about load-shedding and power plants that aren’t working has made us all so distrustful of our national energy supplier that we’re on the verge of lighting fires and giving up on growth and development. I won’t let you win, Eskom. I want to live here and I want things to work. In 2015 I will do whatever it takes to not have to rely on you at all, you assholes.

10. Shrien Dewani isn’t costing us money anymore.
Sure, we paid a fortune to get him out here. Sure, our prosectors let us down. Sure, Anni’s family feel there’s no justice – but at least we sent that snivelling, kinky, lickspittle little man back to England, and we don’t have to think about him anymore. We won’t have to deal with him pretending he’s sick, or depressed, or in danger. He’s gone, and a good riddance it is.

The saddest things about 2014 are that we still don’t know what happened to that Malaysian plane and all its passengers; and that we still haven’t found and rescued those Nigerian girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram. We’re still worried about Isis – and Pakistani school kids and lunatic religious nut-cases in Sydney coffee shops, but we also know that barbaric, medieval philosophies can’t last much longer.

The future is full of electric cars, positive political change and a generation that want to see things get better. I can’t wait for 2015. I always say that every year should be better than the last – and for me that is true. I hope it was for you – but in case it wasn’t – may the new year bring you an opportunity to start fresh.

The tweet

November 10, 2014

Filed under: Blog — Gareth @ 9:27 am

iverwoe001p1Senzo Meyiwa was laid to rest a week ago, but the hubbub around my question about his funeral refuses to die down. “Who paid for this massive funeral for #SenzoMeyiwa?”

The past few days have elicited an extraordinary response from many South Africans – some outraged, some hateful, some thoughtful and some supportive. The readings have vacillated between positive and negative but have opened up an opportunity for dialogue and understanding – which is how we take this discussion up a level.

Whether or not you like insensitive whites asking poorly-timed questions or if you compare me to Verwoerd or Hofmeyr you have to admit there are things we need to talk about – and if my being white or your being black is a factor that counts either of us out of the discussion, then we’re in a lot of trouble.

I’m disturbed but not surprised by outright racism and bigotry – there’s a lot of anger in this country, and we pretend to get along some of the time until something awful happens or someone decides to take offence to something in the news. We need to go deeper though – to start understanding each other, and the bad news is that it won’t be comfortable. Some black people think all whites are right-wing devils that put on a show and occasionally reveal their real, racist feelings – by being patronising or using language which seems imperious. This may be true for some white people, but there are a great many of us who actually really aren’t racists – who don’t use the K-word, who don’t criticise the government because they think black people can’t do the job, and who aren’t proud of their colonial past. White people need to appreciate that what may seem like a question of fact can make a black person read all sorts of indirect racism and cultural prejudice that cannot be dismissed. We need to talk about our feelings, but we can’t be emotional in our reactions. Once we start to understand the other person’s point of view, there’s a way to turn every cause for conflict into a chance for conciliation.

My mistake was to ask “Who’s paying for this massive funeral for #SenzoMeyiwa?” without considering the timing or how many millions of people might have misinterpreted it as something mean-spirited, but the question stands, and has still not been satisfactorily answered. I didn’t ask it to be provocative or because I was seeking attention; I tweet all the time – and I’m sure I’ve said many more offensive things than that. Many other people asked the same question, but maybe nobody saw their tweets. Whatever the responses, I’m pretty sure I didn’t deserve “One settler one bullet”, “Fuck you Gerath you racist pink pig”, “You and Steve Hofmeyr are the same black-hating peas in a pod” (sic). If you think those reactions are appropriate then I doubt we’d have a lot in common, but I will defend your right to say even horrible things.

Tasteless remarks about Kelly Khumalo and unkind memes about Senzo’s dad with arms outstretched have polluted the social media timelines of many of us over the past few days – but instead of asking tough questions, we look for scapegoats and distractions. Instead of being sad about Senzo, many people preferred to get angry and nasty – and to what avail?

Who paid for Senzo’s funeral? You did – and I did. R.I.P. Senzo.

On the wrath of Black Twitter and being called a racist:

November 3, 2014

Filed under: Blog — Gareth @ 12:17 am

I grew up mostly in post-apartheid South Africa. I learnt our history both inside the school system and because I love history more than almost anything else, outside of it too. I am someone who would never claim ignorance when it comes to the sensitivities of our all-too-evident racial divisions. What I will not do is try to defend my non-racial, liberal, democratic or libertarian ideas in the face of those who didn’t like me before they had evidence of supposedly culturally insensitive remarks or become one of those brow-beaten whites who allow themselves to be bullied into submission by outrage on social media. This essay is therefore not an attempt to excuse anything I don’t believe I need an excuse for.

Senzo Meyiwa died in tragic circumstances just over a week ago. The circumstances of that death were not at issue for me: Crime does not discriminate and we lost a talented star. At the time I posted this tweet:


When I turned on the TV on Saturday morning, I saw this extraordinary (because it was not ordinary – forgive me for being very literal here) funeral, replete with marching policemen, government ministers making speeches, flags, banners, food, dancing and singing and a stadium. I have no problem with any of this – in fact I would rather see heroic members of society buried in this fashion than politicians, but in living memory it is ONLY politicians who have been buried like this. In fact some of the great stalwarts of the struggle have had much smaller ceremonies at their funerals. This was the first time I can recall when a non-politician has been accorded a funeral so large and impressive. Again, I do not take issue with it, like I do with every other kind of disgusting misappropriation of state funds. I asked this question though, and opened a Pandora’s Box of pretty horrific demons:


It’s a good question, and one which we should all ask, especially because politicians love using the grandstand a funeral provides as a soap-box from which to manipulate emotional people. Anthony did it at Caesars funeral and it thrust him into the first triumvirate. So if the politicians paid for it, that means WE paid for it. I don’t mind if we paid for Senzo’s funeral, but I mind that I am the bad guy for asking the question. I mind it a lot. I was called every kind of vulgar thing by a horde of the least eloquent, most furious, marauding lunatics I didn’t know, and who couldn’t have all known Senzo either.

Their fury betrayed that there was more anger at his death than any of us could quantify – the same anger poor Kelly Khumalo had to deal with earlier in the week – but it also showed that when a mob need a scapegoat, any excuse will do. Sadly, for a time, I became more important to these angry people than Senzo.

I did not ask the question to be controversial, or because I was looking for attention – and I don’t care that my Twitter following went up. I am furious too – furious that a great footballer is dead, another innocent man killed for no good reason. Mobs can kill people too – and Terry Pratchett said in Jingo that “the intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.” At times like these I am tempted to dismiss the idea of a ‘Rainbow Nation’ but I am reminded by our history and our greatest leaders that we have much more that binds us than that which divides us.

Old things

August 22, 2014

Filed under: Blog — Gareth @ 5:28 am

radioIn the 1980s and even the early 1990s, the music record business was a goldmine. Turnover was sky-high and despite excess at all levels, many (even small) labels made an absolute fortune. Every artist who was a major global success relied on the sale of records for the majority of their income and the publishing, marketing and merchandising opportunities that came with it made many people very, very wealthy. There are tales told of how a certain record company in New York ordered $4000 of fresh flowers delivered to their offices every week and that a fleet of black limousines were kept outside the doors just in case an executive, star or producer needed to go anywhere. It was sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. They thought the goose would never stop laying golden eggs.

Then came Napster. Peer-to-peer music file sharing on the internet pulled the rug out from under the record companies and almost overnight the intellectual property, technology, ownership of product and publishing of music became forever different. The whole business model started falling apart. Of course the industry reacted like they all do when they feel a deathly threat approach – they called in the lawyers. The lawyers shut down Napster, and like a hydra, out of every severed neck, three new heads sprung forth. With ever-diminishing profits and mounting legal fees, the recording business slowly (much too slowly) started realising their days were numbered. Piracy became the word they used for what people called sharing. They were cut out of the deal and fans went straight to each other or the source for what they wanted. Today, most people in the music business make the lion’s share of their income from performances and merchandising – and many either have their own small record companies, or work independently. Some even release content online for free.

The dinosaurs that presided over the collapse of the music business either retired with whatever fortune they had amassed before the collapse, or fought on and lost out. Men you couldn’t get an appointment with if you were Michael Jackson are now not much relied upon much for advice about anything anymore.

Radio is over 100 years old. Guglielmo Marconi is supposed to have patented radio in 1909, and got the Nobel Prize for it. The media at the time, and thus popular opinion, held this to be true. Actually he had stolen the idea from Nicola Tesla. In 1943 the US Supreme Court confirmed – after 34 years – that Tesla, and not Marconi was responsible for “conceiving of, and patent the principles of radio.” Marconi’s claim was struck down. Theft is not a great way for any medium to be born, I think you’ll agree. Since then, its chequered history has run the gamut of being both chief propaganda vehicle for fascist regimes and as a tool for freedom and information in the developing world. Radio engages, connects and entertains millions all over the world. Well, the content does.

Increasingly, technology invented in 1909 seems out of step with things that were invented only ten years ago and exponentially improve almost bi-annually. Mobile technology, the internet, integrated systems all get better faster and the the cost of producing quality content gets cheaper every day. A big media company used to be the only place that could afford to make great content and pay for the license they needed to broadcast. Now radio stations have lots of staff, expensive programming, onerous licence conditions, interfering regulation, gerontology of the talent, atrophying of the production processes and a host of parasitic satellite businesses that fight over commission: The above-the-line, below-the-line, digital, social-media, PR, strategic and marketing agencies they need to employ to get their hands on the advertising budgets of large companies. It’s perverse. The link between the audience and the product or service is so complicated that viral videos of cats spread with greater ease and less expense. Do you know that Clear Channel, the biggest broadcasting business in the US with over 850 radio stations has not made a profit since 2008?

According to publicly released figures, gross advertising revenue for South Africa’s broadcasting industry is estimated to have increased in value from just over R2-billion to close to R8.5-billion between 1994 and 2006. It is hard to know just how much is being made now – but between the major media owners, it’s a lot. Much of it is the result of years of brand-building, research, hard work in programming and selling opportunities to advertisers. All that money is made by connecting audiences with products or services. Audiences tune in to hear or see or read things they are interested in, and clients get to sponsor, advertise or outright interrupt that connection in order to get the consumer’s attention. Now that the internet is here, a renaissance is so overdue that the baby may well walk out of the womb, fully developed and speaking.

Where we’re going, I do not know, but I am absolutely sure that the old ways are not going to work forever. Like the music, movie and publishing business, broadcasting has to change. We know that quality content and talent – inspiring, intelligent, entertaining and empowering – will always attract an audience; and we know that audiences change their minds overnight. When the migration to new platforms and the gear-shift to new habits takes place, it will do so without warning and those who didn’t act fast enough or played it safe will be left with gigantic corporate carcasses and egg on their faces. Just because things have worked one way for a hundred years doesn’t mean they always will. If you don’t believe me ask London cabbies what they thought of Uber in 2009; or Kodak what they thought of digital cameras in the 90s. I’m backing Tesla, not Marconi.

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