Category Archives: Opinions & Debates

Video On Demand Programme Evaluation Feedback

The Input 2008 Video on Demand library made programme evaluation sheets available for all delegates that visited the library. Delegates commented on programmes and films they had viewed. Here are the comments ….



Starck vs Starck

– Very good!



– Nice adventure to make it the other way round. Maybe it reveals who Starck really is. But      gets so pretentious that its getting boring. Definitely his toothbrush, toilet brushes and chairs are more interesting than his monologue.       


– I fear that Starck’s desire to do something fresh for himself reveals him to be a second rate philosopher – as he warned at the beginning he was. He does have some charm though. AS a documentary; certainly fresh and original, but he is not interesting enough to hold me for 50 minutes. English voice-over does not convince. Suggest that filmmaker is more interesting than his subject.



Fairytale of Katmandu

– Narrative treatment par to none. Very impressive.           


– Very well told and well produced. Interesting topic! Surprising story. Interesting character! The  filmmakers relationship with the character is also interesting.  


– Fantastic how the presenter uses her own surprise/shock in the story. How she admits her own neglect to speak to the boys at first and then go back. She makes the turn in the story, the story.

Great narrative work and very delicate reflections.



– Impossible to get distracted from. Very consistent and good.



Shoot The Messenger

– Long and slow. However, good.           



– Extraordinarily honest, unflinching. Look at the damage people can do to one another. Very disturbing; some hard-to-hear truths about ourselves (black people). Could be a useful learning tool for youths, especially black youth at risk and teenage girls.

Popularize this film.              



Not My Daughter

– I fully agree about the purpose of this piece, but I’ve also some questions: Why is it called documentary if it’s fiction?


Is the best way in the real utility of this piece, to make it in English? I can’t imagine people from Ghana watching this on TV. The language in the nation and small village is not the same as Eastern audience. Is it the same for Ghana/ African audience?    



– A subject that needs more attention. Great to see it from the mother’s perspective.



– A shot worth viewing on the basis of female emancipation from archaic perceptions of the traditional practices and roles in our culture.



The Cop, The Judge and The Murderer

– Amazing that these people let them film in all the moments. Astonishing insight. It’s exciting to watch.          



– Very exciting story, extraordinary access to everything. Great characters. Looking forward to episode 3. 


– Extraordinary access to police work.       



– Very interesting. The best police-series from real life.     


– I like it, the access is remarkable!        



– Excellent documentary series. Very surprising.           


– Extremely interesting to see the whole ‘naked’ investigation. First time I have seen such ‘close-up’ police work. Episode 1 was a bit more exciting than episode 2. But I will see the third as well!



Yakuza Money

– Well constructed and narrated. Very important issue, good job.

It would be interesting to learn how the filmmakers got into contact with the syndicate. Why did the syndicate trust the filmmaker? There is always a possibility that the information they got would leak to the police.



– Nice, stable production with very interesting subject matter. Could be interesting for acquisition.  



Please Vote for Me

– A fascinating though frightening insight into the lives of young Chinese kids and the influence of their parents. Competition and cruelty always seem close to the surface. Kids and parents are fast learners in the ‘dirty tricks’ election process. Bullying, manipulation, vote buying all feature. Has the owe guild policy produced a generation of monsters with parents determined to teach their child that ‘by whatever means possible’ is the only game in town? Less of a metaphor re democracy than an example of old brutalities in the ‘New china’? Is this democracy in action or a new generation using cultural revolution tactics on each other? Thanks for the productive film.

P.S. Could have done with a few more explanatory bits on the text. Who is Xiaofei’s carer, if not her mother?



– Great access to the characters. Funny, very relevant. It makes one think a lot.            



– Remarkable! ‘Democracy at school, a perfect wrong. The wolf introduced in the sheep loses. As far as some youngsters seem already to live been teached and learned a lot from cynical adults. Wonderful demonstration of living manipulation.       


Mountain Shadow

– Very powerful indeed. I am so glad I was able to see this. I am also shocked that this series was pulled by SABC and I hope it will be shown in the future. Thank you Input.  


– Interesting drama. Nice photography.



Magic Cellar

– Easy to understand for minor children – also visually. Very detailed visual site – good for series.          



– Extremely well crafted. Though provoking.   



– What can I say, just a murderer telling about his detachment. I’d rather heard about what he did.       



– Very touching. They should have been more information about his past.      


– Very touching. Interesting look into madness vs genius.                    


– Pretty interesting.



The Glow Of White Women

– Badly disappointing. Seemed very thin and with little analysis, stitched together with repetitive archive. Watched 20 minutes as already seemed to be repeating itself.

I was hoping for a thoughtful exploration but this did not seem to be what the film is was about.Great to have the chance to see it though.



– Great quality film. Great researching, archive footage. Good to see when the broadcaster creates the means that the quality shines through.    



– Would love to see screeners of the series. Please send me at: Link TV, 164 W.25th St#10 New York, NY 10001 (L.Hess) 


– On the Fernando Merielles mood, this fiction you can devour it is really easy and pleasant. I’m interested in the feature of this kind of action series. Out of the studio..



– Well done! I want to see more episodes.



– A new approach to this well known piece of work. A convincing mind. Genius.                        


– The film is very beautiful. There are lots of fine views. It’s easy to see that you love music. I’m just wondering why so typical choices: Australia-Summer; Finland –Winter. But however as a form, I like winter.



Last Man Standing

– Really intriguing to see how out of place the foreigners are on the natives turf.



– Entertaining, very typical reality show, but it’s nice with the cultural parts and the beautiful nature. It’s cool that it’s different people with different strengths and skills. Some of the material is boring and unnecessary like the ‘line dance’ and you just sit and wait for the highlights; the fights. But it has some good and entertaining parts like when one of the guys stole the food, and of course the stick fights etc. It’s pretty sick that someone wants to join a program like this and I couldn’t imagine joining myself. My overall meaning is that this show is funny and entertaining (some of it) but it’s too much talking, and it needs more action, some of the film can be cut out, but you don’t stop watching because you want to see the end.

P.S. The cameras were moving during the fights and then it was difficult to follow on the screen and you couldn’t see what happened sometimes.



– Absolutely brilliant. Beautifully shot and made.           


A Prime Minister- 10Years Behind The Scenes 

– Very good preoccupancy. Aside to see an almost honest prime minister. An excellent glimpse of what’s behind the scenes. Great interview.



– It was a good, honest documentary and I would recommend it.     


Badly Drawn Roy

– Very funny – would love to get a screener; Possible broadcast on: Link TV, 164 W.25th St, #10 New York, NY 10001 USA       



– Great production style and comedy. Love the mockumentary angle.




– Tight concept and maintained build up character. The freedom to express the art form of graffiti to be recognized and known. Props! Word up!



– The ‘Whole Journey’ of a young traveler towards discovering a sense of purpose and dignity. Tight. Complete.



– Congratulations! Until now the best film I saw at Input 2008.



Plan B

– Very interesting coaching format. Reality shows can find a symbolic service purpose in these cases.      



– I would love to get a screener sent to me in NY –  Very interested for Link TV, 164 W.25th St, #10 New York NY 10001, USA.




 – I imagined it was another kind of program. Didn’t view until the end.        


– Brilliant. Excellent use of silence. Great material and convincing actors. Beautifully crafted story. 


Two Men, Twelve Drawings

 – Please be kind enough to send me a screener in NY. Thanks!   


– This documentary follows two men on their work as mp or spokesperson but stays a little superficial. We don’t really learn a lot about their backgrounds and their content differences. It portrays, especially Hlukani as if he is the more exotic kind. It’s how about these men deal with with the media and image forming, not what they reach or how they influence the debate in Denmark. Maybe known to people these, not to others.


A Son’ s Sacrifice

 – Interesting approach bout how to deal between different cultures. However at the end, only one makes the sacrifice. That helps the film, but it helps the integration too.



– Excellent. Loved It. Great characters.



– Highly …., but what kind of audience is this for?



– Hilarious and to the point.


 Don’t Say A Word

– Interesting feature. It allows different cultures. In which kind of audience is it..?



– Beautiful film, compelling, gripping, great cinematography.


  Scandinavian Beauty

– Hilarious



Mississippi Cold Case

– A great experience of a very classic documentary. You don’t very often see stuff like this. There’s a man with a target, a man with an extraordinarily good story and a director with a rare talent of telling story right away. It’s obvious that the editor was blessed with luck and a fantastic menu.



– It had it all – passion – history and emotions.



–  I learn to live with the ugly and shaking pictures because because the story is so strong. It tells us once again that real life and things happening right now always will stay above fiction and documentaries with pictures not made on the spot.



The News Killing Field

– Interesting; artsy angle.



– The Black Man In Seelisburg



– Brilliant way to portray prejudice.      


News War: What’s Happening To The News

– Solid production and great subject.



The Pilots

– Interesting concept. Confusing in a good way.




– Interesting subject. Good casting. A bit too traditional.



To See If I’m Smiling 

– This is a collection of interviews (very interesting) but illustrated. Where is the structure?



The Big Donor Show




– Interesting. But I didn’t like the split screen that much. 



Black Like Me

– Interesting experiment


The Sinking Village

– Interesting look into ordinary lives facing a personal catastrophe.



Over The Hill

– Important subject.



Searching For Sandeep

– Good characters and treatment




Great comedy!



Ranzco – The Pursuit of Happiness

– Great. Beautiful film!



 The Bodybuilder and I

– Really good and interesting, and a bit touching too. Well done!



The Secret In The Satchel

Great film. Interesting, innovative way to mix different narratives and languages. I like the way comic resources are so used in the film.



Clickers – Flying

 I love the way it’s made like the iphone.



Chakia and Sneakers

– Don’t like the presenter’s narration. Don’t make it richer v.o. says it all. I hoped I would surprise me more but it didn’t.



Iron Ladies of Liberia

– The filmmaker has unique access to a new prime minister and provides some fascinating insights into the day to day running of a country.








input…from behind the desk

submitted by President Phaphama

Apparently in the beginning was the word. The word was with input and the word was Early.

Input. I vibrate this word repeatedly, and all these other captivating words gatecrash my mental space almost zealously. I am talking words like contribute, engage, create, bla di bla…

I walk into the famed Sandton Convention Centre thinking this word. And being part of the Input team, the word has more than one meaning to me. I am here as a service provider, and I am also here as eyes and ears to look and hear out for future prospects in delivering more and more service in the realms of broadcasting.

Stationed at the Information desk, I get to see faces in all shapes and texture. On these faces are enquiring eyes in search of information on this and that. They ask me questions because they expect me to know. These faces belong to filmmakers and people who invest in filmmaking. Their questions are intended for an administrator, at least that is what my false ego thinks.  

As an up and coming filmmaker and aspiring television maker, my false ego feels misplaced behind the information desk. Fortunately this misidentification of responsibility has a very short span. The angelic sight and divine voice of Mr James Early in front of me comes early enough to kill my already bruised false ego, allowing it to re-incarnate back to the cradle of sense and logic.

His words double click on my narrow frustration, and immediately my frame expands. Mr James Early instantly fills my half empty or half full heart with words bigger than wisdom. He reminds me that I don’t need a camera to be on par with my purpose. That I can still add my flavor to life from behind the information desk. When he tells me to enjoy I am immediately reminded of what has been lacking in my space. Fun.

 Where has this man been? Who sent him? Who is he?

I google on the net for James Early and I am introduced to a brother of sense and a father of purpose. I like him. He rocks. His input in my life has given me a completely different view of the festival. I no longer see the information desk as an inhibition to creating everlasting moments. And I no longer compare Input 2008 to Sithengi or the Soccer World Cup. I now relate with Input 2008 as what it is and where it is. Right now, in my heart and mind there are only two places in the world, the Sandton Convention Centre and everywhere else. Any relations with the James in the Holy Book?

*James Early will be speaking at the Launch of the Human Bondage Project tonight at Input 2008, 19h00-22h00, RED ROOM

Confidence in the SABC?

By Deon de LangeThe battle for control of the SABC took a stunning turn on Wednesday when MPs passed an unprecedented vote of no confidence in the corporation’s entire management board.

The motion was muscled through the National Assembly’s Communications Committee by the ANC despite strong objections from the DA. This followed a relentless verbal onslaught of more than three hours in which ANC MPs slammed SABC board members over a number of issues, but primarily over the fact that a confidential memorandum – which is highly critical of SABC CEO Dali Mpofu – was leaked to the media two weeks ago.

ANC MPs emerged after a 30-minute recess with the following position, as stated by ANC MP Eric Kholwane: “It is clear for us that between the board and the management of the SABC there are serious problems … which have not been resolved. We are also of the view that a corporation like the SABC can not afford any fallout between the board and management – that is totally unacceptable.“Given that, we are convinced … that clearly this board is not in a position to execute their fiduciary duties and responsibilities and we therefore accordingly want to pass a vote of no confidence in this board.”

This finally brought the meeting to an abrupt end.

The visibly shocked board members declined to comment after the meeting, while DA MP Dene Smuts accused the ANC of abusing parliamentary processes to settle political scores.

“There is no basis for what you (ANC) are doing – not in law, not in the rules (of parliament). What you are doing has no effect. It is obviously the opening salvo in an attempt to unseat the entire board.

“We know that you are politically under pressure. We know that there are great battles going on in the ruling party, but you don’t use the procedures of this parliament to try to resolve those battles, and therefore we will now leave,” she said before leading her party out of the meeting.

Trouble started brewing on Wednesday when the ANC sabotaged a scheduled SABC budget briefing by refusing to continue the meeting without the entire SABC board present. Four board members yesterday hastened to Cape Town to join their colleagues.

It was clear the knives were out when committee chairperson Ismail Vadi (ANC) opened the meeting by pointing out that “all is not well at Auckland Park” and that the committee wished to “restore some dignity to the SABC”.

ANC MP and committee whip Khotso Khumalo then listed a range of issues that troubled the ANC.

This included the leaking of the memo. The now infamous memo, drafted by the chairperson, accuses Mpofu of a “dereliction of duty”.

The memo also criticises SABC management for losing a R1,6-billion soccer broadcasting deal to rival SuperSport and warns ominously that problems in the corporation’s technology division may prevent it from feeding the rest of the world with 2010 soccer coverage.

ANC MP Lumka Yengeni twisted the knife by calling on each board member to state publicly whether or not they “owned” the contents of the memo. SABC chairperson Khanyi Mkhonza responded by accepting “full responsibility” for the memo. “I wrote the memo. I own it. I wrote it out of concern,” she said.

Mkhonza added: “We are investigating the leak.”

Mpofu decried the damage this leaked memo was doing to his reputation, pointing out that he himself would not employ the person described in the memo. “The memo contains serious factual inaccuracies. It is unfortunate that it was leaked to the media. It contains … defamatory material,” he said.

Mpofu also suggested the memo was leaked on instruction from the cabinet. “I have received various pieces of information and some of them even point to executive interference because one of the answers is that somebody gave instruction that the CEO must be removed – from high up,” he said.

Tension over the new SABC board has been simmering for some time. It is generally acknowledged that the previous ANC leadership under President Thabo Mbeki “imposed” its preferred candidates on its MPs in parliament.

Ironically, the same ANC MPs who then bowed to alleged executive pressure and appointed the new board, are now trying to have it sacked.

The motion passed on Wednesday is not legally binding. According to the Broadcasting Act, a board member may be removed only by the “appointing authority” (the President) after consultation with the board.

There is no provision for the dismissal of the entire board.

The matter will now be referred to parliament for debate.



article sourced from

A Stand Against Censorship

By Renee MoodieIOL has joined the South African National Editors’ Forum, the Freedom of Expression Institute, the Media Institute of Southern Africa and several international organisations in opposing the Film and Publications Amendment Bill.

The current Film and Publications Act regulates films and publications other than the news media by censorship and classification measures which determine the age groups precluded from viewing certain films and which publications should be prohibited or how they should be displayed in stores. A clause in that Act exempted the media from its provisions thus enabling the print and broadcast news media to operate freely and without interference or pre-publication censorship. That exemption is to be removed in the amending legislation.

“If this proposal is accepted by parliament, the effect will be that the print and broadcast media will be subjected to the dictates of the Film and Publications board. The practical effects will be that the media will be subjected to pre-publication censorship, probably forced to expunge large amounts of their news coverage from their pages or broadcasts and submit to procedures which will prevent papers from being distributed on a daily or weekly basis and result in broadcasters having to delay news broadcasts. The fact that the Bill makes provision for exemption matters little, as to impose this duty on the media amounts to seeking licence to publish,” say the the National Editors’ Forum, the Freedom of Expression Institute and the Media Institute of Southern Africa.

There is a very short time for participation in public hearings and all submissions opposing the Bill need to be submitted by October 6.

You can help:

Background information

  • Professor Anton Harber, director of the Journalism and Media Studies Programme at Wits University and former editor of the Mail & Guardian, tackles the subject in his blog.
  • The International Press Institute’s open letter to President Thabo Mbeki.
  • Sanef statement.

Article sourced from

A New World Is Possible If We Can Imagine It So

– An Interview with James Early * (article available in this week’s Mail & Guardian)

James Early is a friend of Cuba. No big deal around here but still an issue in 21st Century America. What’s more Mr Early has long been a friend of Cuba.

Finding a launch pad for critical thinking is always difficult. In the US of A it is doubly difficult because free thinking is often compromised by so many powerful forces, before it can even take off. But James Early fires off his challenges no matter what and then turns the retaliatory salvos into an admirable display of intellectual fireworks, albeit somewhat one-sided some days.

Mr Early is Director of Cultural Studies and Communication at the Center for Folklife Studies at the renowned Smithsonian Institution of Washington DC. The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum complex. In keeping with the Institution in which he is based, Mr Early is broader than most academics in his approach to the issues of politics and culture or rather the politics of culture.

James Early is one of the main speakers at the launch of the global Human Bondage Project at Input 2008. Human Bondage is an ambitious, five-year project that will develop a drama series, feature films as well as documentaries… stories of an enslaved people told from the perspective of the slaves. With UNESCO as one of the main partners it will also have significant extensions, mainly educational. We spoke with Mr Early shortly before leaving Washington.

M&G: How do we help people understand, especially those who are the gatekeepers of the mainstream media industry, that stories of slavery are as important as the war in Iraq?

JE: Just as the anti apartheid struggle in South Africa gripped the consciousness of the world, just as the civil rights movement gripped the consciousness of the world, this story in the modern world of mass communication, has the potential to be huge in advancing world consciousness about the legacy of slavery and about the dimensions of democracy that we must envision for all people at this moment in the early part of the 21st century. This project could carry that load if we will imagine the possibilities of that.

M&G: You recently attended the UN commemoration of the anniversary of the abolition of Slavery. What did that occasion mean to you?

JE: It was a heartening experience. One, to see our ideological father, our patriot of 81 years old, Harry Belafonte, most eloquently sitting there next to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. He had not been invited by the US elected representative but by the representative form Barbados. The US government is trying to bury its history of slavery in the hope that it will go away, in the hope that it will perpetuate a so-called colour blind philosophy.

M&G: What does it mean for you to be coming to South Africa for the launch of the Human Bondage Project?

JE: Anytime the victims are able to become the protagonists, it is a potentially powerful step forward… (But) we have to wrestle with the accuracy and detail of what slavery was actually about. The sociology of that, the horror, the terror, the murderous nature of that and we have to situate that very carefully so that we don’t get into this attempt to suggest that because there was complicity on the part of some Africans in the slave trade that it was a complicity of equity. The system of slavery and its interface with capitalism and the ends to which the great philosophers and the great theologians of the world went to rationalise the dehumanisation of black African people is quite a different order of magnitude than the complicity of the Africans who were involved in the selling of their brothers and sisters.

M&G: When we look at issues of class and race in Africa and in other parts of the world, the descendants of slaves are invariably poorer and they have a kind of restricted social mobility. What are your thoughts on the fact that slavery in that sense has not been abolished completely?

JE: Slavery has not been completely addressed. I would say that chattel slavery characteristically in the sense of the Atlantic slave trade in which people were turned into objects, into property like animals or like field tools, has been characteristically abolished There is however a socio-cultural and economic hold over. Let’s take the Americas for example, from Canada to Argentina right through the United States, through to the Carribean and including socialist Cuba where I spent a considerable amount of time. The correlation between skin colour and marginalisation and poverty and low self esteem and lowered access to education, lower statistics in the defining dimension of state power and public institutions are hold-overs of slavery. What we are still struggling with is the social, cultural, economic strictures that carry over from slavery.

In fact there’s a whole new order of health investigation now across class lines. Issues of anxiety and physical issues, issues of what enslaved people were forced to eat and how that is transferred through the genetic pool and future generations even when those generations might emerge in middle and upper classes. Their health statistics tend to be characteristically lower than those who came from freer dimensions of society. So, in that regard we are still dealing with the legacy of chattel slavery.

M&G: So much of our society has been built on slavery and we have inherited a racist culture… people like you are doing a lot of work in order to raise awareness and to change that. Do you think these changes are taking effect globally?

JE: A New World is Possible, my own slogan. A new world is possible if we can imagine it so. We joined the African people and defeated colonialism. We joined the struggle and defeated apartheid in South Africa. We all wanted SA to be free not only because it represented the struggle of the enslaved darker people exploited and oppressed but because it also helped us to confront the unfinished social revolutions in our own country, particularly in a place like the US. Mandela became a metaphor for all humanity. The reconciliation process that played out in SA was not just something for us to observe from afar, it was a way for all of us to think back through all of the struggles that we had been involved in and to try and avoid the vengeance that so many of us may have wanted to exert on those who had exploited us.

We must take stock of those victories. We have come a long way yet we have a very long way to go.

* James Early of Washington’s Smithsonian Institute is a main speaker at the launch of the Human Bondage project at Input 2008.

Authorship & Ownership in TV Drama

– by Lauretta Ngcobo *

If we talk of such things as ownership and authorship it is imperative for us to be honest with ourselves and with one another. We should not be afraid to bare our souls and explore those hushed –up areas of our experiences, for the function of our stories is to explore and come to terms with our past. Here we are as black people and white people joining hands, in quest of who we are and for the sake of ourselves and our children.

In fact, who are we? We are Africans who have tried hard to trample on our past while we seek to reveal who we really are. When our African fathers and later our mothers were first drawn through the imperatives of the times into the city experience they soon found out that they were at variance with the lifestyles of the city. They became self conscious about their dress, their songs, their dances, their food even. Ever since that encounter, African people have lived like chameleons on their long journey of adaptation. In the process of shedding all the paraphernalia, they also learned to look down on themselves and their culture as white people did. From then on, most Africans especially the educated ones are practitioners of a hybrid culture, forever grappling emotionally, intellectually and physically with the vexing questions of who they are, much like the American that is portrayed in the writings of Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and others.

White people lately are faring no better in their turn, having to come to terms with the fact that if they are wealthy and better off in every way, relative to Africans, it is because that wealth was acquired dishonestly under a spurious belief that they had to oppress others so that they could prosper. And if they are poor it is because the only thing that had given them status before was their feigned superiority to the African people. The sanctuary of the skin. That is the burden they bear today. White people have to explain how they can be “good people” when everything they are, is based on the exploitation of others. Much the same as the white people of America are forever searching for the essential me in writers like Williams Faulkner, Margaret Mitchell, Harper Lee and many others.

Here we are standing naked before each other now, forced to tell stories, true, authentic stories that proclaim who we really are. Most African writers, brought up in the cities are forced to appropriate for themselves those selective cultural aspects of their original culture, often with half-baked understanding of what it all means and often mixed up and jumbled with aspects of the superior culture. Yes, superior, because we do draw from it often what we ourselves do not fully understand, now that we have shed our own. As a result, the stories that come up on our screens leave us unsatisfied or unfulfilled for aspects of the stories seem phoney and alien on our own uninformed mindscape.

The screen is a fleeting medium. And often after it is gone from view we sit and sigh because it has affected us deeply – not so much the storyline. We already know who killed who and why. You can even tell that it is about jealousy, vengeance reconciliation and so on, whatever the theme is. But deep in the recesses of the mind,

you continue to wrestle with the deeper human conflict that the text is dealing with. Basic truths, told in symbols, codes if you like, telling the human story of life and death, birth and renewal, time and eternity, providence and destiny; the origin of the world, the end of the world, the end of time, the creation of the world, question of time and eternity. Stories about all these delve deep in every culture. They come through stories, language, communication, religion, art, literature, drama etc. In other words, we look for hidden meanings, the symbols that filter through the stories we tell or read or dramatise. This treasure store does not owe its existence from direct experience only. They often come from the very ethos of ones existence as a practitioner of a culture. Many attitudes that the characters portray in drama are partly due to the writers own beliefs. How they live and why and how they die, what they will fight for and what they will defend with their lives.

Such values that influence our judgement and morals are taught to us in very subtle ways in the culture and become embedded in our interpretation of life and develop into legends and folk tales. They are the foundation of culture. Stories about gods, superhuman beings and extraordinary events in a time – span altogether beyond our comprehension. The actors in these mythical stories are people who influenced and changed the human condition. For the English such is the story of King Arthur and the Round Table, The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and other foreign legends. They have such a powerful hold on the thinking of the speakers in their societies. The values in such stories are internalised and passed on so that even the not so literate members of the culture are tutored through story telling.

Now, to come back to the Africans in South Africa. It is undeniable that very few city homes from which we draw most of our script writers are told on a regular basis, from early childhood the stories of Mabhejana, Sondonzima, Chakijana and many more from the varied languages in South Africa. In other words, while they labour and create, they are focused on the culture and the traditions of the other. Few Africans have assimilated and soaked up the stories of King Arthur and his Round Table, characters like Pinocchio among the Italians and other foreign legends. Yet they superimpose the values of these other cultures on their thinking for even though they do not live like the English do, they perceive the culture to be the centre point of expressing their inner-selves.

We come back to the thorny question of authorship and ownership of the books that the writers produce. In view of the background we have given, we pose this question and interrogate the issue. From the models we have cited it is clear that there are more than one body of stories that we are talking about. There are those that have been passed on to us and have influenced our thinking and form part of our culture. They insidiously work themselves into our lives and we use them in formulating our view of life. We own such stories. But on the other hand, they inversely own our creativity. We claim them for ourselves and use them as we wish. We tell them to one another over and over again. We, in Africa, are also privileged to be allowed to intervene in the retelling of such stories thus becoming co-creators as we put in our own variations of such stories. We feel no guilt in doing this. If we should be telling such a story to the young we may embellish the details to suit young minds. And conversely do the same with an adult audience. We can even create parallel stories that resemble the legends. No one can accuse us of plagiarising. The ownership is all inclusive.

In a mixed society, such as we are, there may be problems of ownership and authorship in such cases. There are fine lines that separate these categories. Among Africans, it is considered acceptable for a story teller to extend his/her imagination in the act of creativity. We have the case of one writer who chose to write about the African tokoloshe. A fine literary piece. But when another writer wrote his own contribution based on the same legendary figure of tokoloshe, there was an outcry for others perceived his writing as plagiarised. This is a cross-cultural conflict.

On the other hand, we have stories that spring from our own personal experiences and are evoked by our own imagination, a complex amalgam of personal thoughts as influenced by what we know of life. These we author on our own and lay claim to authorship. Ownership and authorship overlap for the former is common property and the latter is the product of one inspired creative writer. It flows from common experience whether of one singular person or a social group. So we appropriate them for self or a social group as we identify them through common experience.

There are no answers to these eloquent questions but in addressing them perhaps we could consider a new paradigm. True creativity is a matter of the heart. So should we not be moving towards a better understanding of our common humanity. That at heart our creativity has complex links, ancient origins and definitely defies linear description. But where would that leave plagiarism litigation?

* Novelist and essayist, Lauretta Ngcobo, was born in 1931, raised in the Ixopo District of southern Natal and educated at Inanda Seminary and Fort Hare University. Lauretta Ngcobo’s late husband, AB Ngcobo, a founder executive member of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), was detained in the aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. In 1963, she left South Africa, escaping imminent arrest, and went into exile with her husband and children, first in Swaziland, then in Zambia and finally settling in England where she worked as a teacher for 25 years.

She came back in 1994 at the time of the new political dispensation in South Africa, thirty years after she left her country of birth. After a short teaching spell she became a Member of the KwaZulu Natal Legislature where she spent eleven years before retiring in 2008. She now lives in Durban.

Lauretta Ngcobo is the author of several books and is the recipient of the annual South African Literary Awards’ lifetime Achievement Award, 2006. The rural community of Ixopo, where she was born and raised, is described in her most recent novel, And They Didn’t Die. She praised the unsung heroines, the rural women, whose struggles and complexities in harsh environments were further compounded by having to deal with the hardships of apartheid.

The above article appears in the South African Mail & Guardian (25 April-1May)

Public Broadcasting Survey in Africa

– by Hendrik Bussiek * (article available in this week’s Mail & Guardian)

Public broadcasting has a lot of friends in the world today – though they do not always seem to be loving quite the same thing and certainly not for the same reasons.

(Almost) every national broadcaster in Africa now lays claim to the PBS title, proudly calling itself a ‘public broadcasting service’, regardless of how it is run or constituted. There are obviously a lot of myths and misperceptions around what is basically a simple and straightforward concept: a broadcaster that serves the public as a whole and is accountable to the public as a whole.

Clearing up some of these misunderstandings and assessing the real status of public broadcasting in Africa is one of the purposes of a comprehensive survey currently undertaken by the Africa Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project (AfriMAP) of the Open Society Foundation – the first such survey on the continent. Researchers in 12 carefully selected countries (Benin, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe) are presently busy collecting and collating information on regulation, ownership, access and performance as well as prospects of reform of broadcasting in Africa. Field workers are interviewing representative samples of listeners and viewers to assess their use of media in general and opinions on broadcasting in particular – another first in most of the countries under review.

The study starts from the premise that development and democracy cannot thrive without open and free public space where all issues concerning people’s lives can be aired and debated and which gives them room and opportunity to participate in decision making. Nobel Prize laureate Amartya Sen describes democracy as “governance by dialogue” and broadcasters are ideally placed to facilitate this dialogue by providing the space for it – if their services are accessible, independent, credible and open to the full spectrum of diverse views.

The key objective of the survey, therefore, is to assess whether and to what extent the various forms of broadcasting are able to create such a public space, with special attention given to those services which call themselves ‘public’.

While the study may be unprecedented in its scope and depth, it does feed into ongoing discussions among broadcasters, civil society and politicians on the nature and mandate of genuine public broadcasting. At least on paper there is already broad consensus on the need for state broadcasters to be transformed into truly public broadcasting services. The AU’s African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights says in its 2002 Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa that “state and government controlled broadcasters should be transformed into public service broadcasters accountable to the public”. This African document serves as one of the major benchmarks in the AfriMAP survey (see box below).

Most countries in Africa still have a long way to go towards the realisation of the ideal of a truly public broadcaster. But the process is gathering speed – not just because progressive forces in civil society and among law makers are pushing for it. Already even staunch defenders of state broadcasting are reluctantly learning the lesson that their impact and influence is on the wane: with more and more other sources of information at their disposal, people are not easily fooled any longer by blatant propaganda or content with government using the airwaves purportedly to ‘inform’ its citizens while in fact crowding out almost all other information or points of view.

The survey’s ultimate goal, then, is to provide facts, figures and informed assessments on where broadcasting in Africa stands between “His Master’s Voice” of old and the envisaged public broadcasting service of the future. These data can then be used as a sound basis for the friends of public broadcasting to conduct and intensify their advocacy work, both among decision makers and civil society as a whole. To assist in these efforts, National Fora will be held in all participating countries to discuss the results of the survey and explore avenues and strategies for possible reform.

First results will be available from September 2008 on

* Hendrik Bussiek is the editor-in-chief of AfriMAP’s Survey on Public Broadcasting in Africa

Article VI of the 2002 Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa issued by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights of the African Union:

State and government controlled broadcasters should be transformed into public service broadcasters, accountable to the public through the legislature rather than the government, in accordance with the following principles:

Ø public broadcasters should be governed by a board which is protected against interference, particularly of a political or economic nature;

Ø the editorial independence of public service broadcasters should be guaranteed;

Ø public broadcasters should be adequately funded in a manner that protects them from arbitrary interference with their budgets;

Ø public broadcasters should strive to ensure that their transmission system covers the whole territory of the country; and

Ø the public service ambit of public broadcasters should be clearly defined and include an obligation to ensure that the public receive adequate, politically balanced information, particularly during election periods.