Free press helps society reflect on itself – Madonsela

Speaking at the 2016 Sunday Times Literary Awards, Madonsela also commended writers for writing about their impressions of the society they lived in

Freedom of the press, as part of the broader freedom of expression regime, provides for “honest mirrors” that help leaders in society identify their mistakes, says Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.

Speaking at the 2016 Sunday Times Literary Awards in Johannesburg on Saturday night, Madonsela said the mirrors also provided for timely action on the part of the leaders to correct their mistakes, to maintain the trust of their followers.

She likened this to a reported practice in ancient China, where rulers were said to have paid poets and musicians to produce social commentaries, alerting them to mistakes they were making. This helped the rulers mend their ways and maintain the people’s confidence.

“In others words, these rulers did not want to walk around as the proverbial emperors without clothes, surrounded by praise singers showering them with false praise about their non-existent beautiful garments,” Madonsela said.

These ancient rulers understood that without trust, entrusted power could not be exercised sustainably. The centrality of the type of trust anchored in accountability, through ongoing public dialogue, was of critical importance.

Paying tribute to author and anti-apartheid activist Alan Paton, after whom one of the two premier literary prizes bestowed during the event was named, Madonsela said Paton had the courage to make society see and question what it needed to through his writings.

This was despite the fact that his works caused the government of the day to make life difficult for Paton and others like him.

Madonsela said that while in school in Swaziland, the works of authors such as Paton, Chinua Achebe, Alex Laguma, Andre Brink, Bessie Head, Charles Bosman, William Shakespeare, and George Orwell had contributed to her own social awakening.

Likening today’s writers to their counterparts of yesteryear, she said the authors of today, too, had chosen to tell the stories and views they believed needed to be told and expressed in order for society to progress.

She commended them for not only writing about their impressions of the society they lived in but for also proposing long-lasting solutions to society’s shortcomings.

“In putting [your] work out there, even if it may not reflect popular views or views accepted by the powers that be, [you] have unwittingly given permission for others to follow [your] conscience,” Madonsela said.

Pumla Dineo Gqola’s “Rape: A South African Nightmare”, and Nkosinathi Sithole’s “Hunger Eats a Man” scooped the Alan Paton and Barry Ronge prizes respectively.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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