- Published on Monday, 13 August 2012 09:34
- Written by Cai Nebe
South African journalist and City Press editor Ferial Haffajee was the guest speaker at the UCT TB Davies Memorial lecture on Wednesday August 1st.
UCT’s Vice-Chancellor Max Price and Chair of the Academic Freedom Committee, Jacques Rousseau introduced Haffajee to a packed Beattie Theatre as “one of South Africa’s media luminaries”.
Her speech, titled “Creeping Censorship and the Spearing of Freedom”, revolved greatly around her decisions to put the controversial Brett Murray painting “The Spear”, an image showing President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed, on the City Press website.
Haffajee removed it after the ANC called for a boycott of the newspaper and amid threats of violence made against the City Press.
Haffajee said media censorship is becoming increasingly prevalent in South Africa, citing the boycotting, banning and ostracizing of controversial artworks such as the “The Spear”. She said she regretted being forced to take down “The Spear”.
While stressing the importance of maintaining freedom of expression in the arts and the media, Haffajee described herself as a “freedom of expression fundamentalist”. She went on to explain that, “reporting has been a quest for freedom for me.”
Palesa Hoye, a first year PPE student, said it was important to hear how the political aspect of “The Spear” impacted Haffajee’s perspective.
“I think there has definitely been an increase in censorship and she touched on how we as a society and the media are scrutinized.
But we should not scrap the good things we have achieved over the last 18 years of democracy just because questions have been asked as to whether our state is becoming more repressive.”
Siphosethu Hote, a first year Geometrics student, said the talk was “insightful”.
“Before the talk it was easy to judge her. Now I see how she was put in tough space. I think she made a good decision to save her paper at the expense of removing “The Spear”. She’s definitely a remarkable woman.”
Hote added while Haffajee’s talk was well balanced, she would have liked to have more detail about the story surrounding “The Spear”.
Andrew Attieh, a first year International Relations student attended the talk to understand why “The Spear” was such a controversy.
“I wanted a perspective from a representative of the press and I felt it was definitely Haffajee’s perspective that came through,” he said.
When asked about her impression of student reactions to the cause of freedom of expression and censorship on campuses such as UCT’s, Haffajee praised the young people who “had taken it on and made it their own.”
Haffajee’s final words: “I have no worries about the state of our freedom 18 years on from apartheid” drew a standing ovation from the audience.
After Haffajee’s address, Max Price thanked Haffajee for being a “great role model for the young and old.” He said her speech was “penetrating, passionate and astute.”
“Your talk strikes a hopeful note and we must hold onto that,” he said.