Not even personal phone calls to Vice-Chancellor Zeblon Vilakazi stopped the screening of the documentary that focuses on the state of India’s democracy under current prime minister.
The screening of India: The Modi Question at Wits on Friday, May 12, was a powerful example of the importance of media freedom and open discussions in exercising democracy.
Difficult conversations about nationalism, police brutality, media freedom and command responsibility – the idea that a commanding officer is responsible for atrocities committed by their subordinates – are very often shied away from in postcolonial contexts.
The Humanities Graduate Centre (HGC) hosted the screening and panel discussion of the two-part documentary about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his relationship with the Muslim minority in the country. It was released by the BBC in January 2023 and subsequently got banned by the Indian government as “anti-Indian propaganda”.
The first part follows Modi’s early political life, extending into his time as chief minister of Gujarat province, when in 2002 deadly violence shook the province, with Muslim populations targeted by extremists following the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims.
Among many accusations that followed was that direct orders from Modi had allowed for the violence to play out – an accusation that Modi was acquitted of by India’s Supreme Court in 2021.
The second part of the documentary follows Modi’s career after the riots, focusing on his re-election as prime minister of the country in 2019 for a second five-year term. This is when he presided over a controversial policy changing the status of the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir and the Citizen Act which revoked the citizenship of many Muslim Indians.
The documentary also covers the ever-increasing suppression of media in the country, with Reporters Without Borders stating that press freedom in the country has declined.
Sociology professor Srila Roy and Mellon Chair in Indian Studies, Professor Dilip Menon, made up the panel at the screening, with more than 30 people from diverse backgrounds in the audience. The discussion began by highlighting the fact that students at New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia university were arrested for hosting a screening not unlike the one that was held at Wits.
The state of India’s democracy came under the spotlight. A group of four individuals in the audience voiced their anger at the BBC during the discussion, labelling the documentary “propaganda” and “hypocritical from colonial Britain” – responses very similar to those made by the Indian government.
Roy rebuked these comments, stating that it was in bad faith to have a debate of “what ifs” when the subject matter was about the loss of human lives during a time of ethnic violence. The real question, she said, was, “Why is there a ban and why are university students being arrested for watching [the documentary]?”
The screening was championed by the director of the HGC, Professor Lorena Núñez Carrasco, following weeks of external pressure from pro-Modi supporters for it not to go ahead. Not even personal phone calls made to Vice-Chancellor Zeblon Vilakazi stopped the screening.
Menon alluded to the possibility of the pressure stemming from not wanting to ruffle any feathers ahead of the Brics summit being held in Durban later this year. He highlighted the contradiction of India being the world’s largest democracy due to the largest population actively taking part in voting, and yet having the documentary being banned where there “should be free, open discussion”.
The full documentary is no longer available on YouTube, with the site saying this was for copyright reasons. Menon suspects the Indian government could have played a role in its removal.
FEATURED IMAGE: Wits hosted a screening of the documentary, India: The Modi Question, which is banned in India. Graphic: Seth Thorne
This captivating South African film, which follows a hostage situation in the country’s capital at the height of apartheid, rattles your emotions and leaves you pleasantly unsettled.
At a protest in Braamfontein, Ugandan opposition activists called for democracy and an end to oppression in their country.
Students weigh in on the Constitutional Court’s judgement on President Jacob Zuma regarding Nkandla, in an attempt to “defend democracy”.
PRESS POWER: Human rights ‘defender’ and journalist Rafael Marques de Morais received a standing ovation for his address at Power Reporting’s third Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen
Standing in solidarity with imprisoned Ethiopian journalists, Rafael Marques de Morais received a standing ovation from fellow journalists and other guests, at the Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture held this evening at Wits University.
Human rights activist and journalist, de Morais delivered the address for Power Reporting’s third Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture. He stressed the importance of investigative journalism in advancing democracy and defending the freedom of expression in the face of opposition and fear incited by government authorities.
Driven by “national and civic conscience”, de Morais says he is proud of his work in defending the rights of fellow Angolan citizens through the exposure of conflict diamonds and corruption. “Journalists should defend constitutional rights”, he said to a packed auditorium.
SOLIDARITY BROTHERS: Human rights ‘defender’ and journalist Rafael Marques de Morais received a standing ovation for his moving address at Power Reporting’s third Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen
De Morais criticized the Ethiopian government as an enemy to journalism for arresting and imprisoning journalists. “Journalists and human rights campaigners must be embarrassed for doing little to support our peers in Ethiopia.”
He also called for a campaign to move the African Union, currently based in Ethiopia, to a country that respects human rights.
Although the challenges of investigative journalists have not changed since de Morais started practicing, he says the Internet has proven to be an advantage in publishing content and reaching wider audiences. De Morais has started his own watchdog website Maka Angola which exposes corruption through his investigations.
De Morais told Wits Vuvuzela that as the values in society have deteriorated, so has the quality of investigative journalism. He says investigative journalists can combat opposition if they realise “government officials are men and women like us”. He says we can limit their abuse of power because “the power comes from the people”.
De Morais said he corresponded with but never met Carlos Cardoso, in whose name the lecture was given. Cardoso, a journalist and a Witsie, was murdered in Maputo in 2000 while working on a investigation into fraud at a major bank.
Nearly 500 delegates were hosted by Wits University for the 14th congress of the Pan-African Archeological Association this week. Photo: Anazi Zote.
It’s been over 60 years since the Pan African Archeological Association and Related Studies (PAA) lost its bid to come to South Africa for its second congress. In 1948, the nationalist government withdrew its support for the congress and delegates made their way to Algiers in 1951.
This week, Wits University, initially intended as the 1951 venue, hosted PAA members from all corners of the continent at the 14th installation of their congress.
One of the conference organisers, Dr Karim Sadar, who lectures archaeology at Wits University, said the conference was a landmark event.
Sadar explained that the apartheid government did not want to associate with other African countries because it believed in racial segregation.
President of the association, Benjamin Smith, a former Wits professor, described the congress as the biggest gathering of PAA members so far with almost 500 participants: “We have delegates coming from across Africa and this is the largest Pan African congress we have ever held,” he said.
Delegates were treated to oral and poster presentations around the theme: ‘African Archeology without frontiers.”
Speaking at the opening of the congress on Monday this week, deputy director general in the Department of Science and Technology, Professor Yonah Seleti praised the work of the PAA and its members.
“The work that you do contributes not only to the scientific knowledge around origins, but also contributes to our social cohesion and cultural identity, and much more, it carves a path to modernity which is Africa, Seleti said.
FREEDOM: We stand together, free and as one where no boundaries separate us. Photo by: Zelmarie Goosen
This year South Africa celebrates 20 years of democracy. For some this is cause for celebration. For others, it’s a reminder of how we’ve failed. But take a moment, and ask what this really means and answer honestly to whether or not we really have reason to be so upset.
While no one can argue that South Africa still has long way to go and there definitely are things that should be fixed in our system, isn’t it true that our country is still in its infancy?
It’s easy to focus on the negative, especially with everything that’s happened in the last few months. Our government has let us down, our president has let us down, and it all makes us feel like our ideal of a true rainbow nation can never be achieved.
But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I can promise you, neither will South Africa. Think about the friends and colleagues you have now, about your Friday night parties or Saturday afternoon braais – we all complain about the same ANC-related problems. And isn’t that, using a certain twisted logic, exactly what it means to be free? Your black friend who brought the pap didn’t make it because you ordered him to – he brought it because he knew you’d like it. Your white boss isn’t yelling at you because of your colour, he’s probably doing it because you did something wrong. And when you fall in love with someone who has a different skin colour, you don’t have to worry about a law keeping you from expressing that love.
This all may sound dreamy and romanticised, but the Apartheid regime wasn’t taken down because of logistics; it was pure humanity that fueled that need. We seem to sometimes forget that South Africa has to rebuild itself and become a completely new nation.
We have to work hard to scrub away what we’ve broken down to make way for the new things we are erecting. We seem to forget that the struggles of 20 years ago is in the past, and the goal of what they wanted to achieve was reached. What we should remember is that there was a certain layer of human issues we had to get rid of before we can really start building towards the future. Isn’t that now?
[pullquote]This all may sound dreamy and romanticised, but the Apartheid regime wasn’t taken down because of logistics; it was pure humanity that fueled that need[/pullquote]
Education, poverty, housing, water supply and safety should of course not be forgotten or downplayed, given the seriousness of these needs. The fact that many people are not receiving basic education or electricity or water is horrible, but it’s also got nothing to do with freedom. We can stare at the facts and the stats all day and say that we’re not free in the sense we should be. But we can also choose to look at them differently and say that we’re not at war (in any way), or hiding from extremists who’ll kill us for our point of view; we’re not bound by laws that take away our rights, or forces us to make decisions. We can choose what we want to do – which is the definition of being free.
Like I said, it’s easy to focus on the negative (a lot easier than on the positive), but 20 years into our democracy we have to remember that all the things that aren’t right, all the logistical issues in our country that we have to fix, and all the problems areas that make it seem like we’re not a nation standing together is not a ‘freedom’ problem. We’re all struggling under a government that doesn’t deliver.
We’re all plagued by the same things we want fixed.
The real hard work may only really begin now. But it means we’re moving forward. We’re going somewhere good, and South Africans of all colour, gender, race and ethnicity have endless choices along the way they’re allowed to make.
And that, my friends, is freedom.
BIRTHDAY GIRL: Lodi Mothiba believes South Africans should not dwell on the past.
Photo: Lameez Omarjee
Lodi Mothiba was born into a democracy, April 27, 1994. Like every other young adult who grew up in post-Apartheid South Africa, this 20 year old was granted freedom and has never experienced the level of oppression previous generations endured during Apartheid.
Mothiba grew up in Polokwane, Limpopo. She is the eldest of three children. She had to overcome tragedy with the loss of her father during her preliminary matric exams in 2012. “Trial was the hardest thing on the planet… Trial was horrible.” She tried not to think about it too much and managed to matriculate with distinctions at the end of the year.
She received a partial bursary from PWC and will complete her articles after she qualifies with her BAccSci degree. Currently she is studying at Wits and hopes to achieve her dream of becoming a chartered accountant one day.
Mothiba has an interest in drama and enjoys reading, riding her bike and swimming, “I’m one of the few black people that enjoys swimming,” she joked.
She agreed to be interviewed to highlight her views on democracy, as a born-free.
When you were growing up, were you conscious of the significance of your birthday?
I don’t think it matters. I didn’t think of it as the day black people were allowed to vote for the first time, for me it was just my birthday.
Did you have a diverse group of friends?
Yes definitely, my best friend was white. My whole range of friends were just like the rainbow nation.
Do you notice colour?
No, not at all… Well I notice it, of course you definitely notice it. But it doesn’t faze me at all.
What about the guys you date?
No, not even hey. I haven’t dated a guy that’s not black, come to think of it. But I don’t mind. I think white guys are really hot, honestly, I do. I’d date a white guy.
What are some of the frustrating things about our democracy, what should be done?
I don’t know if something can be done. I didn’t even register to vote. Because when you vote for someone you believe that they are in a position of trust. Our political parties are not adequate, there’s too much corruption. I don’t think I can vote for anyone. Even if I registered to vote, it would have just been an obligation to me.
Don’t you think people judge you for that?
They do, they definitely do. They say, “You’re a citizen. You shouldn’t complain.” But I won’t complain. When I look at these parties, I don’t know who to turn to. You vote for someone you believe will hold the country together, you trust them to do something good.
Do you think you are being irresponsible by not voting?
I feel like it is irresponsible. I guess it’s a good thing to vote because it shows that you care about your country. But I don’t know, I still think even if I registered, I still would not have gone to vote. A lot of my friends didn’t register to vote either. There’s nothing pushing me to go.
Do you think many people born post-apartheid are indifferent about our democracy?
Yes, I think a lot of us are indifferent. My friends really just don’t care. We don’t think so much about what happened in the past. I don’t know if it should affect us though. I think we should move on. I know people like saying you have to know where you come from to know where you going.
What about the argument that we need to redress the wrongs of the past? Can we move on without redressing those wrongs?
Yes, we should redress the wrongs of the past. I guess it makes sense to look at the past and see the mistakes that we made and fix them. But dwelling on the past, that’s what I’m against. People blame many things on apartheid.
What is your worst stereotype?
A stereotype that I hate, that we all have even if we don’t say it, and I feel bad for saying it now; but if there is a white lecturer or a black lecturer- I’d rather have a white lecturer. It happens though. It does. We’ve been programmed in our heads to think white is superior and it’s horrible.
What message do you want to give older people about the born free generation?
That’s actually a hard question, I don’t know. I can’t advise older people… Take time to understand how we think, I feel like a whole lot of older people don’t understand how we think and most parents just close their children in and most of the time, those are the kids who rebel.
What kind of democracy do you want for South Africa?
A democracy where the people actually have a voice and one where there is lessened corruption or no corruption at all. We should care more often. I’m going against what I’ve done, but we should at least register to vote and show that we care. We should show some interest in your country, and not be indifferent.
We should be more patriotic. We can’t just be about this brain drain life, where we study here and then just leave and go overseas. We will always complain that South Africa is not developing right but who do we expect to develop it if we are not the ones taking a stance and actually doing something about it.
Pre-recorded videos and live-streams from the other provinces were projected onto the wall behind the panel. From left to right: Khadija Patel, DJ Fresh, Kagiso Lediga, Shaka Sisulu and facilitator Tumelo Mothotoane. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
For a group of people largely labelled apathetic, the youth in attendance at a debate on a Tuesday morning, braving the temperamental and rainy Joburg weather – were anything but apathetic.
Yesterday, JoziHub in Milpark was the venue for the To Vote or not to Vote debate aimed at so-called ‘born-frees’.
Bornfrees stand up
There is a particular fascination with this year’s youth vote as this year the “born-free” generation, children born in 1994, when South Africa became a democracy, will vote for the first time. How they vote and who they plan on voting for are of particular interest because they have grown up in a democratic South Africa.
Lesedi Molefi of the organisers Live magazine said in the past three months they have interviewed a number of born-frees and found that, “we’re not apathetic and have an incredible role to play,” not only in these elections but in steering the country’s future.
The panel consisted of comedian Kagiso Lediga, journalist Khadija Patel (@khadijapatel), DJ and tweleb DJ Fresh (@DJFreshSA) and social activist Shaka Sisulu (@shakasisulu). The panelists were chosen because they are seen as accessible to the youth and their ideas.
[pullquote]”we’re not apathetic and have an incredible role to play”[/pullquote]
Why should born-frees vote?
Addressing the question, why should born-frees vote, Lediga said: “If you’re not voting, you’re not participating.” DJ Fresh added that participation goes beyond just voting, part of that civic duty is to hold politicians accountable. Sisulu provided an anecdote to explain further: “If you’re dating someone, you can’t see them once every five years – it won’t work, it’s a one night stand then. Put your ballot in the box but make sure to maintain and nurture that relationship over the five years coming.”
The debate was live streamed from Johannesburg to Cape Town and Ginsberg, King Williams Town with questions coming from all three places to the panel. A common complaint from all three provinces was that the youth were never heard. DJ Fresh responded by saying the onus was on political parties to appeal to the youth on their level through channels like twitter and instagram: “Politicians talk at young people and not to them.”
The focus in the latter part of the debate was on what the born-free vote can achieve and individual agency. Patel said, “agency is important – it means having the power within yourself to do something.” The crowd responded well to this and the conversation started to look at ground level solutions and social activism that gear them in that direction.
Lethabo Bogatsu, a self proclaimed born-free said the talk left her feeling empowered and keen to be an active citizen, “I was always going to vote but now I’m not going to stop there. It’s not just the vote and then I’m done. I’m going to work on the relationship, my man is going to be my vote, my political involvement is going to be my man. I’m going to have a relationship there because being single is rough.”
The entire debate can be viewed here.