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Jonathan Ball

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Jonny Steinberg: The Push for the Media Appeals Tribunal Equates to a Quest for Respect

Three-letter PlagueThin BlueSteinberg outlines a nuanced theory about the deep origins of the ANC’s push to curb the media. It’s all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T, he says:

Were the government’s proposed media appeals tribunal to be traced to its deepest roots, how far back would we go? I’d hazard that we would end up in the Eastern Cape town of Alice in 1850, when, for the first time in that territory, a black person sued a white for defamation.

The plaintiff’s name was Jacob Bokwe, and he took action after a white man publicly called him “a gross liar”. Bokwe told the magistrate he wanted compensation for the damage done to his reputation.

Anyone familiar with the history of the Eastern Cape’s grandee families will recognise the name Bokwe. Jacob was among the first graduates of Lovedale College and the founder of a dynasty of distinguished black professionals. Among his descendants were John Knox Bokwe, ground-breaking musicology scholar and accomplished composer, and Roseberry Bokwe, who studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and became a district surgeon.

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