Magazine for the Upwardly Mobile
Johannesburg-based Tribute markets itself to the increasingly influential black middle class. JOURNALISM: SOUTH AFRICA
TRIBUTE magazine, a glossy monthly which calls itself ``a tribute to black excellence,'' reflects the aspirations and dilemmas of an increasingly visible and influential black middle class. Sandwiched between upbeat fashion features and glitzy advertisements for brandy, perfume, and luxury automobiles are features on black achievers and introspective analyses about the crisis in black leadership.Skip to next paragraph
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The editorial message is clear: It's OK to be black and middle class and to aspire to excellence. You can be oppressed and affluent at the same time. Tribute's 135,000 readers - some of whom adorn the trendy social pages - fall mainly in that category.
But, with excellence, comes a responsibility to break the ideological stereotypes of black politics, molded by apartheid, and search for abiding values to sustain a new South Africa.
``We felt we needed to have heroes,'' says Maud Motanyane, Tribute's soft-spoken editor, who has been at the helm for all but the first three months of the magazine's three years of publishing.
When African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela was released from jail, Tribute celebrated the occasion with a special souvenir supplement.
But even the revered ANC leader is unlikely to escape the cut-and-thrust of the critical analysis that has become Tribute's hallmark.
``Tribute has no holy cows,'' said Ms. Motanyane. ``One cannot afford to have any, if one is to be truly constructive.''
Favorite themes of Tribute columnists are the inadequacy of protest politics, the lack of accountability of black leaders, and an intolerance of criticism.
``Consensus is necessary,'' says Motanyane. ``But false consensus is not only deceptive, it is dangerous. This is why, in the same report that we laud Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a hero, we can ask questions about allegations that he operates without a mandate from the people.''
Tribute was born six months after the government declared a nationwide emergency in June 1986 in a bid to contain a rebellion in the country's black townships. Tens of thousands of activists were held under arbitrary detention laws and organizations were outlawed. They were the darkest days for upwardly mobile blacks.
``Initially, we were totally rejected by the activists who said we were selling out to capitalist values,'' says Motanyane.
But Tribute also faced a credibility problem with the capitalist advertisers whom publisher Greg Psillos, a Greek immigrant who has made it in publishing, hoped would prove the commercial viability of an upmarket black magazine.
``At first we were rejected outright by some advertisers, who insisted there was no such thing as a black middle class,'' says Motanyane.
The black share of personal income in South Africa is approaching 30 percent. But advertisers tend to be cautious in promoting luxury goods to black consumers.
Gradually, they saw Tribute was working and began advertising. Today the magazine has a healthy advertising component, mainly for luxury goods such as designer clothes, shoes, liquor, and furniture.
But Tribute's more abiding challenge has been to win credibility in the inflexible arena of anti-apartheid politics, as practiced by the ANC.
To compound the problem, the very notion of a black middleclass has been further discredited by the government's promotion of the concept as a matter of policy.