with a Joburg journo

We talk about the placing of the story. I recall the words of a friend, also a journalist, also from South Africa, who said that the difference between Then and Now is that the story used to be in the townships, that’s where the journalists would go (or where nervous foreign correspondents would send their ‘fixers’ to get the story for them). Today, no one goes to the townships: meaning, the reporters don’t go there. What happens in the townships is not reported to the rest of the nation, and even journalists who once lived there no longer go back to do reports from the townships. What does this tell you about the Once New South Africa? Too much too late. But my companion, yesterday, said in fact there is one paper that covers the townships. The Daily Sun. South Africa’s Daily Sun is much like Britain’s The Sun: full of populist hysteria. Man eats ten wives! Twenty years living under a tree! Zombie caught in love triangle! That kind of stuff. But my companion corrected me. He agreed it might be tabloid and a wee bit prone to exaggeration, but it wrote for (as J put it neatly this morning) ‘the man in blue overalls’. Regarding the xenophobic attacks that happened recently here (I’m still not sure I would call them xenophobic: that is to simplify the problem, the cause, the reasons, if not the results, surely), the Daily Sun was accused by others of being xenophobic and provoking the masses to get out there and defend themselves. In its defence, it argued that many South Africans were not yet at the stage where they could love their brother – they are still busy trying to move out of their tin shack, to find a job, to sort out decent medical care and so on and so on and So On. This is, as J also put neatly this morning, not that far removed from The Sun in the UK who use this sort of line to defend all sorts of racist writing they publish. Except that there are some fundamental differences: people in the UK don’t live in tin shacks, and we have an NHS (just about still) that gives you a new hip on Tuesday if you broke it on Monday. What I want to understand is why so much is said about xenophobia here, and so little is said about the on-going structural racism which privileges the white man and a handful of blacks. All around me, every day here, I see white racism and white privilege and I wonder why the lid hasn’t burst open, and I wonder why I don’t feel I can discuss this with a lot of the people I meet here. Censorship is in effect. A social censorship. A social self-censorship. And its eating at me. And it’s partly why I write so clumsily: when you are trying to write but fear that you will be distanced or sent out to grass for what you write, you become clumsy.

Oh, and a last thought, inspired by a friend BC who wrote to me with an interesting question: ‘If haikus are supposed to be about mindfulness, attentiveness, the now, not about adornment or interpretation, do you think one could write reportage as haiku?’ If you are as ignorant as I (was), here’s some information on haikus.

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3 thoughts on “with a Joburg journo

  1. “A social self-censorship. And its eating at me. And it’s partly why I write so clumsily: when you are trying to write but fear that you will be distanced or sent out to grass for what you write, you become clumsy.”

    That is the worst thing that can happen for a journalist. I feel sorry for you.

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