remembering South Africa (I)

A fine letter.

Recently, in South Africa, I was interviewed by an SABC presenter on a half hour TV programme about the Angola elections. She asked me at one point whether I thought Unita should have “accepted the election results so willingly”. I responded with another question, “Should Al Gore have accepted the 2000 election results so willingly?” This was not as out of the blue as it sounds. What depressed me most about South Africa’s media, while we lived there for 11 months, was their own insistence on seeing and judging the African continent from a very Western perspective. Their news reporters report the West by airing BBC reporters in Washington or printing British newspaper reports on their own pages. They don’t invest money to send their own reporters North, nor encourage their own reporters to see the world in more objective terms.

When Mbeki was ousted, J & I had several long discussions about Margaret Thatcher’s exit from power. As many South Africans predicted the beginning of the end, I wondered if it wasn’t infact the sign of a maturing democracy. Power changes hands peacefully within a former African national liberation movement; a leader steps down after 9 years as President; rumours that the former national liberation movement might split. All progress, I think, not the coup d’état portrayed in many South African papers. Was the Tories’ behaviour so much more gentile than the ANC’s?

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4 thoughts on “remembering South Africa (I)

  1. Love your blog. You’re right about Mbeki’s ouster. The Thatcher parallel works for me too. You’re also right about SA’s newspapers. I was Business Day’s Washington correspondent until they closed the office, and London too, when the rand collapsed in 2001. I still do a column for BD. My day job is explaining SA as a hireling spin-doctor. I mostly believe myself.

  2. Already, Sean, indeed. It was only ever to be a year: that was the length of the fellowship. To my surprise, I miss Johannesburg in strange ways. Everything here seems so small, particularly my old Hackney flat… But, yes, already. We could have stayed – we were both offered good work – but we opted for home, and the incentive of retrieving the 1200 quid we left with the SA embassy a year ago: you only get it back if you come back home…

    Simon, thanks for your praise. So where do you live now? In Joburg, or Cape Town? Has BD never thought of re-opening the office? Why not? Still a low rand? It’s priorities, no? Does BD have any permanent foreign correspondents anywhere? I’d love to know more.

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