A negative end?

The plan was to end off 2009 as this blog has seen 2009: a look forward with typical realistic optimism to what 2010 has to offer for South Africa.
And then the Mail & Guardian reproduced this little gem from The Guardian in the UK.
It’s one of those opinion pieces which is written with a cheeky gleam in the author’s eye, the well-known “this should prompt a reaction” gleam. It’s not a difficult thing to do: pick an emotive subject, cherry-pick facts to suit your agenda, sprinkle with a couple of disingenuous statements and rely on the reading public not having the knowledge to question them, hit PUBLISH, sit back and watch the sparks fly. Jonathan Steele did it in this case for The Guardian and then Nic Dawes et al picked it up and used the same techniques to keep the M&G website ticking over while everyone should actually have been on the beach.
But no one falls for that sort of trap anymore, do they? So, it didn’t work, did it?
Of course it did:

…written by a Brit, I must point out. Typical whingey, onanistic bluster.

(the full irony of which is fully revealed after this comment on this post)

It amazes me that the Brits have so much to say about SA.
It’s not as if we’re still a colony.


A bunch of whingy Brits have a go at South Africa (see the comments).

Honestly, if you’re going to judge an entire country on the work of one journalist on a slow news day, we’re in trouble. And if you’re going to judge an entire country on the comments on a website news article, then we’re really in trouble. Especially South Africa.
No – much better to judge an entire country on their cricket team, I always say. *ahem*

Moving on to the article itself, it’s actually rather cleverly written, reminding me of that Peter Hitchens one from last March, except that it’s rather cleverly written. There’s no one fact in there that is actually incorrect, but there’s a good deal of careful omission and use of “opinion” to put a negative spin on things. And then there’s the fact that while the title “Why 2010 could be an own goal for the Rainbow Nation” hints towards something about the World Cup going awry, the article is primarily about the supposed failings of the ANC  Government over the last 15 years – and nothing to do with next year at all, save for a passing mention in the first paragraph and a vague assertion that next year will bring further scrutiny on the ruling party. Who knew?

The only moment of positivity I could find in this otherwise one-sided effort was that Jacob Zuma is “more accessible to ordinary South Africans than his aloof predecessor, Thabo Mbeki”, which is hardly much of an earth-shattering epiphany either. And then it’s tempered with a nice dig at everyone’s favourite enemy of the world… er… Nelson Mandela, “who, according to former ministers, could be brutal in cabinet, shutting speakers up by saying he had already taken his decision”.

But from then on in, it’s all doom and gloom; flirting with the full truth on occasion:

Instead of scapegoating the innocent, poor people are aiming their criticism at officials of the ruling party, the African National Congress, and demanding delivery of long-promised improvements. The bad news is that the government and the media seem unwilling to engage in serious debate, let alone action, on how to supply people with what they need.

hiding behind the author’s own prejudices opinion:

South Africa’s press and blog sites are dominated by rightwing thinking. They regularly headline claims that the government is “lurching to the left” and that the Communist party and trade union allies are getting the upper hand.

and being downright disingenuous with others:

Zuma was unlucky to come to power just after the onset of the global economic crisis. Growth in 2010 is projected to fall by 2.6% at a time when western economies are already reviving.

I don’t think that Zuma doubts that South Africa has problems. Nor do I think that he is afraid to stand up and face them or those who rightfully demand service delivery. The trouble is that for every township that riots, there are another [large number] that also face exactly the same problems. Apartheid left a huge wound on South Africa which is going to take many decades to heal. To expect everything to be sorted out already is laughable: these people are politicians – they are just human beings.
South Africa is going the right way – but too slowly. Zuma’s task is to speed up that change.
How? I don’t know. I’m a microbiologist. But I will suggest that if anyone had a magic wand, they surely would have waved it by now.

I felt sure that I was going to disagree with Steele about his view of South Africa’s prospects in 2010. But if the only conclusion he comes to is that “The spotlight on the country’s progress since apartheid will be more intense than ever”, well then maybe I agree. But I do think it will stand up to that spotlight.
It’s all very well talking of an (unreferenced) average class size of 50: 15 years ago, there weren’t even any classrooms.
It’s all very well talking of the “brutal” police service: what were they doing pre-1994?
And yes, the people are now turning to the justice system to bring change: how is that not progress?

Next year promises to be huge for this country. With the FIFA World Cup comes a massive opportunity to showcase what South Africa has to offer. I’ve said before that there will be dissent; that there will be articles (like Steele’s) which will seek to derail the occasion and pounce on every little error or problem. But we don’t have to live our lives like that.
It should be a year of progress – not by overlooking the problems, but by tackling them.
It should be a year of celebration – enjoying the successes and learning from the failures.

South Africa isn’t perfect. Nowhere is perfect.
But in 2010, SA is going to shine.

Happy New Year.

5 thoughts on “A negative end?

  1. Funny, I was this very morning dusting off that Daily Mail piece by H Rider Haggard Peter Hitchens for a re-read. Remarkable stuff. I always felt the subheading should have been: “PETER HITCHENS emerges from the sancitude of HIS OWN ARSE to deliver THIS EXCLUSIVE REPORT!”

    But back to the topic You’ve cut straight to the heart of things as always, 6000. And since you called me out on Twitter, I feel I should explain my cinnebts. Me, I don’t have a chip on my shoulder about British views on South Africans. I don’t think that’s the issue here. My shoulder is officially chip-free.

    The comments section on that Steele article caught my attention because its overall tone (with exceptions, as always) reminded me so much of the hard-headed racism and soft-headed white-liberalism that I see in comment sections in the .co.za part of the world that, God, I don’t mind telling you, I got a little homesick:

    “Those savages are dragging South Africa to hell!” says one.
    “Now now,” says another, trying to level-headed: “if YOU had been deprived of education and clothing and food and were as desperate and helpless as a black person, you would probably be a bit of a savage yourself, don’t you think!!”

    Or perhaps the second one could just say, “A savage? Perhaps, but a damned noble one!!”

    That false dichotomy has a walk-on part in nearly every vaguely controversial article I’ve seen on News24, M&G Online and IOL.co.za. In fact, I directed my tweet “Each has their own opinion, and all are wrong” at the human condition, not at my pale-skinned northern ancestors. That doesn’t mean I was correct, of course — but it does mean you’ll have to draft a second rebuttal.

    But hey, you’ve ended up being the bigger man. Shown us all our own arses and then wished us a happy new year and a drink so quick that nobody could even protest. 6000, I think you might be the best South African I ever met.

    HNY to you, sir.

  2. The beauty of hindsight, and Twitter as well I suppose, is how hilarious one’s own opinions appear afterward the moment is over. Thanks for the laugh, albeit it at my expense.

    I still object to our media and blogging community being labelled as ‘right-wing’. That’s ridiculous.

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