Apr 15 2009

BBC’s South Africa bash

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 6:42 PM

BBC’s “World Tonight” (Radio Four) invited me to speak on a program devoted to the national elections in South Africa. My role was to discuss with the political economist, Moeletsi Mbeki, the wider economic currents in sub-Saharan Africa against the backdrop of the global financial crisis — against the backdrop of 15 years since the end of apartheid and the likelihood of another African National Congress government, this time under the leadership of Jacob Zuma.
In the April 13 broadcast emphasized some refreshing positives in my segment with Mbeki, whose thinking I admire. But the dour attitudes often shown by the British towards African futures were on immediate display. The opening interview, with an ordinary South African woman, quoted her as saying about her own country, “At the moment I’m feeling bitter.” Fair enough, given the severe crime and great wealth inequality in South Africa today. But then she added, “Nothing has ever happened since 1994.”

Nothing? The remarkable achievements of South Africa since 1994 cannot be dismissed so easily.

Mbeki gamely highlighted positives, fairly I felt (even though he is the brother of the more famous Thabo Mbeki). The narrator of the program, with whom we did not speak, pointed out that crime was a response to wealth inequality.

In a country which suffered 19,000 murders last year, violence takes on a pathological normality that mocks the power of rational analysis. The BBC is of course right to bemoan rampant crime in South Africa, but this particular broadcast failed to identify the roots of violence in the history of apartheid itself, and especially state-sponsored promotion of violence within African communities. The apartheid regime invested heavily in the promotion of violence between black Africans for more than a century. The “divide and conquer” tactic bequeathed to an independent South Africa habits of violence, however indefensible, that cannot simply be switched off. The legacy of apartheid is no excuse for continued violence, but no pro-peace program for civil society and community policing in South Africa can gain any traction without squarely facing history.

Comments are closed.