Two stories that highlight South Africa’s continuing divide

South Africa was a country that fascinated me when I visited it last summer and continues to fascinate me now that I am back in the UK, totally removed from what was an amazing and eye-opening experience.

Obviously, earlier this month and last the world focused on SA as it hosted what was generally acknowledged as a successful World Cup. In the immediate aftermath of the tournament, one Cape Town friend told me that I should have visited this summer, not last, in order to savour the magic and buzz he had felt throughout the tournament. And he hadn’t even been to any games, priced out of it like many other South Africans, but that’s another story….

However, from the South African World Cup there emerged all too frequent stories about the stark inequalities that still exist in the country less than two decades after the end of apartheid.

For South Africa to properly escape from the era of social and cultural apartheid may take a generation, maybe longer. You don’t reverse decades of a mentality that permeates a society as a result of a total divide of different races in a few years.

One story out of Bloemfontein highlights that rather starkly. The humiliation of Free State University black employees by former white students who forced them to carry out typical student initiation acts for a video that became a world-wide sensation for all the wrong reasons is shocking but not so surprising for many familiar with the problems of racial integration in SA.

The students claim this was a satirical take on racial integration within the country. But humiliating black workers in this way is in no way satirical, it’s not even a little bit funny.

It’s just another example of a subconscious feeling amongst certain white people in South Africa that they remain superior to the black majority. The story of the “Reitz Four”, as the offending students became known, is a dark reminder of why South Africa cannot fully escape its past.

However, the story of same-sex marriages becoming increasingly popular in the country is one that offers hope that bit by bit South Africa is emerging as a true rainbow nation. Cape Town, with what The New York Times describes as its it’s “gay-friendly culture”, is in many ways a shining example of what South Africa can become in the years ahead.

But even the Times article, largely positive about the country’s progress with same-sex marriages highlights the near total domination of gay marriage by white Afrikaners.

For those in the socially conservative and economically deprived areas of the townships and settlements, many located in the suburbs of Cape Town, they have yet to embrace the idea of same-sex marriage or engage in it.

This is probably because they are more concerned about reducing the crime rate, and ensuring they have basic facilities like running water and electricity. Afrikaners may be increasingly embracing same-sex marriage because they don’t have to fight for basic human rights like those in the townships and settlements.

The growth of same-sex marriages is a positive example of how South Africa is progressing in the post apartheid era.

But the almost total incomprehension of the idea by the black majority and the awful case of the “Reitz Four” in Bloemfontein is a stark reminder of however much progress may have been made in the last few years, there is much more that needs to happen in order for South Africa to properly break free from the shackles of its horrible past.

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Wikileaks’ Afghan War Logs are a boost for print media

Plenty will be written about the content of Wikileaks’ Afghan War logs and the ramifications for the war itself. But the main findings from the documents reveal little that we didn’t already know or suspect was happening in Afghanistan.

There is an increasing use of IEDs with deadly effects, an increasing number of civilian casualties as a result, there’s a growing use of drones by US forces, a tacit involvement of elements of the Pakistani intelligence services, and a total inability of Afghan central government and security forces to get a handle on any of it, beset by corruption and incompetency in equal measure.

Of course with the amount of content made available today some interesting individual stories have emerged.The story of Combat Outpost Keating uncovered by the New York Times’ own investigation of the documents caught my eye as a tragic example of the difficulties faced by allied forces in the region.

But what’s interesting from a journalism point of view about the war logs is the fact that Wikileaks, an increasingly prominent whistle blowing website, chose to collaborate with The Guardian, The New York Times and German weekly Der Spiegel, forgoing their usual practice of putting whatever leaked material has come into their possession straight up on their own web servers.

Wikileaks founder and editor Julian Assange, recognised that they needed the help and investigative expertise of these three renowned publications to extract the real stories from the 90,000 or so documents, leaked by US army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning and probably others.

Assange described the three publications as “the best newspapers in the world for investigative research.” It shows that print media is still highly valued in the modern media environment despite the seemingly endless stream of negative stories about the decline of newspapers, mainly with cutbacks and job losses at a regional level.

On top of this the emergence of websites such as Wikileaks were seen as another nail in the coffin of print journalism. No longer would a whistleblower with sensitive information contact an investigative newspaper journalist but he would instead make contact with websites such as Assange’s who would then publish the information in its entirety online.

While local newspapers are perhaps hitting a terminal decline, today’s revelations show that at a national level the best investigative journalists, perhaps the bests journalists still ply their trade for newspapers and magazines. For an insight into how it all came about Nick Davies gives an excellent account of the story behind the story as part of The Guardian‘s coverage today.

Clearly whilst all three of the publications have made use of their online presence to present the war logs in an interesting and engaging way, their print editions will be most memorable.

Proof of that can be seen in Assange holding aloft a copy of today’s Guardian at his press conference this afternoon to show the world the results of the biggest leak in intelligence history.

On this evidence, the newspaper remains the first draft of history.

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Follow me on Twitter: @oconnellhugh