National Geographic on “Mandela’s Children”

Like many other mainstream publications, National Geographic Magazine’s June 2010 issue (out May 25) will host a feature on South Africa. The feature is entitled, “Mandela’s Children” (titled for Mandela’s comments when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993: “It will… be measured by the happiness and welfare of the children”) and is completed with photographs by James Nachtwey (see the website for slideshow), and a story by writer Alexandra Fuller.

I’ll just put it out there – I really wanted to dislike this feature.

Typically, the mere sight of that iconic National Geographic golden rectangle irks me to my bones. The publication has a notable history of producing an often times problematic ethnographic lens with which the Western world gazes at the “bizarre” and “different.” That’s why when reviewing the June issue’s South African feature, I immediately–and perhaps unfairly–took a staunch critical mindset. However, as I turned the pages, Fuller’s words, accompanied with Nachtwey’s stunning photographs, slowly melted my skepticism.

Fuller’s story highlights the deeply ingrained sociological, economic, and political problems that still persist in South Africa as a result of apartheid.

The article is a refreshing step above the campy, World Cup-oriented images of South Africa as united and liberated of past divisions. Fuller’s words and Nachtwey’s photographs instead prepare visiting soccer fans for the sights, attitudes, and emotions that they may actually encounter during the games.

Fuller splits the story up into nine sub-headings, each narrative an account of a 1996 shopping mall bombing that injured nearly 70 people and killed four – three of whom were children (all the victims are either coloured or black). The time and place of the bombing, as highlighted by Fuller, is of the utmost importance in order to refute the peaceful Rainbow Nation narrative ala Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and the TRC.

Two years after the “peaceful” democratic transition to majority rule, and 6 months after the TRC had held a hearing in the small town of Worcester in the Western Cape, racially charged bombs of hatred ripped through the shopping center on Christmas Eve. The murderer, later renamed “military operative” was 19 years old at the time of the bombing and deeply involved in multiple white supremacy organizations that thrived in the country.

Fuller details the various political, emotional, socio-economic, cultural and racial elements that surround the event and lead to the eventual meeting and subsequent forgiveness of the man by his victims. Unlike other countless stories of the same magnitude, this one comes full circle with victim forgiveness and actual restitution.

It’s important to note that organizations aimed for reform and restitution, like the TRC, were limited in their effectiveness  – and many stories of torture and political injustice have not been resolved to date.

That’s what I liked about this article. It does a good job of providing a snapshot of the complexity of such things as social and political reform. Unlike what a film like “Invictus” would have us believe, South Africa’s socio-economic landscape and intense disparities are still fueled by racial inequalities – “the long shadow of apartheid.”

The National Geographic feature attempts to break with standard narratives of South Africa as exemplary of equality among people by way of peaceful transition. It does so by pointing out that apartheid’s after-effects live on in the hearts, minds and, in the case of one of the story’s victims, the bodies of many South Africans. This is accomplished through Fuller’s ability to capture the personal drama of each figure in the story. It becomes clear that their drama is not isolated, but is part of a broader contemporary spectrum including everything from violence in the home, influenced by fathers away for months in the gold mines (one of the country’s leading exports), to the recent fraction in the executive national government. And for the pragmatic mind, the feature breaks down the aftermath of apartheid into graphs and charts highlighting the ongoing economic and social inequalities.

The feature–the pictures and the text as a unit–presents South Africa as a hybrid of modernity and tradition, rich and poor, violent and compassionate; in short, an entanglement of realities that while complicated, is certainly not unworthy of the world’s attention next month.

P.S. my sincerest gratitude goes to The Society for getting through an African feature without the single mention of a lion. Thank you.

Allison Swank



Sean Jacobs

Also goes by Hasan Wazan. Life President.

  1. We Must continue to Fight for the equality of African Children with regards an Education so they may rightfully take up their place in the global society of the future.


    This paper argues the right of every child to have equal access to an education irrespective of his or her colour, creed, nationality, ethnicity or social & financial status so he or she may obtain gainful employment and contribute to the growth of his or her society in the 21st century. Within a knowledge based global society the basic tools of education must include educational & operational softwares.
    The interpretation of Intellectual Property Laws today is a morally unjust construal of the law and must be immediately revisited so as to allow the poor children of our global societies their human right to an equal education.
    This paper seeks to rally all those who seek equality for all the children of the world, irrespective of their sex, colour, creed, nationality, or financial standing, to join the fight against those who seek only riches, by economically coercing poor & developing nations to enforce their immoral interpretations of the Intellectual Property Laws.
    Article 1.
    • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
    The Declaration of the Rights of the Child
    1. The child must be given the means requisite for its normal development, both materially and spiritually.
    2. The child that is hungry must be fed, the child that is sick must be nursed, the child that is backward must be helped, the delinquent child must be reclaimed, and the orphan and the waif must be sheltered and secured.
    3. The child must be the first to receive relief in times of distress.
    4. The child must be put in a position to earn a livelihood, and must be protected against every form of exploitation.
    5. The child must be brought up in the consciousness that its talents must be devoted to the service of its fellow men.
    Surely ‘The United Nations Human Rights’ & ‘The Declaration of the Rights of the Child’ leave no doubt that it is the right of every child to have equal access to education, irrespective of his or her, colour, creed, nationality, ethnicity, age or financial status.
    Knowledge now forms a major component of all human activity, economic, social & cultural and has become the major creative force of all developed societies, hence creating new ‘Knowledge Based’ societies & economies. Knowledge is gained from access to education, hence both are essential elements for the development of all children, societies, countries, economies & humanity.
    Knowledge societies are not a new occurrence. Fishermen have long shared the knowledge of predicting the weather to their community and this knowledge gets added to the social capital of the community. What is new is that,
    • With current technologies, knowledge societies need not be constrained by geographic proximity
    • Current technology offers much more possibilities for sharing, archiving and retrieving knowledge
    • Knowledge has become the most important capital in the present age, and hence the success of any society lies in harnessing it.
    All governments & individuals who truly believe in Human & Child Rights & the equality of all, must surely also believe in providing equal access to all information & tools required for their education, irrespective of a child’s, colour, creed, nationality, religion, ethnicity, age or financial status. Hence the tools & information required for a child’s education should not be withheld for the monetary gain of a few. Humanity can never allow a global society to develop that promotes the haves & have nots of a basic education.
    In this high tech, computerised, interconnect world of the 21st century, both filled & reliant on high speed access to information no one country, state, city, community or village can hope to compete on equal footing with others unless their children have equal access to the programs & softwares that all others enjoy as part of their education & vocational training.
    All men & women, have but their labour to give, or trade in return for the basic necessities of life, of which education is one. A man or woman from a developing country is not a lesser man or woman than that of one from a developed country. Their labour has always afforded them the basic necessities of life within their own communities because their government ensures the cost of the basic necessities of life are commensurate with the average weekly income of their country. The advent of a ‘Global Economy’ has however strained this basic principle of human existence for the poorer nations & people..
    Software Piracy does not occur because the populations of poorer, or developing countries are inherently criminals. It occurs because the young people of these developing countries need to gain an education that their families can no longer afford, because of the exorbitant costs of ‘legal copies’ of these very necessary educational software programs.
    2009 Average Salaries for Developed Nations
    Luxembourg 49,663 2 United States 49,483 3 Ireland 44,013 4 Switzerland 42,980 5 Netherlands 42,514 6 Australia 42,019 7 United Kingdom 40,825 8 Belgium 40,591 9 Norway 40,177 10 Denmark 39,143 11 Austria 38,682 12 France 35,430 13 Germany 35,292 14 Sweden 33,586 15 Japan 31,773 16 Finland 31,211 17 Italy 29,198 18 Spain 28,871 19 South Korea 27,587 20 Greece 26,929 21 Hungary 21,161 22 Czech Republic 18,922 23 Portugal 18,300 24 Poland
    In 2009 the average weekly wage of an American is approximately $950 / week or 49,483 /annum
    The cost of Microsoft Office is $499 (December 2009)
    This equates to a parent who is earning $23.70 / hour, paying the equivalent of 21 hours of their labour ( approx 3 days) to buy an essential educational tool for their child’s education .
    In Vietnam the average weekly wage is $25 / week ,or $1,300 / annum
    The cost of Microsoft Office is $499
    This equates to a parent who is earning $0.62 / hour paying the equivalent of 804 hours (approx 100 days) of their labour to buy an essential educational tool for their child’s education .
    We stated earlier that all workers have but their labour to give or trade for the necessities of life. So with that in mind if we were to reverse the situation for American workers, by developing a proportionate cost for Microsoft Office based upon their hours of labour, we would find that they would need to pay $19,050, (equivalent to 804 hours of labour,). If this was the retail price of Microsoft Office in America we would surely expect to see a Software Piracy Industry emerge in America similar to that of which we presently see in developing countries. Not because American children over night had suddenly become criminals, but because the cost of the tools needed for an education had suddenly exceeded their parent’s ability to buy.
    Intellectual Property Laws are meant to protect the rights of an author to his or her developed intellectual works from being copied. They should never be misinterpreted or misused to protect his or her rights to riches, by way of exploitation or disregard of the basic human rights of all.
    Equal rights must not be idle worlds of the rich, or already haves. The right of every child to shelter, food, safety & education are fundamental human rights, far outweighing economic or intellectual property rights which would not be considered fundamental Human Rights by any moral, thinking human being.
    Within a global, economic society the only way to achieve equal rights & access for all to an education & job, is to put in place a ‘Global Index System’ based upon the average salary of a country.
    A simple example of this would be to allot America the base index of ‘1’. Hence ‘1’ would equal the average annual wage of America.
    If in 2009 America’s average salary is $49,483.00 then this number will become the base (1) for all other index calculations.
    If Australia’s average salary is $42,019 then its index would be 0.84 (42,019 divided by 49,483 = 0.84)
    If Vietnam’s average salary is $1,300 then its index would be 0.0262. (1,300 divided by 49,483 = 0.0262)
    The Intellectual Property Rights of any Educational or Vocational software would then be valued, within any country, by taking the price the software is retailing for in America and multiplying it by that country’s index. (These indexes would be set by a reputable organisation such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or United Nations (UN) and would be updated each year.)
    Hence for equality of access by the children of Vietnam to Microsoft Office the price should be the price of Microsoft Office ($499) multiplied by Vietnam’s index of ( 0.0262) which means for equality of access the sale price for Microsoft Office should be $13.07.
    Countries cannot disadvantage their young citizens to the right of an education by enforcing unjust & unequal global laws, when those laws do not take into account the differences between a developing and developed country. If developing countries enforce present interpretations of Intellectual Property Laws, they are ensuring that their countries will forever remain developing nations by dramatically impeding the young peoples of their countries from ever gaining the necessary education that will allow them to compete equally within the global economy, as computer literacy & skills in the 21st century are just as important as literacy itself.
    Until there is a decision reached regards this very important matter, companies & governments should restrain from prosecuting persons in developing countries for using educational & vocational pirated software.
    If companies do prosecute during this time of decision making, developing countries must rally behind each other and fight the case in the highest courts of their lands and in front of the Human Rights Tribunal.
    If developed governments, global organisations or software companies believe that a moratorium on prosecutions for the use of pirated software is wrong then maybe they need to start implementing an interim scheme which would see Microsoft Office retailing in the United States for $19,000. This would be another way of achieving equality for all the young of the world in the short term.

  2. Yet another piece demonizing whites… the situation in SA is very complex. Biling it down to blacks good whites bad will not do anything to help lift this country out of the hardships it finds itself today

  3. I enjoyed studying it. I need to learn extra on this matter…I admiring effort and time you place in your blog, as a result of it is clearly one great place the place I can find lot of helpful info..

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