With the World Cup around the corner reports about South Africa are coming a regular feature in the British media. Even the South Africa fast-food chicken chain Nando’s gets some love in The Observer today. The same paper took an interesting approach for a feature in their Review section this weekend, by asking several South African writers how they see ‘South Africa today’.
For the most part, the writers presented the familiar mix of careful optimism and gloomy realism about a country full of complexity and contradiction. The feature had the potential of providing a more creative and textured view of the country like the usual travelogue-type reports about which restaurants to visit or the opposite, the kind of stereotypical ‘holiday in hell’ reportage (like the risible ‘warning to fans’ in The Sun or the equally atrocious Australian tabloid TV version). But could The Observer not have worked a bit harder in trying to get some more interesting writers on board? Or at least have thought a bit more about where to cast their limelight?
Albie Sachs’ piece is good, and Mpumelelo Grootboom is the only one speaking to the political economy of the World Cup rather than its symbolism. But it is Rian Malan (these days probably better known in South Africa for his music than his writing, and that says something), who The Observer puts on the front page of their section, whose photo is again splashed over a full page as the leading piece, while Grootboom is cramped into a small corner at the back of the section.
Perhaps it’s because Malan provided more quotable soundbytes about how to manage the country’s schizophrenia, while Grootboom pointed out less palatable realities about who stands to profit from the event. But it does not exactly leave one with the impression that The Observer’s has its finger on the pulse of the South African literary scene.