The BBC’s standards of journalism when it comes to South Africa

Read it here. The piece is by longtime foreign correspondent John Simpson.

The main claims of the piece (and a documentary broadcast in the UK on Sunday night) are that the white poor number about 400,000 (that would be about 10% of the white population), that there are 80 “white squatter camps” situated around the capital Pretoria, and that there’s a deliberate attempt on the part of the new government to neglect whites. These reports usually add attacks on white farmers into the mix as if there are direct links between these phenomena. And the BBC did that too. It’s a mashup of all the nonsense Afriforum (and its allies like Solidarity) peddles to whichever local or foreign journalists care to listen. In most of these articles and “documentaries” white poverty is exaggerated and treated as unnatural. All of this is, of course, propaganda and fits in well with the attempts at inventing history or the new victim discourse among white South Africans lapped up by foreign media.

We were discussing writing a lengthy post pointing out how reports about white poverty in South Africa seem to all use the same photographs, visit the same “white squatter camp” over and over again, and pretend or imply that all black people are now middle class (the real scandal in South Africa is of course black poverty), among others, but then we remembered there is enough evidence out there the BBC could have consulted.

Like the fact that white South Africans are doing just as well–actually way better than expected–since the end of Apartheid (the most recent study to confirm this comes from the South African Institute of Race Relations, an institute not known for its support either for the liberation struggle or their love for the current ruling party) and CEOs and managers are still majority white. As for conditions on farms, read this. Finally, there’s the the article by Africa Check, a South African website doing just that: fact checking. They systematically refute the falsehoods of the BBC report and concluded: “The claim that 400,000 whites are living in squatter camps is grossly inaccurate. If that were the case, it would mean that roughly ten percent of South Africa’s 4.59-million whites were living in abject poverty. Census figures suggest that only a tiny fraction of the white population – as little as 7,754 households – are affected.”

The spectacle of Ernst Roets, an Afriforum leader, and a representative from one of Afriforum’s partners, Solidarity, suddenly claiming they can’t say where those statistics originate, is also something to behold. Word is Roets is drafting a reply made up of more made up statistics.

There’s a certain amount of irony at play here also that Africa Check needed to be prompted by a BBC report to refute the stats that Afriforum, Afrikaner Genocide and other white apocalypse organizations have been poisoning the public debate with for a good ten years now.

But back to the BBC, which generally serves up contextual and well-researched reporting on South Africa: They do slip up occasionally when it comes to that country. Just recently the BBC presented FW de Klerk, the last white leader of South Africa, who as recently as last year still defended the moral basis for Apartheid, as an “analyst” of postapartheid South Africa. (And after watching it, I am still trying to figure out whether Peter Hain’s recent “documentary” film is really about the people of Marikana–as it is marketed–or about Peter Hain?)

It seems unlikely the BBC will apologize over this and we doubt it will be pressured by its viewers and readers judging by the online comments on the story or how the story was circulated on the web (sites like Huffington Post republished it without any critical commentary) or shared as truth on Twitter and Facebook.

* BTW, the BBC is not the only “global news” operator that draws on Afriforum and its alliance-partners for research or analysis. At the outset of the Marikana mine massacre in August last year where police murdered 34 miners in cold blood, Al Jazeera turned to Solidarity for comment and analysis.

Further Reading

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The meanings of Heath Streak

Zimbabwean cricketing legend Heath Streak’s career mirrors many of the unresolved tensions of race and class in Zimbabwe. Yet few white Zimbabwean sporting figures are able to stir interest and conversation across the nation’s many divides.


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The magic man

Chris Blackwell’s long-awaited autobiography shows him as a romantic rogue; a risk taker whose life compass has been an open mind and gift to hear and see slightly into the future.

How to think about colonialism

Contemporary approaches to the legacy of colonialism tend to narrowly emphasize political agency as the solution to Africa’s problems. But agency is configured through historically particular relations of which we are not sole authors.

More than just a flag

South Africa’s apartheid flag has been declared hate speech by a top court. But while courts are important and their judgments matter, racism is a long and internationally entrenched social phenomenon that cannot be undone via judicial processes.

Resistance is a continuous endeavor

For more than 75 years, Palestinians have organized for a liberated future. Today, as resistance against Israeli apartheid intensifies, unity and revolutionary optimism has become the main infrastructure of struggle.

Paradise forgotten

While there is much to mourn about the passing of legendary American singer and actor Harry Belafonte, we should hold a place for his bold statement-album against apartheid South Africa.