When South Africa Called, We Answered:
By Danny Schechter
New York, New York: This is probably the worst time to write and release a book about my involvement in the long struggle to free South Africa. It's a bad time because even as the country celebrates its 20th anniversary as a democracy with elections slated for next week, there has never been more rancor and anger in a land we all wanted to see as a true "rainbow nation" -- a model for the world because of how it achieved a relatively peaceful transition from white rule and promoted racial reconciliation.
My new book, When South Africa Called, We Answered: How Solidarity Helped Topple Apartheid, about the global solidarity movement has been published (actually pre-published) by ColdType.net, a Canadian- based website and online publication run by Tony Sutton, a former editor of Johannesburg's classic Drum Magazine, often spoken of as the Life Magazine for the black communities during the glory days of resistance. You can download it for free as a PDF from coldtype.net.
I wrote it, and released it quickly after a serious health scare, now happily abated, because I wanted to be sure that the history of the media projects I have been associated with over the decades, from the all-star music album "Sun City" by the 58-star Artists United Against Apartheid, the TV series South Africa Now, and my work with Nelson Mandela whose story I tell in the book, Madiba A to Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela (Madibabook.com), gets told in one place.
As I was writing about Mandela heroic life, I thought there might be value in writing my own memoir too, by compiling the many essays I wrote alongside the media work I have initiated about South Africa for decades as an expression of solidarity. But I also know, as is all too often the case with a lot of my work, the timing may be very problematic, if not totally off.
The global anti-apartheid movement is long gone, and now, so is Madiba, (the clan name for Mandela) the larger than life leader who largely inspired it. With all the memorializing, many confess to be "Mandela-ed out." His life has been feted in print, and on the big screen, most recently by the epic movie Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom. The press has mostly moved on.
The news media is now more focused on red meat for gossip: the tabloid drama of the trial there of Oscar Pistorius, South Africa's well-known disabled runner accused of intentionally shooting his high-profile girlfriend in a tragic and bloody late-night confrontation or accident.
There is some media interest in the country. Britain's The Financial Times, sent their editor, Lionel Barber, on a 12-day safari to Southern Africa to key in on today's challenges. He notes that, "20 years after the end of apartheid (sic, its been 24 years) South Africa and its neighboring states, Namibia and Angola, face a second great struggle for progress, prosperity and a better future for all."
He spent a day on the campaign trail with President Jacob Zuma, observing, "he can jive like a man half his age to the old liberation favorite, "Umshini Wami," (In English ("Bring Me my Machine." FT doesn't mention that this is an oft-repeated recycled act for JZ, as he's known, because he beat that song to death in his first campaign five years ago after forcing Thabo Mbeki out of ANC politics.
In the end, Barber is upbeat about South Africa's economy, perhaps because it is still dominated by a multinational privately-controlled Mineral Energy Complex (MEC) with many of its components now based in London. "If you believe in Africa," he writes. "You have to be positive about South Africa."
This is hardly the message of Zuma's many detractors want to hear, including many responding to the call of ex-ANC stalwarts to Vote No by soiling their ballots in a protest against pervasive corruption. Soon, as the South African election in early May comes into focus, the rest of the world media will descend and give local events their attention for a day or two.
Already, a long time supporter of the ANC, the Mail & Guardian newspaper is urging readers to vote selectively, writing:
"A narrower margin means the opposition tightens the leash on the ruling party, and can make better use of legislatures to stem government excesses" Never before has the M&G urged readers to oppose the ANC. But we do so now because the aim is to make the ANC more effective and responsive."
Big Media loves conflict and this story is perfect, complete with bitter charges of looting state resources, defections by long-time supporters of Mandela's ANC and frustration in every community as the economy seems unable to eradicate poverty and distribute wealth fairly. The newspaper that brags "We Live in Financial Times" hints at this downside but is driven by the positive hopes of investors and financiers.