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Zubeida Jaffer Responds to Washington Post Op-ed by Anne Applebaum on Nelson Mandela’s Death

Veteran journalist and author, Zubeida Jaffer, has written an open letter to the Washington Post about an op-ed by Anne Applebaum on the impact of Nelson Mandela’s death on South Africa.

Love in the Time of TreasonOur GenerationNot by Dread AloneThe Long View

In the op-ed, Applebaum describes talking to a “young, black and politically savvy South African journalist” a few months ago about what the media coverage would be like following Mandela’s death. She writes that, “he knew, of course, what Mandela’s death would bring: a moment of national reckoning, an assessment of ‘what have we achieved’ in the years since Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 and his inauguration as South Africa’s first black president in 1994.”

Jaffer responds to the op-ed, which she calls “predictable”, saying that “there seems to be a tendency among the international media to separate the man from his political home and to honour him and rubbish his home. It is a strange phenomenon”. She continues, writing that “the readers of the Washington Post deserves better than simplistic knee-jerk opinions not based on fact” and recommends JP Landman’s book, The Long View, for a look at how far South Africa has come.

Jaffer ends by saying that she has no doubt that South Africa “will stay the course and weather the storms that life brings with fortitude as we always have. Allow us to mourn our great loss in peace”.

Read Applebaum’s piece and Jaffer’s letter below:

In Johannesburg a few months ago, I asked a young, black and politically savvy South African journalist how his newspaper would cover Nelson Mandela’s death. He shook his head: He dearly wished not to have to cover it at all. “I just hope I’m not in the office that day. I just hope I’m away, maybe in a different country.”

He knew, of course, what Mandela’s death would bring: a moment of national reckoning, an assessment of “what have we achieved” in the years since Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 and his inauguration as South Africa’s first black president in 1994. I told him that what was written in the wake of Mandela’s death would probably reveal less about the man and more about his country. He agreed: That’s exactly what he didn’t want to have to face.

WASHINGTON POST READERS DESERVE BETTER

AN OPEN LETTER TO ANNE APPLEBAUM OF THE WASHINGTON POST

I have been a journalist in South Africa for over 30 years and am a graduate of Columbia University in New York (’96).

Your opinion piece last week was so predictable – an old tired narrative: as soon as Mandela goes, his party will implode and his country will go to the dogs. Thirty years ago, the narrative was: as soon as Mandela comes out of prison, his party will drive the whites into the sea and his country will go to the dogs. It is a narrative that is strongest amongst those who base their analyses and interpretations on fear and not on hope, on opinion not fact.

As a journalist, I have based my analyses on speaking to many people and observing closely both our progress and difficulties. This in any case is standard journalistic practice. Just as the people of the United States are a resilient people, we are a resilient people determined to uphold the values that Mandela taught us. Whether we like it or not, he mainly did this through the ANC.

There seems to be a tendency among the international media to separate the man from his political home and to honour him and rubbish his home. It is a strange phenomenon.

Why do you repeat a predictable narrative that chooses to celebrate our decline rather than our progress? You visited South Africa and spoke with a young journalist and decided that his view representative of all our views. I too can write about your country and point out that your official figures state that over 11 million people are presently unemployed. The unofficial figures stand at 17 million.

I too can conclude that your democracy is in trouble because for a long while now under 40 percent of your people have voted in each election. It was only in the last election when President Barack Obama brought some hope that you could push that up to 53.6 percent. Let’s not talk about the 10,717 gun deaths this year alone or the 188,380 victims of sexual assault recorded by your Justice Department in 2010. I too can string together facts and paint a lopsided picture of your country.

I too can conclude that you are in far more trouble than we are because you have an economy now that is based on making war.

The readers of the Washington Post deserves better than simplistic knee-jerk opinions not based on fact. It will be useful for them to read JP Landman’s The Long View if they want to appreciate how far we have come.

Some of the facts about South Africa led by Mandela and his party in this book are as follows:

  • In the 16 years before democracy, GDP growth was 1.55% a year: in the 16 years thereafter, it was 3.3%
  • We have grown per capita income by a third since democracy despite the 1998 global crisis and the 2009 recession.
  • Our population growth, including immigration, is now just above 1% per annum. South Africa has made the demographic transition from high to low growth
  • We have a National Development Plan with a diagnostic report that openly identifies the difficulties we have and crafts a new way forward. It has been initiated by the ANC and has won the support of the opposition parties when it passed through parliament this year.
  • Even if only half of the NDP is implemented over the next few years, the country will become a better place.
  • Rotating Credit Associations called Stokvels amount to R44.61 billion. The 2010 AMPS Survey reports that as many as 40% of adult South Africans belong to such home-grown arrangements where members get together on a basis of mutual trust.
  • The 2012 World Economic Forum Competitiveness Report shows that South Africa scored much better than Russia and India on corruption and the same as China.
  • For the first time in 25 years, we are investing hugely in infrastructure set to impact beyond the borders.
  • Be it solar geysers, millions of RDP houses, or many more students in our tertiary education system… the country is improving incrementally and decisively. It is better now than twenty years ago. Incrementalism will make it better over the next twenty years.

This is some of what JP Landman says in his book. The list goes on and on.

These are the strengths but like every other country we have our weaknesses – our political parties are muddling along and some politicians are corrupt as are some business people. Like your Enron, we have our construction companies and bread companies responsible for collusion.

Our weaknesses however do not outweigh our strengths. You have your mafia working with some of your politicians. We have international crime bosses who are working with some of ours. Our media and we as journalists are fearlessly speaking against this and do not have to seek asylum in Russia.

I invite you and other international media to visit our country and understand its complexity and the enormous progress made towards self-determination of its people under the leadership of Mandela, his colleagues and his party – a far cry from the mess made by Apartheid and its colonial predecessors who served only a fraction of our people.

Over time, I hope we will mature enough to have another political party of similar stature so that the one can provide a check on the other. Your democracy is over 200 years old compared to our 20 years. I have no doubt we as a people blessed with the leadership of a Madiba will stay the course and weather the storms that life brings with fortitude as we always have. Allow us to mourn our great loss in peace.

Zubeida Jaffer

University of the Free State

www.zubeidajaffer.co.za

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