Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

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Competing narratives

A fascinating exchange about South Africa on BBC radio's Today programme this morning. The BBC has been running with a particular narrative of what's been going on with the downfall of President Thabo Mbeki, portraying events essentially as a subversion of the constitutional and democratic process by the populist and possibly corrupt Jacob Zuma. This morning's piece had a South African businessman (with an obviously Afrikaaner name) and a South African business journalist (with a more English-sounding name) interviewed live to comment on turmoil in the Johannesburg stock markets following the rumoured resignation of the Finance Minister.

The BBC's narrative collapsed; there is no other way of putting it. Apparently, in late-breaking news, the Finance Minister isn't resigning after all, and the markets are recovering. What was even more striking was that the two South Africans both said that the removal of Mbeki was a good thing, from their perspective; he was arrogant, out of touch, and incompetent, and they are already getting better communication with the new government.

What was even more striking was a comment made by the finance journalist: "There are an awful lot of poor people in this country, and they ought to be listened to; and the old government wasn't listening." Can you imagine the averge Financial Times or Wall Street Journal or NRC Handelsblad correspondent spontaneously making that sort of remark?

The interviewer tried weakly to get them to agree that political instability in South Africa is now a serious problem. But the South Africans indicated that the problem was Mbeki's behaviour, and the ensuing difficulty of getting rid of a leader who has spent all his political capital in a system that hasn't done that before; and that has now been resolved, in a completely legal and democratic way. They rejected the BBC interviewer's description of South Africa as a one-party state, pointing out that while the ANC is indeed strong and will probably win next year's elections, all bets are off for 2014. And anyway, they saw the ANC as a middle-class, establishment party, leftish but not very, which was unlikely to lurch into new policy paths after the change of leadership.

I found it extraordinary that the BBC's narrative, which I have been uncritically accepting for months, got blown apart by its own choice of interviewees (also of course the story hook they were using for the piece melted away). Also, it's sometimes nice to discover that things are not as bad as you thought they were.
Tags: bbc, world: south africa
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