John Steenhuisen was in Ukraine this week. He was there to ‘ascertain for himself’. Why? He can turn on any radio or TV, or sit in the toilet and google Ukraine. He’ll be swamped with a deluge of information, opinions and even news, across the political spectrum.
If he’d stayed at home, it might interest him to discover what he won’t see. He wouldn’t see any widespread reporting on the civil war that’s playing out on the Cape Flats, as gangsters take one another out and innocent bystanders too. He won’t read anything about the incredible poverty and associated alcohol abuse and gender-based violence in the Northern Cape. There are many other things he won’t see or read about because they don’t make headlines.
There’s a reason they don’t make headlines. The convenient excuse is that the stories are too remote, newsrooms are too understaffed and under-funded to cover them, but basically the media is slanted towards the big urban centres and the big-ticket news items. You can gnash your teeth and call it lazy journalism but that’s just the way it’s always been.
It’s got increasingly worse over the years so that, like our President, we are perpetually surprised when there’s another outbreak of xenophobic violence, especially if there’s a nice graphic ending that piques the interest of the news desk: Like a father of four being hounded out from where he stays and being beaten to death in Diepsloot or another father being set alight in Alex.
The humanitarian crisis in the Cape Flats; gang warfare, drugs, prostitution, poverty, isn’t new. The destitution in Northern Cape townships isn’t either. No one speaks about them. They’re not on the news radar. But imagine if the leader of the opposition had done a fact-finding mission there to see for themselves the true horror on the ground?
Imagine if that same person had invited journalists along – because newsrooms can’t fund these trips. Imagine what the coverage would be like. Maybe just maybe, there’d be solutions being put on the table, rather than the tired old platitudes and empty gestures.
Instead, we’re going to have put up with more vacuous thoughts on world peace than a beauty pageant, in a part of the world that isn’t much more dangerous than some of the totally under-reported hellholes in this continent. If Steenhuisen wants a real war, why isn’t he packing his bags for Mozambique? But no, he’s spent a week in a part of the world where he can make no difference, personally or professionally, as the list of celebrities clamouring for a selfie with Volodymyr Zelensky, works its way inexorably down from senior world leaders to fading Hollywood stars and now the leader of an opposition party at the other end of the globe.
We should be grateful. If we ever needed any more proof, after multiple instalments of the Zondo commission, this trip truly explains the political inertia this country is in. Almost as well, that is, as Cyril Ramaphosa being prevented from speaking to an empty stadium by a handful of irate miners on Workers Day.
Originally published in the Saturday Star on 7 May 2022.