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05/23/2013

BBC report on South Africa's white poverty 'a half-arsed, skewed view of reality'

Southafrica

The Jonck family, South African Afrikaners, pose in front of their house in Orania. Orania is the country's only "purely" white town founded in the Northern Cape province in 1991 by Afrikaners, for Afrikaners opposed to the post-apartheid "rainbow nation", just after the release of Nelson Mandela. (STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images)

The BBC's esteemed World Affairs editor, John Simpson, ignited a bush fire in South Africa this week, with a piece entitled "Do white people have a future in South Africa?"

Mr. Simpson discovered, apparently during a recent trip, that there are white people in the country who are poor.

And so he produced a report that used white poverty as one of its central pillars and wrote a piece for the BBC’s website highlighting white poverty -- to the exclusion of black poverty, which still remains the central fact of the South African experience.

“An appalling piece of journalism,” wrote South African commentator Anton Harber – who happens to be white -- who risked life and limb editing the daring Weekly Mail during the dark days of apartheid.

Harber called Simpson’s effort, “not worthy of the BBC.”

Why?

Likely because the core of Simpson’s dispatch is flawed.

“It seems to me that only certain parts of the white community really have a genuine future here,” Simpson wrote.

That’s true.

It is just that those "parts" represent the biggest part of the white community -- in fact, the vast majority of white people.

Has white unemployment risen since the country’s first democratic elections in 1994? Indeed: from 3 per cent to 5.7 per cent.

But unemployment in Canada is 7.2 per cent; in the U.S. it’s 7.6 per cent; and in Britain, 7.9 per cent.

Among black South Africans, however, it is a staggering 29 per cent, the South African Institute of Race Relations reports.

And poverty?

In 1994 about 2 per cent of whites lived on less than 5,000 South African Rand per month. In 2012, however, that fell to just 1 per cent of whites.

Still, poverty among black South Africans is a mind-boggling 45 per cent.

Simpson wrote with urgency, that, “the people who are suffering now are the weakest and most vulnerable members of the white community.”

Make no mistake: there are poor whites in South Africa. And their suffering is real.

But, proportionately, there are many more blacks who are suffering. 

Viewers and readers of the BBC were served up, “a half-arsed, skewed view of reality,” Harber wrote.

“This piece is a caricature of how the West’s media perceives and portrays Africa.”

We pointed out in a report last December, there are legions upon legions more black people who are suffering now, betrayed by the African National Congress government.

Shockingly, some experts say, most whites are better off now than they were under apartheid.

Their future is very bright indeed.

Bill Schiller has held bureau postings for the Star in Johannesburg, Berlin, London and Beijing. He is a NNA and Amnesty International Award winner, and a Harvard Nieman Fellow from the class of '06. Follow him on Twitter @wschiller

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