Our blackouts blacked out

David Bullard writes on British media's reluctance to pay much attention to SA's parlous state


As Charles Moore (formerly editor of The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator) wrote in his Spectator column last week:

“Despite having been professionally engaged with news for more than 40 years, I have never quite got the hang of why something important is sometimes not seen as a story. My current example is the state of South Africa. Several acquaintances who have gone there recently say they have never known it in a worse condition. On top of ever-increasing lawlessness are prolonged power blackouts across virtually all the country. Yet it gets hardly any mention in the mainstream media. Why?”

The answer is very simple of course. At the moment we are not newsworthy for a number of reasons as many of my distinguished fellow columnists on Politicsweb have so eloquently pointed out. It has very little to do with our apparent support for the pariah state of Russia and their ‘military exercises’ in Ukraine and far more to do with our near 30 failure as a ‘demockcracy’ under the ANC. What started out as a rainbow to the delight of all of us has now turned into a sky full of dark storm clouds. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

The joy we all felt in hanging in there back in the 1990’s and early 2020’s has long gone. Back in those days it was possible to feel smug about all those who had given up on South Africa pre 1994 and emigrated to expensive, pokey little dwellings in chilly places like Canada or the UK or nanny states like Australia. The post apartheid era boomed for a while. Business confidence was high, the currency was resilient, we had a competent minister of finance in Trevor Manuel, property prices were rising and the electricity worked for 24 hours a day.

Any potholes that appeared were repaired, roads were kept in good condition and crime, although it existed, was nowhere near as bad as it is today. Luxury stores popped up in places like Sandton City and new car sales were booming, particularly in the premium car sector. There was much to feel smug about. I posted a response to Charles Moore’s column in the Speccie pointing out that we are simply not a newsworthy story any more. After all, who needs to read about yet another corrupt African country failing to compete with the rest of the world?

What I did suggest though was that we are very likely to become highly newsworthy around May 2024 so don’t give up on us yet. That is when one of two possible scenarios might play out. Either the ANC will be voted out of power in a general election to be replaced by a gallimaufry of opposition parties in a hastily cobbled together coalition.

Thanks to the shining example of our economic powerhouse Gauteng we know enough about coalitions to know that is not a great prospect. The other scenario is even worse and that is the one where the ANC refuses to accept the election results (this generously assumes they haven’t done a Bob Mugabe and rigged the results) and therefore refuses to give up power.

This swiftly results in massive civil disorder, disinvestment, bloodshed and our assured failed nation status. Then, Mr Moore, I can guarantee we will be back on the pages of your mainstream media. Just be patient.


One of the more bizarre news reports last week, courtesy of EWN, was the sight of Pres Frogboiler being greeted by ecstatic Hammanskraal residents at Temba Stadium, during a cholera outbreak that has already claimed more than 30 lives. I attempted to find out the latest fatality numbers when writing this column but the story seems to have disappeared from the daily mass media news roundup, presumably because nobody of any consequence has died. The ululating and clapping crowd that greeted the President on his visit looked suspiciously stage managed to me and, subsequently, there were stories of people being bussed in from neighbouring areas to greet Pres Frogboiler and lead the cheers.

Certainly, the number of smartphones being held aloft to record the great occasion for posterity and the obvious lack of anorexics would suggest that these were not the ‘poorest of the poor’ to use the oft repeated electioneering phrase of the ruling party.

It’s rather hard for many of us to understand why a community suffering from a cholera outbreak caused by contaminated water with no real hope of a solution in sight (unless that R4 billion Cyril mentioned can be found quickly) would turn out to cheer the cause of their misery unless there was a promise of a free t-shirt and a bucket of KFC chicken nuggets involved.

But it does say a lot for ANC rank and file loyalty and, short of an outbreak of ebola, the continued loyalty of the party faithful seems to be guaranteed. This is one of the undisputed benefits of an ill educated and dependent electorate. I realise that Twitter is not a true reflection of reality but it’s interesting that there are many ANC and EFF supporters on that platform who command a large following.

For example, the Clown in Chief of the EFF has 3.9 million followers which makes Mick Jagger with only 2.4 million followers look like something of a loser after more than half a century as a rock music god. Even Jimmy Manyi (newly admitted to parliament as an ‘honourable’ member) has 417 000 against John Steenhuisen’s 216 000 but I’m pleased to see that Helen Zille has 1.5mln followers which beats the Rolling Stone’s Keith Richard’s score by 200 000.

Now it is highly probable, given his past form, that Juju may have done a schlenter and artificially boosted his follower numbers. It really does beggar belief that there are almost 4 million people out of a total population of 58 million (many without access to social media) who are remotely interested in the rambling thoughts of a blinged up, revolutionary, alleged bank robber.

However, there are still a large number of people on Twitter who do follow the EFF and the ANC and they come up with some pretty extraordinary ideas. One of these is that Western imperialism is to blame for everything (although not for web connectivity and social media apparently) and the sooner the people’s revolution destroys this imperialist hegemony the sooner the children of the revolution will be able to build their Utopia.

Part of the strategy of the ANC these past 20 years has been to gradually destroy the economy, starting with the mining industry and moving on to agriculture and finally the entire economy thanks to the latest proposed labour laws. The problem was that most of us never believed that was the real intention of the people’s revolution but now, with very little electricity and infrastructure left, we can be in no further doubt.

It’s a romantic notion indeed and brought down to basics it is the equivalent of deciding that the house you live in isn’t fit for purpose. So you burn it down and resolve to build a better one. Except that you haven’t given much thought to how you’ll be surviving in the period between the burning of the old house and the building of the new house.

That is pretty much where we are with the bulk of the electorate at the moment. Lots of tempting promises from cosseted politicians but no thought as to how Utopia is to be achieved or the cost and the time frame. Another myth constantly pushed by the EFF and ANC social media ‘influencers’ is that South Africa was a place of peace and harmony until the white man came to stir up trouble.

I’m currently watching ‘Shaka Zulu’ on Netflix and I’ve been deeply shocked by what I have seen. For years I believed all the propaganda about Shaka being a peace-loving benevolent Zulu king who was simply waiting for the Wright brothers to invent flight and for an airport to be named after him.

Apparently he was a bit of a bloodthirsty tyrant though and responsible for all sorts of atrocities, although this may be just another example of toxic imperialist history rigging. The problem these days is knowing who to trust.