Sunday, 17 February 2008


Watching the BBC Panorama special - "No More Mandela's" took me back to 1979 - when I returned to South Africa from the UK.

I had become accustomed to UK reporters' tough questioning of politicians (and any-one else for that matter). Fearlessly, hard-hitting questions were fired at anyone from the Prime Minister to the Chancellor, to the US President.

Back in South Africa, I watched in amazement as the SATV interviewer bowed his head while deferentially asking pre-arranged questions of the then prime minister - PW Botha. The questions were specially designed to show us only a positive view of the regime. There was only one view of the world. The view of the Nationalist Party Government.

Life in South Africa in those days was quite shallow. Immersed only in pop-culture, there was no discussion of politics. The government did as it pleased, led the country to economic disaster but was re-elected by the brain-washed minority.

Corruption by high government ministers was also rife then. The problem was that reporting it carried a risk for the newspapers and reporters. The Information scandal was followed by tougher legislation - to prevent such information reaching us again.

Censorship was rife. Everything – books, films, music - were subjected to the draconian arm of the censorship board. I saw an age 21 restricted film in the UK. In South Africa, the film was approved for all ages. However, it had become very difficult to follow.

By some miracle, we managed a peaceful transition. A transition that took us from totalitarianism to democracy and freedom. The new government has made more than its fair share of mistakes. Mistakes that have cost the country dearly. But at least the press are free to report on them. The President of the ruling party can be charged with corruption. The Chief of police can be charged.

There are many that are disenchanted with life in the New South Africa. Crime levels are high. We are facing an electricity crisis. But we are free to criticize, to make our voices heard.

Freedom isn’t just another word for nothing left to lose.

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