Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Freedom in South Africa – Blogging for human rights

Born in South Africa, I lived in Israel and the UK for sixteen years before I was somehow drawn back. Having departed as a child I returned as a young adult during the height of Apartheid. PW Botha ‘the Great Crocodile’ was at the helm - as Prime Minister not yet State President.

Bloggers Unite I noticed that the people that I mixed with didn't really discuss very much. Material things, shopping centres, cars ... SABC TV was still new and a total embarrassment. The news resembled something out of a Monty Python sketch. The one about sheep news (or was it penguins ....?). There was only one version of the News. The National Party version. At times PW Botha called the station to demand that a report be removed. The SABC complied.

Any series that was remotely watchable attracted huge audiences and restaurants, clubs and bars had to virtually close down for the night. Any visit by an aging pop star of the past in defiance of the boycott transformed the star to super-stardom. They dominated the front page of every newspaper for a whole week. They got the top item on the TV News.

Sun City emerged. South Africans flocked to this island of "liberalism" where gambling was allowed and bluish films shown.

X rated films - age rated 21 in the UK – were screened in South Africa as suitable for all ages. The story-line had somehow become hard to follow, but cinemas (which at that time attracted sparse audiences in London) showed regularly to full houses in South Africa.

Corruption was out. The media reported on corruption at risk to their freedom. Few corruption cases got anywhere near a court.

Most white South Africans went with the flow. I remember the arguments that sanctions could never hurt South Africa. There were no alternative sources for this or for that. Sanctions would hurt the rest of the world more than us, and would hurt the blacks.

There were some islands of light. The Market Theatre somehow managed to stage a string of quality shows. Channel 702 began as a Rainbow Station and later with talk shows that helped the country to transform. Film festivals allowed some uncensored material.

The privileged minority had access to quality education – albeit with an apartheid slant – the best health-care and of course they could vote. Voting was limited to a small selection of parties that were allowed. Friendships, marriages across the colour line were out. These had to be conducted in deadly secrecy.

By contrast, the black population were restricted to where they lived or worked. Educational opportunities were few and heath facilities limited. Most were condemned to live in poverty and face frequent harassment by the police. There were few channels for protest.

South Africa has been transformed. There is free debate, freedom of speech, freedom of the press. The government has sought to redress the inequalities in education, health-care and the employment markets. The constitution reads like a bill of rights.

Many problems remain. Soaring crime, poor delivery on healthcare and education, poverty and aids are still widespread. But all of this in an atmosphere of freedom. The government has even instituted a bill of morals or responsibilities based on an initiative of South Africa’s Chief Rabbi. Those were South Africa’s dark ages. Yet I still hear people clambering after them.

1 comment:

Steve Hayes said...

Yup, that's the way it was, and is.