The Way It Was

One wonders whether Wolf Blitzer, the CNN news anchor, cringes every time he has to say on air that his network has “the best political team in the business”. He should. Certainly, I cringe whenever I hear some marketing type insist on calling South Africa “world-class”. If you have to keep reminding people that you are world-class  or the best, you are almost by definition saying the opposite of what you intend.

Walter Cronkite, the legendary American newscaster who died at 92 on Friday, never had to brag or utter silly slogans for his network, CBS. Anchoring the evening news through two tumultuous decades, the 60s and the 70s, “Uncle Walter”, as America affectionately call him, was quite simply the best. In 1972, he was voted the most trusted man in the country.

Back then, there were only three US television networks, CBS, NBC and ABC, and watching the evening news, often round the dinner table, was still a national habit. Cronkite and his competitors had a lot of unsettling news to deliver. The assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and the Rev Martin Luther King, Vietnam, race riots, the shooting of anti-war protesters at Kent State University, Watergate and the resignation of Richard Nixon, the Three Mile Island nuclear scare and Iranian hostage crisis all happened on Cronkite’s watch. Continue reading “The Way It Was”


The Ghost of Obama Sr.

Hitherto, President Barack Obama’s intended approach to Africa has largely been a matter of conjecture.  With his speech to Ghana’s parliament on Saturday and the curtain-raising interview he gave to the indispensable a week earlier, we now have his essential talking points on the subject. However much interagency consultation went into preparing them, they are uniquely his own.

The overarching theme is governance, expressed in ways that, coming from others, might well have raised an eyebrow. From the interview: “Part of what’s hampered advancement in Africa is that for many years we’ve made excuses about corruption or poor governance; that this was somehow the consequence of neo-colonialism, or the West has been oppressive, or racism. I’m not a believer in excuses.”

It comes as no surprise, of course, that the way Obama sees Africa is informed by his own DNA and experience. Striking, nonetheless, is the degree to which he has been influenced by the memory of his Kenyan father.  Indeed, were Shakespeare around to write a play about Obama’s Africa policy, the ghost of Obama Sr. would surely be among the dramatis personae. Continue reading “The Ghost of Obama Sr.”

Good bad news

Barry Bearak, who shares duties with his wife, Celia Dugger, as co-bureau chief of the New York Times in Johannesburg, is one of the best foreign correspondents in the business. He won a Pulitzer in 2002 for what the prize committee called his “deeply affecting and illuminating coverage of daily life” in Afghanistan. Last year he shared a Polk award with Dugger for their courageous coverage of Zimbabwe, where he was arrested for committing journalism.

The qualities that earned him both prizes are very much in evidence in a piece the Times published on June 29 describing vigilante justice in Diepsloot. By his own tally, he spent three weeks in the community between Johannesburg and Pretoria to examine how crime affects South Africa’s poor and how some are responding by taking the law into their own hands.

What he encountered is disturbing. It is also carefully documented. To get the full effect, you need to visit the Times website via a tolerably fast Internet connection. There you will find supporting video and photographs plus a sound clip, courtesy of SABC, of President Jacob Zuma discussing the role of the public in fighting crime. Continue reading “Good bad news”