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What is it with British journalists and the Boers?

February 25, 2008

What is it with British journalists and the ongoing fascination with Afrikaners – whom they insist on calling the Boers? From Broomfield onwards, there’s a need to portray Afrikaners as some kind of inbred, primitive tribe of blood thirsty hicks.

It’s best summarised in this old Spitting Image song, I’ve never met a nice South African. They’ve been repeating the same refrain for years.

Thanks to a tip off from Leo Africanus, I just watched the episode of Tropic of Capricorn that deals with South Africa. It was on TV last week, but I missed it.

The programme includes a visit to Louis Trichardt (I think it’s still called that – I know there was some kind of mix up about name changes recently). The ‘journalist’ – who’s name I didn’t bother to catch – walks through the streets of the town and wonders at the fact that there are so few white faces around, playing spot the Boer – “look, there’s one, coming out of the bank with money”. He choses to misinterpret his Black guide’s explanation and muses “under apartheid this would have been different. You wouldn’t have seen Black faces on the streets”.

What horseshit. Even in the darkest days of apartheid, the town centres – the streets and pavements – were thoroughly multiracial. Bars, cafes, libraries and cinemas were generally restricted to white people, but not shops, who couldn’t afford to turn away 90% of their customers. There were also sometimes curfews at night, particularly in residential areas. But during my childhood in the platteland in the 80s, the streets were always more Black than white. It’s simple demographics.

Apartheid was bad, but it wasn’t Nazi Germany.

Obviously things have changed: Black people can walk the streets with a new confidence, knowing that they are not there on sufferance, and yes, Louis Trichardt – like most South African towns and cities – looks more obviously ‘African’ than it did under apartheid. This is as it should be.

But to claim in a TV documentary that the streets of South Africa’s towns were lily white under apartheid is just shocking journalism.

He then goes and interviews the Town Watch, a bunch of right wing gun nuts flying the Vierkleur, and shooting AK-47s with their Hitlerjugend children.

Who is the agent for these gun nuts? He’s clearly very good, because they make it into every documentary about South Africa.

Ek weet dis rou Boere wat in die Noord Transvaal woon, but this is really not representative of the truth.

I could go to Nottingham or Barking and interview some BNP members, and you’d come away with the impression Britain was crawling with fascist numbskulls. It would be a very distorted – and very unfair – picture of Britain, which like South Africa is a remarkably diverse country.

So why the single minded representation of Afrikaners as racist gun nuts?

Later, they visit the Zimbabwean border, where they appear to have bought stock footage of people jumping over on their way to Johannesburg.

Really, really shoddy journalism. Is that all they could find on the Tropic of Capricorn?

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