'Jacob Zuma snubs Oprah'
Sometimes, a well-crafted headline can encapsulate an entire narrative of adversity and triumph. Thus it was with the Los Angeles Times last week, which presented its readers with the following gem. “South African president snubs Michelle Obama, but she carries on to Botswana and her safari.”
One hardly needs to read the story. I can imagine the scenario. A tremulous Obama is insulted by the crass Jacob Zuma. For a moment, her strength fails her—can she still go through with her plucky safari through the wilds of Botswana? Yes! She carries on! Against the odds!
I can sense the salivating Hollywood studios queuing up to buy the rights to the story, which will start off as a morality tale about how Africa spurns the hand that feeds it, but end up as an action movie involving tiger-hunting in Botswana. Except there doesn’t seem to be a story, really. Quite why Zuma would be required to meet the wife of another president is unclear.
The Los Angeles Times story appears to be based on a piece in the Telegraph by journalist Aislinn Laing. Her story appears to be based on nothing at all, except perhaps a desire for a juicy headline. In her case, “Jacob Zuma snubs Michelle Obama during First Lady’s South Africa visit”. The hundreds of subsequent blog posts and racist comments appear to be based either on a desire to feel affronted by the actions of an uppity native who resents his betters, or to screech about how Obama is wasting money.
The peevishness of the Los Angeles Times’ opening paragraph said it all. “Well, who wants to meet the president of South Africa anyway?” It’s breathtaking in its childishness, and insulting. The implication seems to be: if you think you’re too important to meet our president’s wife, then you’re not worth being visited by our president’s wife because your importance is based on being visited by our president’s wife. It’s reminiscent of Groucho Marx’s famous aphorism about not wanting to belong to a club that would accept him as a member.
My favourite online comment is indicative of how unimportant South Africa really is to the majority of Americans. “I can understand if Mr Zuma was busy and out of the country, but at least record a video of yourself welcoming first lady Michelle Obama to South America. There is no excuse for this you should be respectful enough to the fact that here’s a long lost member of Africa a descendant.” I’m not sure how we lost Mrs Obama in the first place, but then, we South Americans are notoriously careless.
Shockingly, no Western media outlet picked up on the real story, which is “Jacob Zuma snubs Oprah”. Yes, in the same week, our beloved leader also failed to meet with Oprah Winfrey, the Prime Time Lady.
In fact, there are probably many, many more people he failed to meet.
But that’s only a story if you believe you’re overwhelmingly more important than everyone else around you, and that is not something of which Mrs Obama has been accused.
Chris Roper is the editor of M&G Online. Follow him on Twitter @chrisroperza