South Africans ask: Why do the Brits hate us so much?

Why do they hate us? That was the question dominating South African headlines and radio phone-ins last week after British press coverage of both President Jacob Zuma’s state visit and the imminent football World Cup.

President Jacob Zuma kicked off his first state visit to the United Kingdom on Wednesday 3rd March. His visit includes discussions on Zimbabwe sanctions, reassuring investors on the nationalisation issue, visits to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, 10 Downing Street and more.
Leading the charge, like Michael Caine in red tunic and white pith helmet in the film Zulu, was journalist Stephen Robinson, whose critique of South Africa’s Zulu leader in the Daily Mail bore the headline: “Jacob Zuma is a sex-obsessed bigot with four wives and 35 children. So why is Britain fawning over this vile buffoon?”

Robinson was not alone in interrogating Zuma’s polygamous lifestyle and recent love child, past brushes with corruption charges and the rest of what the Guardian delicately described as a “colourful CV”.

The stinging reports came with South Africans already sensitive about the way their country is being portrayed in Britain as it prepares to host the Soccer World Cup in June.

When the Sun and several other British papers recently reported on the state of England’s training camp in Rustenburg, the Times of South Africa ran a headline: “English hacks raining on World Cup parade again.” It said: “The English media have again been accused of sabotaging the World Cup with negative reporting—this time by slagging off their national team’s training base.”

Radio talk shows in South Africa have speculated on the reasons for what they see as relentlessly negative coverage bordering on “Afro-pessimism”. Butana Komphela, chairperson of the national assembly’s sport committee, said: “There are racist writings by journalists who are very malicious.”

Could such reporting really be an overhang of colonialism propagated by modern-day Henry Morton Stanleys? Zuma suggested so when, in a departure from diplomatic protocol, he said: “When the British came to our country, they said everything we are doing was barbaric, was wrong, inferior in whatever way.”

The African National Congress Youth League put it more baldly: “British media seem to have developed a habit of rubbishing our president and constantly portray him as barbaric and of inferior belonging. It is quite apparent that the British media is the one that is characterised and defined by the worst form of barbarism, backwardness and racism.

“These British racists continue to live in a dreamland and sadly believe that Africans are still their colonial subjects, with no values and principles.They believe that the only acceptable values and principles in the world are British values of whiteness and subjugation of Africans.”

Such a critique might carry more weight if the British press did not also regularly eviscerate its own political leaders and organisers of its own forthcoming Olympic Games.

Nor is Zuma the target of British journalists alone. He has plenty of acidic domestic critics, including the satirical cartoonist Zapiro, who has depicted him unbuckling his belt and poised to rape the blindfolded figure of lady justice.

The Daily Mail seems timid by comparison. -

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