/ 6 May 2022

Khaya Koko: Hold the press! War correspondent Steenhuisen is on the move

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War correspondent: The Democratic Alliance leader, John Steenhuisen, reported from war-torn Ukraine

If John “Christiane Amanpour” Steenhuisen does not win an accolade for his stellar correspondence from war-torn Ukraine, it would be the greatest travesty since Babes Wodumo’s 2016 smash hit Wololo was deprived song-of-the-year status. 

Next month, the Standard Bank Sikuvile Journalism Awards will be hosted in Johannesburg to honour the country’s reporters. A special award should be added for Steenhuisen’s Finding Nemo mission — or fact-finding mission, I cannot remember which one it was — to file stories on the ravages of war from his perilous five-star hotel room.

If you missed it, Steenhuisen, who moonlights as the Democratic Alliance’s leader and is South Africa’s lifetime high school valedictorian, was Amanpour-esque in his reporting “from the outskirts” of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, resplendent with a demolished armoured tank in the background to accentuate the carnage, a scene-setting that would have been the envy of multinational news organisations.

Steenhuisen said the wrecked tank belonged to Russia, the country that launched what its president, Vladimir Putin, called a “special military operation” on its neighbour, Ukraine, in February.

Short of wearing a hard hat for dramatic effect — maybe one could not be found to fit the head that can solve a complex grade 12 trigonometry problem in seconds — Steenhuisen issued a balanced report on the importance of supporting Ukraine in this “war for freedom”.

“Ukraine has now become the new frontier of freedom in the world, and the backstop of tyranny and imperialism. 

“It’s important that the world — particularly as Africa — we understand the impact of this on our continent … and start to pressure [for] peace; pressure for an end of this destruction and war, which is going to have a knock-on effect on the rest of the world,” Steenhuisen reported, in a rallying call for Africa to forget its own conflicts and support Ukrainian’s heroes. 

And if this brand of brave journalism is not honoured, it would be akin to the (alleged) skullduggery that took place at the 2017 South African Music Awards, when Babes Wodumo, real name Bongekile Simelane, did not win a single award for Wololo, arguably the biggest song of 2016-17. 

“These things happening in the South African music industry are not on — it is obvious now that awards are up for sale. My song cannot trend the whole year — it was even nominated at the international BET Awards — but it can’t win a single award in my own country,” a visibly upset Babes Wodumo charged in May 2017. “Continue buying those awards.” 

I can imagine that Steenhuisen would be equally infuriated if the South African National Editors’ Forum, which organises the Sikuvile Awards, were to follow the same (alleged) corrupt accolades-for-sale as the organisers of the music awards.

In fact, I posit that if Steenie was not preparing for his Ukrainian assignment, exuding his Clark Kent bravado to bring us breaking news from treacherous territories, he would have earned a seat at last Saturday’s prestigious White House Correspondents’ Dinner. 

This exclusive event, which featured South African-borne comedian Trevor Noah as this year’s headline act, is a gathering of mostly American journalists, who are part of the White House Correspondents’ Association, to roast the sitting president,  “Sleepy Joe” Biden, other politicians and news organisations in celebration of that country’s free speech rights. 

Biden, although being on the receiving end of some sharp gags from Noah, had a better weekend than his South African counterpart, President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was banished like a burnt and badly-baked cupcake from a Workers’ Day rally in the North West on Sunday. 

Ramaphosa was forced to skedaddle from Rustenburg’s Royal Bafokeng Stadium when angry mineworkers, who, ironically, used to be represented by Ramaphosa during his union days in the 1980s, took out their frustration with mining bosses  over their deadlocked wage negotiations on our Fellow South African. 

Before being ushered out of the stadium by his security detail, Ramaphosa stood on the stage in a state of shock that mineworkers, who had clearly not drunk the Ramaphoria kool aid, dispatched a chorus of booes and makeshift missiles.

In a week when Ramaphosa and Steenhuisen, leaders of the two largest parties in parliament, provided their court-jester routines, we were again reminded of the high levels of violent crime in South Africa, especially against women and children. 

With Ramaphosa aloof to the pain of rising costs and general strife among the working class, and Steenhuisen’s Finding Dory (or whatever it is) Ukrainian mission, it is the type of political leadership that fails to rein in the pernicious levels of violent crimes.